The Desert Rangers, a Dubai youth football team, will play three tournaments in the UK beginning next weekend.
Young Desert Rangers to tackle field of dreams in UK tournaments
DUBAI // One of the lads has been watching a world-class goalie for tips.
Another hopes a Manchester United scout might spot him.
A third has been building his skills on the pitch since he was three years old. Which is a young lifetime ago, as the boy in question is all of 8.
All are part of the Desert Rangers, a squad of champions aged 6 to 9 who have dominated their local competitions in Dubai and will now test their mettle on the playing fields of England. The team of 15 boys will take part in a number of prestigious international youth football tournaments in the UK, beginning next weekend with the Arsenal International Soccer Festival in London.
The Desert Rangers are also participating in two other tournaments: the Welsh International Soccer Festival and the Danson Sports FC Summer Football tournament.
The team enjoyed a winning streak this season in the Dubai Junior Football league, going undefeated in the 18-game, 9-and-under first division. They had also been the champions in the 7-and-under division for two consecutive seasons. And with these sorts of results, they are hopeful of victory in the UK.
Matt Tye, a strong midfielder, was looking forward to the trip overseas.
"We will do our best but we are going out to win," he said.
Matt, 8, said he was aware of the different standard of football in the UK. "They will be rougher but we have trained hard, which has made us tougher," he said.
Accustomed to warm weather and fair playing conditions, the Rangers will be getting their boots dirty for the first time.
"Maybe in Wales we might be affected by the rain," Matt said.
But he was hopeful of sunny intervals and certain that cool temperatures would not affect their game.
Jordan Atidea, a midfielder, said he was weary of hearing about the rough reputation of his opponents, but put it behind him. "It's a great opportunity," said Jordan, 8.
"There could be a scout from Manchester United who might spot me playing."
His dream, however, is to play for Arsenal.
With every trophy already in the Desert Rangers' cabinet, they were still training hard outdoors, even in the summer months. "We practice a lot of accuracy shots and most of us go to football academy," Matt said.
John Adetiba is the team's coach. "We are convinced that the Desert Rangers' players will do the UAE proud in Europe as they are a group of highly talented, highly focused, well-behaved youngsters with immense talents," he said. "We know, without a doubt, that many of them will be stars of the future."
Jack Howard, 7, only took up the key role in goal five months ago and knew what pressure lies on his shoulders. "It is a lonely position and sometimes I'd like to be out there with the other players. But I am a keeper and this is what I have to do. It is up to me if we win or lose." Jack said he watched his favourite team's goalkeeper, Petr Cech of Chelsea, for tips.
Some of the squad are already in the UK for their summer holidays. Those remaining had a last training session on an indoor pitch in Mirdiff on Wednesday evening.
"We only had them indoors to diversify their play," said John Howard, Jack's father.
Harry Ives, 8, said he was excited but nervous about the tournaments.
"We've been doing a lot of training like passing and ball control and our coach tells us where to improve and what to do." Harry has been playing football since he was three but has not participated in a tournament like this before.
"It is great opportunity," Harry said. "We get to play against other teams like us."
Mr Howard said the team trained at least three times a week outdoors.
"They are used to playing on grass but the only thing we are slightly worried about is how they'll cope with the weather," he said. "It's the ultimate. For us parents, it's the greatest thing to watch them play and smile afterwards."
The parents take it seriously, but not so much so it takes over their lives, Mr Howard said.
"Just watching them play and the sportsmanship between them is fanatical. Their knowledge of the pitch is phenomenal and they know it's all done with fair play. It's the best feeling in the world."