Ferran Soriano, the Manchester City chief executive, said on Wednesday that the club are determined to develop Emirati talent so that in future the UAE can have nationals competing in Europe’s leading leagues.
Thus far, no Emirati has played permanently outside of the country, with Al Ain’s Omar Abdulrahman and Al Jazira’s Ali Mabkhout among the current crop of internationals long tipped to make the switch to Europe.
Abu-Dhabi owned City, the current Premier League leaders, have a football academy in the capital, from where it is hoped that one day players emerge of a standard to ply their trade professionally in a major division overseas.
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A guest speaker on Day 1 of the 12th Dubai International Sports Conference, Soriano emphasised the club’s commitment to identifying and educating UAE footballers so that they can eventually make the move abroad.
“The next step for Manchester City is to try and develop two or three Emirati players, whether for us in the Premier League or another club in, for example, Serie A,” said Soriano, sitting alongside Roma CEO Umberto Gandini and Monaco vice president Vadim Vasilyev at Madinat Jumeirah. “Our biggest & most successful football school in the world is in Abu Dhabi. We have faith in the talent that can be developed.”
City’s senior team, meanwhile, has progressed significantly this season and headed the Premier League by 12 points before Wednesday night's match against Newcastle United.
Moreover, City have broken a slew of records, including a run of 17 consecutive victories pre-Newcastle, while their 13-point lead at the halfway stage was the largest advantage at Christmas between first and second in English top-flight history.
The club have excelled following substantial investment in the squad this summer, with manager Pep Guardiola thriving in his second campaign at the Etihad Stadium. Not surprisingly, Soriano paid tribute to his fellow Spaniard’s impact.
“Pep Guardiola is one of the best coaches in the world,” said Soriano, City's CEO since 2012. “It’s very easy to say that when you look at his record. Anybody who has worked with him will say he’s a hard worker - he works harder than anybody I’ve seen and he helps the players to get the best out of them.
"There’s no magic, there’s nothing more than work and empathy. He needs to convince the players to play like he wants and he does it. I’ve seen him do this before. And now he’s doing it in Manchester and he’s doing it better because he has all the maturity, a lot of experience and we’re very happy now that we’re winning.
"We were happy last year although we didn’t win any trophy, but we saw the evolution of the football, which is a long way from where we were. We had [Roberto] Mancini, then [Manuel] Pellegrini and then Pep. It’s all in the same direction of trying to play beautiful football and winning.”
City’s recent success on the pitch has been mirrored off it, with the club last month reporting record revenue of £473.4 million (Dh2.33 billion). The English club are one of eight teams that comprise the City Football Group, which is majority owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed’s Abu Dhabi United Group and includes New York City FC, Melbourne City FC, Yokohama F Marinos, Uruguay’s Club Atletico Torque and Girona in Spain.
“Our investors wanted to win, but also be financially sustainable,” Soriano said. “Finally we're there. We have both: we believe we can win titles & we are sustainable. We’re making a profit.”