Three Dubai teams united in Manchester
MANCHESTER // “When I put the ball down on the penalty spot, all I could hear was silence. It was scary.”
One got the impression that Yahya Iraqi was not the type to suffer nerves on the football field very often. The 13-year-old striker was his team’s go-to penalty taker, after all.
But this was no ordinary match.
It was the final of the inaugural Dubai Schools Football Cup, a tournament held at Dubai Sports City between January and March this year, and organised by sports event firm Inspiratus.
The prize at stake would be a dream for any young football fan: a three-day trip to England, including a day of coaching at an official Manchester United Soccer School and a trip to Old Trafford to watch United’s final home game of the season.
Yahya held his nerve and buried the penalty. That goal, along with a second, secured an unforgettable experience for the boys of the Georges Pompidou Lycee Francais International.
Two months later, on a brisk spring morning of dappled sunshine, they were waking up at a hotel in the shadow of the Theatre of Dreams.
Along with two other winning teams – both from St Mary’s Catholic High School for Girls – they visibly brimmed with excitement as they boarded a coach to a local sports centre, each child nursed their own personal ambition.
“I want to improve my dribbling,” said Nilushi Banbara, 14.
“I’m quite bad at aiming, so I’d like to work on that,” admitted Charlene Manoel, 13.
And for Omar Abtoush, Yahya’s 15-year-old captain, it was more a question of exploring cultural differences.
“I hope to see how they play in England,” said the towering centre-back, “and the differences in the way they train. I’m here to learn new things which can improve my game.”
This kind of talk would have been music to the ears of Kevin O’Connell, the Manchester United Soccer School coach who led the session on a set of gleaming astro-turf pitches at Salford Sports Village.
“Our aim is to teach young people about three core traits that will help them in life, as well as football. That is to work hard, work together and to believe in yourself. The children responded brilliantly to the session today, which focused on dominating possession, combining to attack, and goalscoring.
“They really took on board what we told them and did their best to implement it. Not every child responds in that way.”
Another key goal for Mr O’Connell was that training sessions were fun.
To that end, there was a smattering of good-natured teasing for the one boy brave enough to admit he supported Liverpool.
In Manchester United territory, certain admissions would not pass unchallenged.
“Good result for you last night?” said Mr O’Connell with a smile, referring to Liverpool’s late collapse against Crystal Palace.
As the session ended and the teams prepared to return to the hotel, the youngsters looked tired but exhilarated.
Whether any of them would go on to play professional football remained to be seen – but their taste of how elite players trained looked set to last a lifetime.
Published: May 6, 2014 04:00 AM