Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City are responsible for playing some of the most exciting football on the planet and now they are set to spread that free-flowing philosophy throughout the Middle East.
City Football Schools, who teach hundreds of young players from three years up every year to play the City way, have been running in Abu Dhabi since 2011 and now they are looking at expansion through the MENA region.
“There’s an obvious passion for football through the Middle East and north Africa region,” explains Simon Hewitt, head of football operations for the MENA Region at City Football Group (CFG).
“I think some of the success of the national teams in the region with a World Cup coming up – in particular Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco – have always been hotbeds for football and now national teams are being successful, it’s exciting times for everybody in the Middle East.”
Currently, CFG are looking at expansion into the three countries noted above as well as Muscat in Oman and Kuwait.
“It’s a blank piece of paper,” says Hewitt of expansion plans. “We’re keen to look at a lot of countries across the Middle East.
“We’ve done a few activations over the last few years in some of these countries and we’re very keen now as a football group to look at what more we can do to impact the youth and get the methodology out to as many kids as possible.”
Simon Hewitt during one of the City Football Schools training sessions.
You would expect a central part of Hewitt’s mission would be to uncover some future Raheem Sterlings or Kevin De Bruynes to don the sky blue – but the former goalkeeper says that isn’t the case.
“I wouldn’t say finding future stars is the main aim,” he says. “Any programme we run across the world its great to give access for every kid – whether they play football regularly or whether they play football every day and want to succeed as professional players.
“It’s more about giving young children opportunities in these countries and being associated with the brand and supporting the vast array of clubs we’ve got now (Man City, Melbourne City, New York City, Yokohama F Marinos (Japan), Club Atletico Torque (Uruguay) and Girona (Spain)).
“But if we did come across a hidden gem in one of these countries then that would be an amazing story to talk about as well.”
Hewitt’s main goal with every youngster who steps into a City Football Schools training session is to create a love of football – and that spirit runs right through the club’s activities from the first-team to three-year-olds.
“Our philosophy links directly to what the first team model looks like,” says Hewitt, “and obviously with the manager Pep Guardiola now it’s a very creative and attacking, fluid system.
“If we can teach kids to be expressive on a football pitch and not be scared of making mistakes then this creates confidence in kids.
“It gives them a self-belief and ultimately we believe this will create better players in the future.”
Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the man behind CFG, chats with Pep Guardiola
And if the kids are ever looking for guidance on how to play the game all they need do is turn on the nearest TV.
“If you can mirror half of the things the First Team is doing with these young children that’s fantastic,” continues Hewitt.
“We try to link in with the players – so we look at what Leroy Sane’s qualities are, we look at what Sergio Aguero’s qualities are and we’ll give the kids ideas on how they can emulate some of those techniques and skills that the first-team players have.”
But even above mirroring their heroes, it’s about a simple love of the game.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to travel the world with Manchester City and the world over children have a passion for football,” says Hewitt. “They love to play, they love to win, they love to score goals, they love to make saves.
“Our main emphasis is that children have fun and enjoy the game – and I think that with anything in life, when you have that key criteria of having fun and enjoyment, talent can be nurtured better.
“Some children will play football for life, some children won’t play football for life but as long as when we come into contact with them they have fun and feel engaged then fabulous.”
And that neatly sums up the Manchester City way.