Take extremely talented kids in the UAE, get them working with top-of-the-range coaches in state-of-the-art facilities, and then give them the chance-of-a-lifetime scouting camp in Spain – that’s the process behind du LaLiga High Performance Centre.
Based on the sun-kissed south coast in Puerto Banus, near Marbella, the band of 33 prospects are hoping that LaLiga sides will take a shine to their skills.
The objective of the three-week tour is to secure as many trials as possible for the teenagers, who hail from Bolivia, South Africa and almost everywhere in between but all call the Emirates their home.
They have already registered successes over Cadiz, and most notably LaLiga heavyweights Sevilla – both Under-18 and Under-16 sides put a club that developed Real Madrid and Spain star Sergio Ramos to the sword.
It was quite a time to perform as a Barcelona scout was present on the day, while one player already has a post-tour trial lined up for Cadiz after impressing against the second division side.
The initial success is indicative of just how far UAE grassroots football has come – from there not even being a nationwide, or even an Emirate-wide, teenage football competition of note from the establishment of the National School League and now du potentially placing a youngster at La Masia
The news too is music to the ears of Hussein Murad, the president of sports marketing company Inspiratus and mastermind behind the du LaLiga HPC concept.
“The idea started through the experiences of my kids – my daughter is a goalkeeper and my son also plays,” Murad explains. “There was nothing to do at the weekend, no official football.
“So we started in 2013 and came up with the Dubai Schools Cup to create an official tournament for schools or for youth. It was a huge success because they were starving for it, there was nothing, ‘thank you for coming up with an idea like that’.
“We also learned something from the first two years though. Whoever reaches 16 years old couldn’t participate any more, there was nothing for them to progress. And we did a study –after 15 years old, more than 70 per cent of kids leave sports and especially football.”
From that realisation the scouting platform was born, taking the very best kids who participated in the UAE Schools Cup and a new UAE Streets Cup and opening the kind of doors that barely seemed fathomable a short while ago.
Murad first got lead sponsor du on board and with the resources secured to give the kids the best possible chance, LaLiga stepped in to provide the Spanish flair.
On their recommendation UEFA Pro-licenced coaches in Rafael Gil – one-time head coach of Malaga – and his prodigy Enrique Gonzalez were installed full-time in Dubai, where The Sevens Stadium is available to du LaLiga HPC 11 months a year.
LaLiga have also ensured access to two pristine pitches a day at Marbella Football Centre, a venue so well-regarded that the likes of Bayern Munich have used the facilities in the past.
“We wanted the best for the programme because LaLiga is the best league in the world,” says former Real Madrid and Malaga defender Fernando Sanz, now LaLiga’s managing director for the Middle East and North Africa. “We have the best players, coaches and we sent them to Dubai like Rafa, who coached in the first division.
“It’s not just for them to play in LaLiga – any professional league we are happy to develop these kids. Dubai has a lot of people from the other part of the world, and you see this with the players on this tour. Our league is global as well so it makes sense for us.”
All this and the kids don’t even pay a penny. So where’s the catch?
Ultimately, nothing comes for free in this world but as it turns out, du LaLiga HPC is a rather small price to pay. The players have all signed an agreement whereby the company essentially represents them in their future careers.
Part of that may manifest in sell-on fees should their first club go on to sell them, though Murad insists that in many cases education comes first rather than trying to sell each player a pipedream.
“Many of the kids don’t want to go professional at 18, they want to study,” he adds. “That’s why we have 60 colleges in the US that gives them a full scholarship if they are very good academically.
“There’s nothing in it for us, it actually costs us money to send him there back and forth. But you take him to continue his football at a high level while he’s earning a degree.
“So really, we are changing their lives. We aren’t really thinking about making money out of professional kids, because this is really like hitting the jackpot.
“They are very good kids and they have gratitude too – but I’m not just betting on people making it big time.”
Adham Bayoumi is one player whose brains match his football skills – the 15-year-old is launching his own fashion line, Finesse Dubai, next month and recently took an entrepreneur course at Brown University.
“I have high hopes to become a professional, and my dream is to be playing in a top team – a team in the top five leagues in Europe,” said the attacker.
“If that doesn’t work out, we have different universities in mind like Berkeley, UCLA, Stanford if I’m crazy smart.
“They are all very creative universities and a lot of start-ups start there. We say if I can’t play professional football, why not buy a professional club when I’m older!”
Ahmed El Yamani is one football success story already, with the 16-year-old Palestinian midfielder wanted by Malaga, Villareal and Valencia on a full-time basis when he turns 18.
The La Liga Academy also launches in the UAE next month, further opening the pathways for would-be professionals.
“I wasn’t expecting this growth – it is a movement,” admits Murad. It remains to be seen whether any players from this year’s crop will be making the permanent move to Spain.