European heavyweights Benfica, Feyenoord and Dinamo Zagreb will be among the high-profile clubs taking part in the Zayed International Youth Cup being hosted by Al Wahda this weekend.
The Clarets have been hosting the tournament annually since 1993 and some of their and the Arabian Gulf League’s finest players having been discovered down the years.
Wahda and UAE icon Ismail Matar is arguably the biggest name locally to have graced the tournament, as well as Al Ain striker Saeed Al Kathiri and Al Nasr defender Mahmoud Khamis.
Fellow AGL and Abu Dhabi side Al Jazira will also compete this year, with French side Vannes completing the six-club line-up.
Former Wahda player turned academy director Adel Khamis claimed that while the hosts have not won the tournament for a number of years, his main focus has and will continue to be the development of Wahda’s young Emirati talents.
“My goals are that I want our players to benefit from the matches,” said Khamis at Wahda’s Al Nahyan Stadium as the tournament was launched yesterday.
“I think my teams will do well and play good matches, we have good players, they can do really well and ultimately we have players who can make it to the first team, but we are not focusing on winning the competition like we did last year.
“We competed and there were some tough games last year, but this year we want to take other benefits, like developing the players for the future of the club.
“I’m not saying we don’t have a chance, but we want to take more benefits. It’s more about the players developing. We haven’t won this tournament for a long time because we are focusing on other things, like taking benefits from other teams.”
Internazionale, Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Atletico Madrid have featured at the tournament previously, and Khamis confirmed the clubs coming to the UAE for this year’s tournament were invited because Wahda can learn from their academy approaches.
He added: “There were 10 teams in Europe we asked. We wanted to focus on teams only with good academies. All these academies have a history and they have developed players they have sold to some of the best clubs in the world.
“They are some of the best academies in Europe and have some really good players there. Also, by playing against these types of players, it will help the young players at Al Wahda get better too. They will be tough games but they will learn a lot.”
Khamis said he did not want to single out any future Wahda stars who will feature this year, but revealed that the home team will feature several UAE youth starlets.
The teams will be split up into two groups with Wahda featuring alongside Dutch giants Feyenoord and Vannes in Group A, while Group B features Jazira as well as Portuguese juggernauts Benfica and Croatia’s Dinamo.
Wahda will kick off the tournament on Friday against Feyenoord, with the final to be played at Al Nahyan on Thursday, March 30.
There will be a trophy and medals on offer for the champions and medals for the runners-up, with individual man of the match awards in each game, as well as accolades for top scorer, best goalkeeper, best defender and best midfielder.