Dubai Sports City became a field of dreams this weekend as promising players from around the world competed at the inaugural U13 Dubai Intercontinental Football Cup 2017.
Real Madrid, Celta Vigo and AC Milan were the headline entrants to a tournament – partnered by La Liga, Dubai Sports Council and Dubai Television – which contained 12 sides from across the globe and 216 participants. Fittingly for an event which was the brainchild of Spain legend Michel Salgado and represented the fruition of four years hard work establishing his Spanish Soccer Schools [SSS] in DSC, former clubs Madrid and Vigo played out a gripping Gold Cup final.
A stunning curled goal from MVP Robert Carril – his shaggy mop and refined attacking technique reminiscent of Manchester City superstar David Silva – secured a 1-0 triumph for Celticos in front of more than 200 watching friends, family and fans. For defeated coach Carlos Del Rey, it is now key that success at an early age does not quell desire to “learn every day” as the developmental path to hallowed first-team football remains a long one.
He said: “They are 13. They have to enjoy now, not think about professionalism.
“They must live the day. They must grow up in the day and not think in four or five years, we will be in Under-19 club of Real Madrid.”
The usual powers did not entirely dominate, even though Madrid’s Yeray Lancha Perez was top scorer and Celta’s Carril the best player.
AFA Angola’s Cristovao Cantungue was judged top goalkeeper, his clean sheet against Milan seeing the Africans finish third. SSS were thrashed 4-0 by Madrid in the groups, but improved to beat Dubai CSC 2-1 in the Plate Cup showpiece.
Dubai is not traditionally seen as a football hotbed, but the city’s IJF Youth Academy helped produce Maltese midfielder Andrea Borg, 17, who debuted in English League One with Peterborough United this month. German goalkeeper Fabian Speiss and South African defender Keiran Geldenhuys were also signed by Notts County in 2010 and 2012.
More than 1,200 kids play and train every week at SSS under the aegis of director Salgado and head coach Inaki Beni. The latter declared testing his charges against Europe’s best in events such as the Intercontinental Football Cup is key to strengthening this process.
He said: “If you want to play this game and understand how the game works, then Dubai is not enough.
“They played against Real Madrid. Every tackle, every duel was different and at a different speed.
“When I used to coach at Real Madrid, we used to say it was easier to get to the moon as an astronaut than become a first-team player.”
Salgado enjoyed an outstanding career which contained two Champions Leagues, four La Ligas and 53 caps for La Furia Roja.
For prospects in the UAE to stand a chance of replicating this, he argues more instances of expats and Emiratis competing such as in the Plate Cup decider are required.
He said: “We have got some of the kids who have been working with us for a long time and they have potential to play as professionals.
“The country now needs to realise that if you want to develop your kids, you must mix the best ones and compete together.”
Even at a young age, football can become all encompassing as parents and children imagine the adulation, riches and profile awarded to football’s finest. Yet Del Rey is at pains to point out that the enriching cultural experiences on offer last week remain key.
He said: “The kids have told us they are enjoying every experience. We went to the Burj Khalifa, so they are living new experiences.”
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