Bigger and better, the hugely popular Dubai Sports Council Championship for Football Academies is back for season two, promising 12 weeks of action for the 66 participating teams.
The tournament, which had seen around 900 players take the pitch in the first season, has attracted more than 1,300 players from more than 100 different nationalities this year, which means there will be 32 matches every weekend at the Dubai Sports City involving teams in six different age categories – Under-8, Under-10, Under-12, Under-14, Under-16 and Under-18.
The tournament, which is being organised by Dubai Sports Council (DSC) in association with Royal Emirates Sports Academy (RESA), has attracted team from UAE clubs Shabab Al Ahli – Dubai, Ajman and Al Nasr, as well as expatriate academies like Arsenal, AS Roma, Dubai City FC, Choueifat, Go Pro, Royal FC, La Liga, Precor and Le Club France.
“These numbers confirm not just the success of the tournament but also its importance,” said Ali Omar Al Balooshi, the Director of Sports Development at DSC and the Tournament Director, at Wednesday’s press conference to announce the details of the event at DSC’s headquarters.
“We are really pleased because this tournament was the first of DSC’s initiatives to involve private academies in official competitions alongside our local club academies, thus contributing towards the overall development of the youth sector in Dubai and the UAE.”
Ahmed Salem Al Mahri, Director of DSC’s Department of Academies, added: “Last year, when we had the first DSC Championship for Football Academies, we had around 900 players and 47 teams participating. This year, that number has grown to 66 teams and more than 1,300 players, which means a growth of more than 40 per cent.
“The numbers tell the story. After the end of the first edition, we received very positive feedback from every participant. They talked about the great benefits of this tournament, including the opportunity for private academies and local club teams to play each other in an official competition.
“So this year, we are happy with this responsibility of organising a bigger and more successful edition of the tournament, and we hope it will get even bigger in the coming years.”
Former Real Madrid and Spain star Michel Salgado, who is the ambassador of the tournament, and former Sweden international Christian Wilhelmsson, the director of RESA, were also present at the press conference.
“I am really happy to be here and have this opportunity to be making a difference to the youth,” said Christian Wilhelmsson, who made 79 appearances for Sweden and played for Saudi club Al Hilal and Baniyas here in the Arabian Gulf League.
“From my experience in the region, and I have been here for a while, there is a lack of competition and that is so important when you are young – to get those weekly games.
“So it is important to create a platform where young players get a chance to compete against each other and that’s what this is all about – to develop the local teams, and the skillsets and mindset of local youth to help them become much better football players.”
Salgado, who is one of the brains behind the tournament, added: “I really want to thank Dubai Sports Council for all the sport they have given us in this project.
“When I first arrived in Dubai and started to work with the academies, the first thing I really missed is what we call the challenge – the challenge for the kids. I think we have amazing players of football here. I have absolutely no doubt about that. I have seen in all academies a lot of players with a lot of potential. Even on the streets, the kids playing, they have a lot of potential and they are waiting for an opportunity.
“But we miss one thing in this country and that is competition – a real challenge every weekend, something that we get easily in Europe. That is why in my first meeting with Dubai Sports Council, I tried to express my concerns about the situation. We agreed and this tournament was born.
“We started slowly in the first year to see how it will work. The feedback was amazing, so for us now, it’s a real challenge to keep growing.
“Our dream is to grow even bigger and have a tournament where we can see the best talents of both sides – from both the expatriate academies and the Emirati clubs – competing against each other every weekend. That is our eventual goal.”