How long have you been working as a youth coach
I have been coaching since 2002 when I was lucky enough to get a part time job with Chelsea FC in London whilst on my LLB Law degree course. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to coach in America during the summers of 2002, 2004 and 2006 as well as Abu Dhabi for Manchester United Soccer Schools in 2010-2012.
Tell us a bit more about the PASS Abu Dhabi? When did you start the academy and how it is different from other youth football academies?
I really started organizing coaching programmes in Abu Dhabi around 2010, initially as part of a ‘Mini Kickers’ program for 3-6 year olds intended to provide a pathway for the Manchester United Soccer Schools program, which started from 7 year old. Both were based at ‘The Dome’ on Airport Road and it made logical sense since I was also an accredited Manchester United Soccer Schools coach (the first in the UAE to receive this accreditation). When Manchester United Soccer Schools left the UAE in 2012, I continued with the program I was running, extended the age range and rebranded it into the PASS you see today. PASS was born out of a passion to provide a quality coaching and player centered program using my experiences from the fantastic organizations I’d worked for. I basically wanted to set up a football education program that ensured each player that attended our program developed a lifelong love of sport. We try to do this by developing their agility, balance and coordination so they can enjoy other sports, developing their football techniques and skills and also providing a family friendly environment where the players aren’t afraid to fail. I thank God and feel blessed to have a great support network from our fantastic professional and qualified coaches to our incredibly supportive parents and my own family to be able to set this up and make some success of it.
What is your main motivation for youth development?
I am really passionate about helping all children of all ages achieve, whatever level they may be at. That is why we have a progressive coaching pathway for 2,12, 14 year olds. Our Recreational Program is for the more casual or new players looking to work on the basics, and if they show enough ability and commitment, we have the Development and Elite programs where they compete against other teams and have longer, more focused, training sessions. I played sport from an early age and appreciate the holistic benefits in terms of developing physical, mental attributes as well as teamwork and social skills therefore I am motivated to help as many children experience these benefits. I use football as a vehicle because that’s what I know!
Football pitch rentals have been a long-standing issue in Abu Dhabi, how are you solving that problem? What would you do to change that?
I have seen a positive increase in the provision of sports facilities; but at the same time the amount of organizations have also increased so the problem hasn’t really gone away. It is pleasing that government organizations like the Abu Dhabi Sports Council are making an active difference by opening up more venues and it would be great for that to increase and for schools to also allow more access to their facilities when they’re not using it after school hours.
It has always been a huge problem in the UAE, considering that 80% of the population is expats – where an expat youth football player doesn’t have the route to take to become a professional footballer. As the local clubs don’t take in expats. What are your thoughts on that?
Yes this is something I think about and discuss a lot. On one hand I agree with Nationals being given the best possible chance of developing; it’s what people have been asking for in countries like England for years. However in a country like the UAE where 80% of the population is made of expats, I do feel that this glass ceiling for expats is a huge shame. In my experience, I have had quality young players find that their paths of progressing have been blocked. I have actually even advised parents to leave the UAE in search of football opportunities for their exceptional young players! Recently some local clubs have taken on young expats, which is admirable, but more opportunities need to be available to our top players. With competitive football in the UAE getting stronger such as our very own Abu Dhabi Youth League, the Jebel Ali Youth League by IJF as well as the more elite Du and UAEFA set up, there are now opportunities for good young players to develop; we just need to find a pathway for them that isn’t expensive or makes them have to leave the country! You never know, with some patience, we could see an Abu Dhabi expat make it all the way to play for a professional first team here. Regardless of where he/she was born, I am sure we would all be proud to call them ‘one of our own’ if this happened.
Talk to us a little bit about sponsorships, how do they play a part in keeping academies like yours afloat?
Sponsorships, or associations as I prefer to call them, helps for sure because they provide much needed resources, finance and exposure. We are fortunate at PASS to have long standing associations with UE Medical, the operators of Danat al Emarat Hospital, Moorfields Eye Hospital and HealthPlus Children’s Hospital, Puma Middle East, Daman Activelife and Dr Firas Dental and they have all been great for us in various ways. The key thing for us is having relationships with these organizations because we need to believe in their product or services; we have a responsibility to ensure we support equitable, child friendly companies, therefore we don’t look for the monetary values but more what the organization stands for because ultimately we have to stand side by side with the organizations we support. We are blessed to be able to be in a position to select who we work with.
Are you still organizing and running the Abu Dhabi Youth League? Tell us a little bit about that league.
The Abu Dhabi Youth League is another entity I set up to try to develop football for young players even further. As we had more and more of our PASS players ready to play competitively, I became aware of the lack of competitive football in the capital; it seemed everyone who wanted competitive football had to go to Dubai. That wasn’t good enough for the capital city in my opinion, so I managed to gather respective stakeholders from the major football clubs in Abu Dhabi and proposed the Abu Dhabi Youth League. We started in 2015 with about 35 teams and by the end of the 2017 season, we had 75 teams. It is fantastic to see so many teams and players from U7 to U16, boys and girls, competing in a healthy environment every Saturday. What I am most proud of is that the gap between certain teams and players has closed rapidly in the two years. Now anyone can compete and beat anyone! For me this is brilliant because it allows players a chance to grow and develop into even better players. It is pleasing that I have had comments from parents who have either recently left Abu Dhabi or gone back for the holidays saying that their players have been stars in their home teams. I am pretty sure this wasn’t the case a few years back. Competition increases quality. We also have a Representative Team set up for under 10 onwards to provide further pathways for our top players. These teams are made up of the best players from various teams in the league. They competed against equivalent teams from Dubai as well as local professional academies and acquitted themselves very well last season. We will be looking to take the teams on tour this year, probably to a tournament such as Gothia Cup and we hope and believe they can acquit themselves well. This year have also set up a link with the Jebel Ali Youth League for our top two teams in each division to play against their top two teams in an end of year ‘Champions Cup’ event. I am excited about this because it gives the teams extra motivation for the season and provides yet another challenging and competitive edge.
For the first time – the UAE FA started a nation wide youth league within the schools, surely that’s a positive step forward for the development of grassroots?
This seems mainly for the more elite private and professional clubs and I think it’s great too. I think there’s room for such a set up because it offers further competition for teams who have a large group of quality players. To go back to my points about pathway and provision; I think programs such as our Recreational, Development, Elite programs, the Abu Dhabi Youth League, Du La Liga and the UAEFA League provides opportunities for every type of footballer with all abilities to find a level that challenges them and also gives them a chance to succeed. At the end of the day, as long as our youth are playing and participating in football or any sport, we have done a good job and should be proud.