I’ve been in the UAE for over four years now and as well as marvelling at their ‘relaxed’ attitude to education (I may share some stories in a later post), their policies and business-like attitude to football ownership and management, or lack thereof, has astounded me.

Let’s take one of the local teams here, Al Jazira, the UAE league winners in 2011 and the team owned by the same people that own Manchester City.

Al Jazira won the recently formed UAE Pro League (now Arabian Gulf League) in 2011 amidst a lot of fanfare and wild celebrations, including hiring International producer Timbalandto Dj at the stadium (at a reported cost of 1million AED  – £180k) and various cars being modified to shoot fire from its exhausts, one of which later caught fire outside the stadium. True story. To help them achieve this, they built a great new 40,000 seater stadium, and acquired a team spearheaded by former Milan, Betis and Zaragoza player Ricardo Oliviera. You could say the end justifies the means because they won the league and have won a few cups as well.

Not a bad day's work

1million AED for an hour for Timbaland. Not a bad day’s work

However, I wonder what if your thinking would change if you realised that this is a club that makes absolutely no money at all, not in the conventional way anyway. In fact, they actually LOSE money each game. They don’t charge fans anything to come and watch matches and there is no club shop to even sell merchandise to fans. It is a recurring sight to see busloads of labourers and construction workers ferried to games and fed sandwiches and carton drinks with the intention of giving the stadium some atmosphere.

But it doesn’t stop there.

In the year they won the league, some genius in the marketing department decided that one way to entice fans to games would be to offer them the chance to win a 1millionAED Ferrari . Ten lucky ‘fans’ would qualify to have a chance of winning by having their ticket numbers called out at half time. They would take a shot into an empty net from the half way line. If they scored, not only would their name go into the hat to win the car, they would also take home a share of 25,000AED cash (about £4,500). This competition was held every single home game; seven games. I was never strong at maths but that works out at over £30,000 a season of cash giveaways for a club that doesn’t generate any income. This doesn’t include the random giveaways of Blackberries and laptops every game either! Incidentally, Lee Sharpe was the guest at one of these matches and he actually missed his shot from the halfway line at the first attempt, so I guess it’s not so easy.

Myself and Lee Sharpe with a winner's cheque. The Ferrari is in the background

Lee Sharpe with a winner’s cheque. The Ferrari is in the background.

It is comical and two years later, still unbelievable how they devised the final competition to win this Ferrari (see above). First, all past winners (those that had managed to do what ex England and Man Utd star Lee Sharpe couldn’t) were invited to the pitch on the last game of the season. They then had to kick their numbered footballs as far as they could. The people with the two furthest shots then had a sudden death penalty shootout against each other and the winner was the person that didn’t miss. That was it. That was all you had to do to win a Ferrari. A FERRARI for goodness’ sake! 

The car was actually won by a chemistry teacher from a private school here. He had the option of keeping it or selling it back to the club for about 700,000AED (£125,000) and chose the latter. Who can blame him. Over £120k cash for having being able to kick a ball hard is a pretty good deal. It is worth noting that the next year, fans could still try to win a car, but this time it was a Nissan. They must have hired a new marketing team after reviewing their profit and loss sheet. 

This frivolous use of money isn’t resigned to one team either; everyone is at it. The current champions, Al Ain, who have Ghana’s own and ex-Sunderland ‘star’ Asamoah Gyan playing for them, recently lost their title winning manager Cosmin Olaroiu to bitter rivals Al Ahli of Dubai, the team of World Cup wining captain Paolo Cannavaro.

You can sense that our top professionals have also sensed a theme here…

Rumours are to entice Mr Olaroiu to commit football sacrilege, negotiations began with a ‘gift’ of a car and a villa on the Palm, Dubai. Remember this was even before negotiations had begun! Who knows how far this generosity went in terms of wages and extras? Al Ain meanwhile just sacked Jorge Fossati, the man hired to replace Mr. Olaroiu after just seven weeks and two games into the new season. As naturally would be expected, Mr. Fossati insisted on a brand new car and brand new refurbishment of his villa as they were both used by the previous manager. Now he’s left, no doubt this means having to purchase a new car and new furniture at least to appease their next manager. I hope they got some sort of exchange or return promise on the car.

Remember, these teams make absolutely no money at all. They rely on their respective Sheiks to fund them, but I wonder how long this can carry on before they realise there is a massive non-correlation between expenditure and income. I remember applying for tickets to the 2010 Club World Cup final and finding out they were £5 each! Five quid! You couldn’t even get a can of coke and a packet of crisps for £5 at Wembley but you can watch Barcelona and Leo Messi in the final of a major cup final. It is ironic that in a country where citizens have more disposable income than most, there is so much that is free.

I guess it is true that the more you have, the more you are given.


England, Coaching and John Terry on the toilet


It’s interesting that Patrik Vieira has Houston come out and said the same thing I wrote about two weeks ago.

Let’s start with England’s performance last night. First up, congrats to Fatty Frank Lampard on reaching 100caps. In all fairness, that is a fantastic feat and he is a quality player so let’s give him props. I used to work for Chelsea in their community/residential program between the times of Ranieri and Mourinho and had some exposure to some of the players. Frank Lampard was always seen as one of the best and hardest working, so good on him for fulfilling everyone’s hopes and becoming a legend.

Talking about Chelsea and another legend, I remember going into the Harlington training ground (real Chelsea fans will remember that this used to be their training ground before Abramovich’s millions took them into Classy Chobham) and waking into John Terry who was having a poo with the door open. I did ask him why he didn’t close the door and he shrugged. Maybe he was claustrophobic. I reminded him how he had recently finished a Chelsea kit photoshoot with a friend who was a friend of my girlfriend at the time. Keep up. At the time, he was up to his ‘player’ ways and remembered this girl because she was quite pretty to be fair. Not as pretty as my then girlfriend though I might add, just in case she stumbles upon this in a few years…

Anyway, I digress.

JT clearly remembered this girl and of course asked for her number, which I got for him. He then proceeded to call this girl (not on the toilet at the time, although he may have still been on a toilet when he called), and arrange for her to come and watch him in a game. I remember Chelsea were playing Northampton in a Carling Cup game at that time. So, this poor girl came all the way from her home outside London on this rainy night hoping to meet the Chelsea captain John Terry, who had promised her some tickets and a meeting after the game. She arrived at The Bridge, looking very nice, went up to the designated place to pick up her tickets and of course, you know what happened next.

“Sorry madam, there are no tickets in your name.”

The embarassed but well dressed lady then had to make her way out of the stadium with nothing but a story about how a married footballer disappointed her by not meeting with her. Maybe he had double booked.

I also have to mention here that with all the negative publicity about JT, he does seem to look after his own. There were various stories of how he was always helping the younger players, even paying for their driving lessons, and on the few times I met him, he seemed very nice and funny. Guess nobody’s perfect.

Artist's impression
Artist’s impression

Anyway, back to my initial thought: England. What a terrible team they are. I hate watching them and only turned on the TV at 11pm last night (we are three hours ahead) because I was up and was checking Twitter when I realised they were playing. Even then, I could only watch til half time before giving up and playing ‘Words with Friends’ until I fell asleep. During the whole first half, I just kept thinking about who in their team could be described as a truly world class match winner. I mean, most national teams seem to have a player that’s exciting and demands respect and awe. Argentina and Portugal have those two, Spain have too many, Holland have RVP, Uruguay have Suarez, even Sweden have Ibra. Who do England truly have? Not Lampard, and not Gerrard. As good as they are, it’s fair to say they are slowly going past it. Even Rooney hasn’t played up to European Class level for a few years. Poor Jack Wilshire is the only Englishman who seems to have something classy about him, and we all know what’s going to happen. He will be put up as the new saviour of English football and then knocked down with every bad game he has. Reading reports from last night, it seems it already has.

I can categorically state that there is no way England will ever win a World Cup if things go the way they are. Greg Dyke and his ambitions need to get a reality check. There just aren’t many good English players around. We can go around complaining about too many foreigners in the league etc, but what do you do if you have the choice of steak or spam and can afford steak?

The stereotypical English hero

Which brings me onto what I believe is the main cause of this. As a football coach who has been through the FA Level 1,2 and 3 system, I believe the whole coach education system is so poor it will take many years to overhaul it. There is no patience to develop the player and allow them to make mistakes. Instead, they are treated like robots, expected to play a role, ignoring their attributes. There is no autonomy for the coach to play his way with his ideas and pass these courses. It’s either do as your assessor has taught you or go home and try again in a few months. I remember our coach on my level 3 course telling us he basically believed football should be played directly from the goalkeeper to the striker and then the midfield supporting. This goes totally against my beliefs; I’m more about the goalkeeper passing it out to full backs and starting from the back. However, there was no arguing with him, as nice as he was, because his demo sessions were what we had to follow if we were to pass. And don’t even get me started on the ‘stop, stand still’ culture! At least the FA have started to realise this with the Youth coaching modules introduced a few years ago. This course at least allows coaches to let the player play and make his own decisions and mistakes, which progresses learning faster than being shouted at from the sidelines. The challenge is whether coaches will be able to adopt this attitude when games really matter. If our youth coaches are brave and adopt this attitude and spend time on technique practice (I believe practice makes permanent), then just maybe there may be an England team worth getting more excited about than making a 90point word.