Charlie Webster - Billionaire City owner investing closer to home

12 November 2010 09:42

I'm writing this, and I don't mean to rub it in, in the beautiful sunshine by the beach in Dubai. However to make you all feel better, I have a stinking cold.

My ears are blocked and my glands are making my neck look like Arnold Schwarzenegger but I am here to watch the F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and to do little bit of work too. Yesterday I was interviewed by Dubai radio about this weekend's GP and somehow I managed to throw Sheffield United in too, always an added bonus.

While I've been here I thought I'd check out the local football. When I used to work in Asia I went to a lot of the local games and have always found world football interesting. I was especially curious about a club in the UAE that are owned by Manchester City's renowned billionaire HH Sheikh Monsour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

The club, Al Jazira, are currently top of the UFL league, a division that includes 12 teams. It's refreshing to hear that while he has invested in City he is very much at the forefront of local football within his community.

Al Jazira have a state of the art stadium with a capacity of 43,000 and it is consequently hosting the FIFA Club World Cup which starts in December. The club itself has undergone a massive restructuring in the management including a huge push to drive attendances and grow a loyal long-term fan club that attracts Western expats as well as locals.

It seems to be working in a pretty impressive way, with attendances going from around 500 people per game last season to the most recent home match of 28,000. Not bad, eh? Especially when the rest of the teams in the league only have stadium capacities of 10-15,000.

Put it this way, Al Jazira are light years ahead of the rest of the clubs out here. The work that Sheikh Monsour and his team have done has been an example to other clubs in the UAE and they are sure to follow suit sooner rather than later. Plus with Barclays coming on board as exclusive financial banking partner, you can see just how big Al Jazira's plans actually are.

Tonight Al Jazira take on Al Ahli, funnily enough this is the team David O'leary manages with Roy Aitken as his assistant. Former Italian World Cup winning captain Fabio Cannavaro is also on the list of familiar names, although his performances so far haven't been up to his previous standards.

In the UFL only 3 foreign players can be on the pitch at any one time. Al Jazira's include a Brazilian, a player originating from the Ivory Coast and the recent signing of Argentine and former Besiktas player Matias Delgado.

However a blend of home grown and international players is the key to their success and it helps that 7 of them play for the national side, UAE. So tonight it's a trip, with my packet of tissues close at hand, to sample the local football.

But for now I'll get back to sipping lemsips in the sun.

FOLLOW CHARLIE ON TWITTER @CharlieCW

Source: DSG


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