Action from the match between Atletico Madrid and Hatta
Action from the match between Atletico Madrid and Hatta during the ninth edition of the Dubai International Under-16 championship, which has played a key role in providing the future stars for some of the best European clubs. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: This one is for the ages and the generations to come as Dubai takes on the responsibility of joining the supply chain of footballers to the national cause.

The ninth edition of the Dubai International U16 Football Championship concludes this Friday [April 19] and Dubai can take comfort in the fact that they have, over a period of time, played a crucial role in helping the overall national cause of the game, while also reaching out to the world.

Over the past nine years, some of the best football clubs have been part of this tournament. Ranging from European heavyweights such as Paris Saint Germain (PSG), Werder Bremen, Valencia, Lens, Birmingham, Torino, AC Milan, AS Roma, Real Madrid, Olympique Lyon, PSV Eindhoven and Inter Milan to the South American talent pool of Boca Juniors and CR Flamengo and the Middle Eastern flair of Egypt’s Al Ahli, Kuwait’s Al Jahra to one-time champions Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia, this competition has seen it all.

Players from these junior teams have gone on to represent club and country with pride, with Shabab Al Ahli Dubai’s Ali Salmeen and Majid Hassan standing as two of the main stars who have made it through to the UAE national squad since the past few years.

“It is very important to have a competition for this age group as I feel this is the most critical period for any player who is looking at a future in football,” Fabiano Medici, Technical Director for CR Flamengo, told Gulf News after his team maintained its unbeaten record in two years in Dubai, so far.

“Since the past two years we have used this competition to give our squad a different experience altogether, and a major part of this lies in getting used to playing under alien conditions and differing styles of football in one location,” he added.

Karsten Gorges, who is in charge of the Borussia Dortmund side, is also aware of the rich experience such a competition hands out to these aspiring players. “For most of them, this is their first time away from the comfort of their homes. Not only can such an event be a learning experience on the pitch, but off the pitch as well. They are pushed into a corner wherein they have to fend for themselves and this can help grow their character as footballers,” Gorges remarked.

“Such competitions also go well with the philosophy at Dortmund wherein we put a lot of stress on growing the player as a person while using his unique characteristics as a unique individual,” he added.

Al Wasl coach Ali Hassan, who was part of the ‘golden generation’ of UAE football is aware first-hand of the impact such a competition can have on the youngsters as they seek to make the next level. “My opinion is that this under-16 event is more important even than the league for any country,” he said.

“Some of the best teams from across the world are right here to play and I believe these teams bring something to the table that normally these players wouldn’t have got in one venue. Such a tournament is for the future and it’s good we have this,” he added.

“For us at the Dubai Sports Council (DSC), this tournament is the best possible mode of advertising our strategic goals and the blueprint we have for junior football,” Ahmad Salem Al Muhairi, Tournament Director, admitted.

“It helps our young players raise themselves to an international standard. And they are getting such a golden opportunity at perhaps a very important age. Can you imagine the golden experience the players get through such a competition,” he queried.

Spanish coach Carlos Inarejos, whose Al Hilal became the first team to enter the semi-final with a game in hand, had nothing but praise for an initiative of this nature. “I feel this is the best thing that can happen to players in this age category,” he offered.

“This sort of competition is something that is needed for this age category as it brings out the competitive streak in them. And if I am asked to grade this tournament on a scale of 1 to 10, I would give this a perfect 10,” he smiled.

ROLL OF HONOUR

2010: 1. Paris St-Germain (France); 2. Werder Bremen (Germany); 3. Valencia (Spain)

2011: 1. Lega Pro (Italy); 2. Al Shabab (UAE); 3. Lens (France)

2012: 1. Valencia (Spain); 2. Al Nasr (UAE); 3. Lega Pro (Italy)

2013: 1. Valencia (Spain); 2. Al Nasr (Saudi Arabia); 3. Torina (Italy)

2014: 1. AC Milan (Italy); 2. Real Madrid (Spain); 3. Valencia (Spain)

2015: 1. Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia); 2. Borussia Dortmund (Germany); 3. Real Madrid (Spain)

2017: 1. Olympique Lyon (France); 2. Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia); 3. AS Roma (Italy)

2018: 1. CR Flamengo (Brazil); 2. Real Madrid (Spain); 3. Borussia Dortmund (Germany)