A 2020 vision
Dubai: Sport in the UAE has undergone another major transformation, yet again proving the country’s status as one of the top sporting destinations in the world — and this time it is planning for the long haul.
The new-look Inspiratus Sports District (ISD) at Dubai Sports City is realising its vision to unearth world-beating talent as it expands its portfolio to include football, rugby, athletics and tennis.
ISD is the brainchild of CEO Hussein Murad, as the District has set up world-class academies to harness and tap sporting talent in the UAE and help mould the stars of the future.
Athletes of all ages are now all at the heart of the action at ISD, with the Athletics Academy — under the guidance of three-time Olympic hurdler Andy Turner — joining the world-leading La Liga Football Academy, and a tennis academy also launching.
“Our vision is coming to life now we are here at Dubai Sports City,” explains Murad. “We are now in the best facility in Dubai, one of the best facilities in the region and even in the world. The great thing is how everything comes together. We are a world-class destination for sports — we started with football, and then rugby and athletics, and now we are also introducing tennis and padel tennis.
“So we are bringing everything together in one world class facility. At the same time we have the home of the best academies not only in Dubai but also in the region. If it is La Liga, athletics or tennis, they are the best in terms of the technical abilities of our coaches.
“If you take athletics for example, we have three time Olympic medallist Andy Turner and his team, who are really able to motivate the kids and give them a chance of a professional athletics career or just enhance their ability at every level.
“It is the same in La Liga. All our coaches are Uefa Pro-certified. They have been coaching at La Liga clubs in Spain and are coming here to give the same level of coaching and experience to our kids.”
La Liga Academy
Now in its fourth year, the academy is the oldest in the Inspiratus family and settled in its new home at Dubai Sports City. It has firmly established itself at the pinnacle of football schools in the MENA region, proving youngsters with the same level of training as that at La Liga clubs in Spain at the hands of the league’s finest Uefa Pro-certified coaches.
Each aspiring Ronaldo or Messi gets tailor-made training programmes to improve their technical and tactical skills alongside cognitive training and conditioning.
Many youngsters have progressed from the academy thanks to the scouting programme and High Performance Centre (HPC) in the UAE. The very best are taken to Spain each year for competitions and trials at La Liga clubs. With around 150 players taking part in the HPC, more than 20 have already undergone trials with La Liga clubs and now play professionally with local clubs. The academy is such a success that it is now being used as the template for other La Liga academies around the globe.
“The journey for La Liga has been amazing,” said Ruben Carlo, Head Coach of La Liga Academy UAE. “We have been here in the UAE for four short years and everything has been happening so fast. We feel we are doing something good. We are changing the way to teach football in this country through our methodology, teaching the young players the tactical game along with the technical and physical side.
“The journey in the UAE has been key, as we are now opening more academies around the world following the same model here in Dubai. For me, La Liga, Dubai and the whole UAE, the facility here is so important.”
A future prospect
One product who has been tipped for the very top is Mulham Hmidan. The 16-year-old has been likened to Liverpool and Egypt star Mo Salah. But he has a different tale and vision.
Currently balancing time between studies and training at the La Liga HPC, the Syrian teen has the credentials, ambition and skills to make it to the top, all the while keeping his feet firmly planted on the ground.
The young striker is determined to utilise the facilities at his disposal in Dubai to reach the very top of the game and make a name for himself.
A cool head and dedication are Mulham’s key factors on and off the pitch. “Salah is a hero of mine, that’s for sure, but each player is their own and I will make my own path rather than be compared to a big name,” Mulham tells Gulf News in a chat. “Many boys have been compared to top stars and never made it — be it through ego, injury or wrong career choices. I prefer to keep my head down and concentrate on my own game and vision.”
Mulham is only too appreciative of the benefits he gained at HPC and is keen to explore his options at the top leagues in Europe should they arise.
“La Liga HPC has given me a real foot in the door and I know I will be given opportunities in Spain thanks to them. It is a real step on the ladder.”
Onwards and upwards
La Liga Academy UAE has changed the face of youth football training in the UAE over the past three seasons with more than 2,000 male and female players learning to play football the La Liga way.
Maite Ventura, La Liga’s Managing Director for the Middle East and North Africa, has been delighted with the move to Dubai Sports City.
“This reflects our commitment to advance youth football in the UAE, and we are confident that the Academy’s football programme — delivered to the highest standards at the hands of our La Liga coaches — will create a pipeline of professional players right from the Academy,” she said.
ISD’s Murad himself said: “This move to one of the region’s best sports facilities is in line with our mission to offer young players an immersive and professional football academy experience with a La Liga high-level training and development programme. In three short years, the La Liga Academy has established itself as a football academy in a league of its own, powered by La Liga, and we look forward to continue growing in line with the UAE’s goals to elevate the standard of football in the nation.”
ISD Athletics is the UAE’s newest athletics academy for youth from the ages of four and above. Athletics is in its infancy in the UAE, and ISD is leading the way to take the country to the highest level. While only launching last year, the academy has already established itself as the best in the UAE and one of the top in the region. with some of the world’s best coaches bringing their vast experience to youngsters in Dubai. With a careful balance of training, nutrition, sports science and education. it covers all track and field sports — from sprints to long-distance and hurdles on the track; shot put and discus to javelin and high jump — as well as strength and conditioning, to ensure each athlete gets a well-rounded development.
“The venue here at Dubai Sports City is fantastic,” said Andy Turner, a three-time Olympian, European and Commonwealth gold medallist, world record-holder and now head coach at ISD. “It’s just great to be back involved with athletics again with the ISD Athletics Academy. Athletics is my life, it is my passion. After retiring, I had a few years working elsewhere, but the opportunity to give athletics back to the youth of today, that is what I am passionate about.
“I have learnt so much during my career and this chance came along to give something back and hopefully put Dubai on the map with a view to athletics. They have so much untapped talent. It is such an exciting time and we could develop the UAE into one of the leading athletics nations.”
Turner explains that ISD also offers potential professionals the keys to a successful future.
“Dubai is one of the most driven in the world of sport, with sports development at the core of its ambitions,” he says. “The ISD Athletics Academy brings an unparalleled experience to the youth of the UAE, providing them with first-rate programmes in all the disciplines of track and field, as well as providing top athletes with a pathway to pursue professional careers in athletics through college scholarships in the US.”
A healthy plan
It is not just about athletic performance on the track and field at ISD. It is about creating the right balance for a healthy body and mind day and night, inside and outside of competition.
“We are trying to create a 360-degree ecosystem where everything comes together in terms sport condition but also in terms of nutrition,” says Murad. “To give our kids the ability to eat right to become a top athlete. We also have sports science and a wellness clinic, with state of the art technology coming together with ancient philosophies. We have top-level physios, osteopaths and sports science experts to take our athletes to the next level.”
Spring Break programmes
ISD Athletics is holding its first Spring Camp at Dubai Sports City starting March 28 for boys and girls aged five-18.
The track and field spring programme is tailored to different age groups to keep children active, improving their speed, jumping and throwing techniques while acquiring new skills to build their confidence and stamina.
Week 1: March 28-April 1
Week 2: April 4-April 8
Prices: Daily Dh150, one week Dh600, two weeks Dh1,000
ISD Athletics will then begin its second term on April 11, with more than 90 per cent of athletes from Term 1 already showing vast improvements in speed and agility. ISD Athletics also offers Adult Boot Camps every Saturday from 9am.
La Liga Academy Spring High Performance Programme
The well-established spring programmes are customised by age group (five to 18) to keep children active, improving their skills, stamina and strength, while building focus and leadership qualities on and off the pitch.
Spring Camps — Under six to Under 18
Week 1: March 28-April 1
Week 2: April 4-April 8
ISD has also just opened the newest tennis hub at Dubai Sports City — a top-rated professional academy for children, newest tennis program is now open, with tailor-made training programmes focused on the development of each individual’s technical skills and leadership qualities, on and off the court.
Delivered by a team of professional European coaches, ISD Tennis is open to boys and girls aged four to 18 at the ISD state-of-the-art outdoor tennis courts.
Spring Break programme
Week 1: March 28-April 1
Week 2: April 4-April 8