EPL players impressed by UAE football standards

With the UK still in the throes of winter, training for English Premier League teams can be difficult in snowy and icy conditions, so it is little wonder that no fewer than seven Premier League teams have taken advantage of a break in fixtures to escape the winter chill and head to the UAE for some warm-weather training.

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Published: Thu 21 Feb 2013, 11:39 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 8:52 AM

This week has seen the squads of Swansea, Sunderland, West Ham, QPR, Reading and West Brom arrive in Dubai, whilst Norwich have based themselves in Abu Dhabi, in hope that a change of scene and routine will stand them in good stead for the remainder of the busy Premier League season.

Reading Football Club, nicknamed ‘The Royals’, have set up camp at the Park Hyatt and are training at Al Wasl’s Zabeel Stadium complex, where the players can be seen working hard in their training sessions whilst visibly enjoying the sunshine and warmer climate.

Swansea City’s Michu seen during a training session at the Dubai Sports City held in mid-February. — KT file

Reading’s number one goalkeeper, Adam Federici, highlighted the benefits felt by the players: “From a health point of view it’s great to get a bit of Vitamin D, and it’s a bit of a refresher for the morale. It’s not always easy training in the wet and cold every day so it makes a big difference to be here when there’s not much sun in England.”

Reading’s captain, Jamaica international Jobi McAnuff, echoed Federici’s sentiments. “The weather makes a nice change from England at this time of year; it’s good to have a bit of sun. It definitely benefits us both mentally and physically and gives us a lift to make a real push for the rest of the season.”

“I’ve been before for holidays and also for several training camps with the Australia national team. I love Dubai,” said Federici, with McAnuff adding; “I’ve been on numerous occasions for holidays because I love it here, and I came for a training camp once before when I was with Watford FC. I know there’s a number of other clubs here at the moment and it’s the ideal place to come because of the weather, the facilities and the fact that it’s not too far to travel from London.”

Meanwhile, Federici already knew what to expect after a tip-off from close friend and Australia national team colleague Lucas Neill, a former Al Wasl player. “Lucas used to play for Al Wasl and he speaks very highly about it, so I knew the facilities would be great before we came out here. For the weather conditions here the grass is very good.”

Lucas Neill is not Federici’s only source of inside information on the Pro League, as he has several other compatriots plying their trade here. “I grew up with the likes of Alex Brosque (Al Ain) and Nick Carle (Bani Yas) and they speak very highly of the League and the people they play with out here. They say everything is done very professionally and the standard of training is high, and the quality keeps improving.”

The continuous growth of the Pro League has also been spotted by McAnuff on his various visits to the UAE; “I always notice the League on TV when I come here for holidays; there are some big profile players out here now like Gyan and Quaresma, and the League is definitely growing in stature.”

Meanwhile the UAE national team first registered on Jobi McAnuff’s radar during the Olympics in London. “I saw the UAE play at the Olympics and they were very, very impressive for large parts of their games, and I noticed a couple of players in particular that really stood out.”

Federici, however, anticipates more European-based players heading this way first. “People are waiting to see which UAE player will be the first to make a move to the European leagues, but I think the flow might start being in the other direction with a few more players coming this way,” he explained.

“Most of our young lads are coming out here even though they could probably go to Europe, but they choose to play here, which shows just how much football in the UAE is growing.”

And Jobi McAnuff certainly wouldn’t mind being one of those Europe-based players to head in our direction; “I’m not closing any options off as I’d definitely like to experience football somewhere else in my career,” McAnuff explained.

“Obviously the MLS in America is an interesting option, but I’d definitely consider a move to the UAE Pro League in future.”

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