Watch: 11-yr-old Emirati football fan gets surprise of his life as Chelsea captain visits him in Abu Dhabi hospital

Cesar Azpilicueta told the boy about his own injuries and how, through patience and rehabilitation, he recovered to pursue his sport


Ashwani Kumar

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Published: Sat 17 Jun 2023, 12:27 PM

Last updated: Sat 17 Jun 2023, 10:50 PM

It was a dream come true for Emirati boy Khalifa Ali Salem Al Mansoori — who was under treatment at an Abu Dhabi hospital — when Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta surprised him with a visit.

An ardent fan of English football club Chelsea and its legendary leader, Al Mansoori missed seeing ‘the Blues’ lift the 2021 Fifa Club World Cup trophy in Abu Dhabi because of health issues following an accident.

When he was four years old, Al Mansoori sustained serious injuries in a car accident, fracturing his spine and pelvis and damaging his hip joint. Over the years, he couldn’t fully recover from the injuries.

It was only recently that the Emirati boy, now 11 years old, was able to undergo surgery to change the shape of his hip joint and lengthen his thigh bone at the Paley Middle East Clinic in Burjeel Medical City (BMC). Since then, he has been in intensive physical therapy at the hospital to regain his hip and knee movement.

During treatments, Al Mansoori's doctors noticed that he was almost always wearing Chelsea’s blue jersey and even catching the ‘Blues’ in action on TV from his hospital bed. They realised how much the boy loved the London club and its skipper.

So, when hospital authorities found out that Azpilicueta was in the country, they contacted the Spanish footballer — who readily agreed to inspire his young fan with a surprise visit.

Al Mansoori was on cloud nine after meeting his favourite player.

“After missing the opportunity to watch the (Fifa Club World Cup) final live and my favourite player lift the trophy, this visit has boosted my morale. I couldn’t have asked for more,” Al Mansoori told Khaleej Times.

“Meeting him is a dream come true, especially while I am in the hospital. I congratulated him on the Spanish team’s win against Italy (in the Nation League semis on Thursday). His words have inspired me to get back on my feet soon,” said Al Mansoori.

Azpilicueta told Al Mansoori about his own injuries and how, through patience and rehabilitation, he recovered to pursue his sport.

“I am here after a year and happy to meet you. Stay brave and follow the instructions of your doctors. I want to watch you play football in the future,” Azpilicueta, the most capped non-English player for Chelsea, said to his young fan.

Dr Michael Uglow, director of Paley Middle East Clinic and consultant for paediatric orthopaedic surgery, BMC, said the visit will spur Al Mansoori’s recovery.

“I have been treating him for the past five years. He has always wanted to become a football player. Watching football, especially seeing his favourite team and player win trophies, has helped build his confidence and distract him from the pain. This special visit will help him in his recovery journey.”

The Spanish international’s visit brought joy and hope to many football fans undergoing treatment as he spent quality time with them signing autographs and obliging for photos.

Prioritise mental health

Later, Azpilicueta addressed patients and hospital staff in the atrium area by stressing the importance of sports in promoting physical and mental wellness, which are crucial to overall health and well-being.

“I hope you can see that being strong and brave does not mean being perfect or invincible. We, as athletes, also face challenges, setbacks, and doubts. During such moments, I am reminded that prioritising our mental health not only helps us unlock our full potential as football players but also nurtures our overall well-being,” said Azpilicueta, who has won trophies including the Champions League, the Premier League title, the FA Cup, the Fifa Club World Cup, and the Europa League.

Azpilicueta praised the UAE’s efforts in hosting major international events and promoting sports.

“My family and I are regular visitors to the UAE. This time, I came along with my wife. I am enjoying the warmth of the country. It is great to see the country’s leadership taking inspiring steps to promote sports.”

John Sunil, CEO of Burjeel Holdings, the parent company of BMC, added: “We are extremely grateful to Azpilicueta for his visit and for spending quality time with Khalifa and others. His kind gesture lifted their spirits and inspired them to stay positive.”


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