It’s no secret that English football is almost as successful as it has ever been. With the infamous 1966 World Cup win seeming almost a lifetime ago, the last two years have shown lots of promise, recognition and trophies across nearly all of the age groups for the Football Association.
Most notably, winners of the FIFA Under 20 World Cup, the UEFA under 19 Championship and of course the FIFA under 17 World Cup… phew.
And respectably, runners up in the UEFA Under 17 Championships and semi-finalists of the UEFA under 21 Championship.
Having been a part of the unforgettable summer 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia myself, I witnessed first hand the resurgence of passion and belief in the national team as they attempted wholeheartedly to win over the nation by bringing home the Jules Rimet trophy, only falling short in the semi finals to the eventual runners up, Croatia, and the mightily impressive Luka Modric.
With a host of English names making an appearance in the headlines recently such as the £100 million rated Jadon Sancho, underplayed Callum Hudson- Odoi and Manc born and bred Marcus Rashford to name but a few, it seemed only fitting to go and watch the England Under 18 team participate in the first edition of the SportChain Cup here in Dubai. The competition including 6 teams, Mexico, Japan, Belgium, England, Czech Republic and Russia.
With a KO time of 8pm at the recently dismantled grandstand pitch based at the Sevens ground, it was an opportunity to see what all the fuss was about and whether this new ‘DNA’ had any substance.
A team which has already won the Murcia and Limoges tournaments earlier this season.
There was a crowd of around 100 people, it was time to see if the English lads could do it on a windy and rainy Friday night in Dubai, never mind Stoke. It appeared that Neil Dewsnip had rested some of his key players after the 4-1 win over Japan and in anticipation of the Mexico game taking place 3 days later.
James Garner who had recently signed a new full time contract with Manchester United after making his champions league debut in the dramatic win over PSG, was a notable absentee from the starting line up.
England lacked real creativity in the final third but it gave the opportunity for the defenders to shine, making crucial tackles to preserve a 0-0 score line going into half time. England had hit the bar on two occasions and despite bringing in some reinforcements in the second half, they went down to 10 men and conceded a 78th minute goal which meant the team suffered their first loss in the tournament.
However, for some of the players, it does bode well for the European Championships 2020 and the newly reformed 48 team Winter FIFA World Cup set to take place (at the moment) in Qatar.
Ones to watch…
James Garner ( Manchester United)
Now that Ole is permanently at the wheel and a firm believer in the youth production from the academy, I am sure James will feature in the pre season tour of Australia and ICC cup in Singapore. Depending on injuries, we may also see James get some minutes in the remaining league games.
Curtis Jones ( Liverpool )
A midfielder who has already made his full debut in the FA cup against Wolves this season. A player who will be hoping to make an impression again within pre season and hopefully securing some more minutes in the 2019/20 season.
As a side note, ‘Into the Blue’ is a fantastic documentary on Manchester City’s 2017/18 youth campaign in the UEFA Champions League, featuring the likes of Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz now of Real Madrid.
I found out about this event the day before it was due to take place, which I have learnt is very typical of Dubai. Thankfully a friend with the same passion for football had seen it advertised and was kind enough to share the details. It’s worth mentioning that I, annoyingly, often find out about events after they have taken place so I felt very lucky and excited about this one.
I made my way down to Dubai mall, which for anyone living here in the city will try to avoid at all costs due to the sheer lack of available parking and huge number of tourists at any given time or day. The event was being hosted by the Egyptian video creator named Amr Nassouhy and it was to be held at the newly renovated Nike store which currently holds the title as the largest flagship store in the Middle East and impressively, the largest one-floor store in the world.
It was an intimate event, a few slouchy seats amongst the trendiest trainers currently available to purchase, overlooking the famous Dubai fountains. A round of applause greeted the former Barcelona player. His infectious smile and personality took over the shop floor and the story telling began.
Kluivert began by complimenting the players for whom he has been lucky enough to call team mates throughout his career and praised them for their influence on his achievements, such as his 40 international goals. You only have to hear a few of the names during his 79 Oranje appearances to appreciate what he means, they included Overmars, Bergkamp, the De Boer brothers, Van Der Saar and Edgar Davids.
The 42 year old was asked about his first club goal which came at the age of 18 for Ajax against Feynoord in the Dutch Super Cup, “I was so nervous but it was amazing, I just put my foot forward, like in a tackle and it went in”. It was the beginning of his time with Ajax’s ‘golden generation’ in which they won the Eredivisie twice, Champions League, European Super Cup and Intercontinental Cup.
But the goal for which he will most famously be remembered for is the one which secured Ajax’s last Uefa Champions League title. This also put Kluivert into the record books as the youngest goal scorer in a UCL final, a record which still stands today “I think it was one of my ugliest goals but it was the goal that changed my career, it was a great AC Milan team, we knew they were very good and it would be a tight game”.
Kluivert discussed his son, Justin and his £16 million move to Roma and how he had advised him to stay at Ajax “it is very difficult as a father to talk about your son, he is a good player, he wants to play much more which is frustrating for him, I actually said to him to stay at Ajax because of the Champions League and because they are playing a good style of football but he chose Roma and I have to support him.”
When asked about the toughest defenders he has faced, Kluivert was not short of some big names in world of centre backs “Cannavaro, Marcel Desailly, Jaap Stam and Nesta, they were all incredibly difficult to play against.” Despite the difficulty of the opposition, Patrick Kluivert still managed to score 149 club goals and impose himself upon some of the biggest stages in world football, playing three times in the European Championships, the 98′ World Cup and Euro 2000 where he was joint top scorer with 5 goals.
The Dutchman has now taken on the role of Cameroon’s assistant manager alongside ex-team mate Clarence Seedorf, “now the tournament is no longer in Cameroon we are going to Egypt to get the trophy, we have a good side, I’m excited.”
As football fans, we will always be left with the memories of the famous Netherlands number 9 and his spontaneous stint at Newcastle United where he joined purely for Bobby Robson and the love of the fans at St.James Park. It will be interesting to see how the ‘Les Lions Indomptables’ perform at the 2019 African Cup of Nations, can Kluivert pass on his attacking wisdom to the bring the cup back to Cameroon for the sixth time?
I wanted to share my journey of attempting to get all of the signatures from the treble winning Manchester United squad of 1999.
This is a project which has been going strong now for two years and it has had it’s fair share of highs and lows.
As a life long united fan, this was a decision actually made on the spur of the moment, and this is how it began.
2nd February 2017- Dubai Mall.
Through facebook, I had found out that Dwight Yorke and Peter Schmeichel were attending a Manchester United Tag Heur event at Dubai Mall. I was immediately excited by the prospect of seeing both players and planned my whole afternoon around it. Hoping for a photo with one of, if not both of the players, I also took my 2015/16 home shirt as I felt something needed to be signed to remember the day. Thankfully a member of the promotion team took my shirt and got it signed by the players. I then even managed to take a photo with them before they were escorted into the Tag Heur store to be wooed by the array of watches. I have since seen them at a host of events here in the UAE which has made it an almost ‘normal’ sight, that in itself I have found weird.
30th April 2017- Dhow and Anchor, Jumeriah Beach Hotel.
Through following Dubai Eye 103.8 radio station and their Monday night sport special, they announced that Teddy Sheringham would be joining the hosts to give his view on the games from the weekend. It was at this point that I had my light bulb moment and thought I would start my project of attempting to get every player’s signature from that famous 1999 season. Having one of the goal scorers from that famous night at the Nou Camp made it seem so very achievable. Sat down in the bar area behind Teddy, I nervously asked if he would mind signing the shirt and we made some short chit chat. Little did I know that he is in fact a Dubai regular and I have probably seen him in the sandpit more times that I can count on two hands.
25th July 2017- Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Washington D.C
As a part of my summer holiday, I had decided to visit the USA for 3 and a half weeks, not forgetting to pencil in the United plans for their tour and their game against Barcelona at the FedEx Field Stadium in Washington D.C.
Someone in the Manchester United USA supporters group had mentioned the possibility of an open training session for fans, but this only turned out to be the case for Barcelona with a session at 10$ per person. Nether less, I decided to make my way over to the hotel and see if I could catch a glimpse of a player or two. This was what I would experience as a missed opportunity (which since, I have had a few). Attending a meet and greet later that day in the mall, were Bryan Robson, Denis Irwin and David May. Unfortunately, my football shirt had remained in the hot summer of Dubai. On their way out to the event, I managed to grab a quick picture with Captain Marvel himself and the legendary left back, Denis Irwin. Lesson learnt, always have the shirt with me.
26th September 2017, Al Wasl Sports Club.
As a part of the Premier Futsal League, six Indian teams played in a week long tournament here in Dubai. Each team had a marquee player and I was in luck, both Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes were to be representing a team each. Some of the other names included Deco and Ronaldinho by the way.
I contacted a gentleman from Footprint SE through Instagram as I knew they were the company representing both players. I asked if it would be possible to get my shirt signed at any point over the week. The reply came through and read as ‘ Yes of course, message me when you are at the venue’.
It was at this point I wished I had an a replica of the actual Champions League shirt from 1999, rather than the 2015/16 home shirt currently in hand. I arranged to attend a match and I think the total attendance was around 25 people once I had sat down. I messaged the gentleman and he told me to catch him after the game. Sure enough, after watching the ‘Welsh Wizard’ and ‘Sat Nav’ roll back the years effortlessly, I waited around for my chance.
What happened next could not have ever been imagined in my wildest dreams. Giggs first came down the stairs and stopped to sign my shirt and furthermore, took the time to chat about Dubai and being back in Manchester. We walked and talked, making our way down to the media room. Still beaming from that interaction, Scholes made his way past and I had chance to grab him whilst he profusely apologised for being sweaty, to sign my shirt.
How could I beat that?
21st December 2017- Hotel Football, Old Trafford
Whilst trawling through Instagram, I spotted the post by Hotel Football, ‘ Lunch with the Class of 92’. I knew I would be home for the Christmas holidays in the UK and I emailed to confirm my place straight away. Only after I had booked it, did I realise I would be going to a sit down 3 course meal on my own- how embarrassing.
The day came and with my shirt and sharpie pen all packed and ready to go. It was then announced that Phil Neville would no longer be at the event as he was to commentating on the Bournemouth game later that evening. I entered the hotel and was directed to ‘Heaven’ whereby welcome drinks were being served, I had to do the classic shuffle to the corner, hope no one notices me and occupy myself with social media. The call for dinner was then made and I checked the seating plan and placed myself down on table 10. Thankfully, a gentleman who I am now lucky enough to call a friend, chose to sit down next to me. He also had an agenda; to have the ‘Class of 92’ shirts individually signed and framed for his son, perfect.
We ate our three course meal; duck pate, roast beef and then cheesecake.All whilst the Salford lads spoke about their time at the club as players, the ‘boss’, their current business ventures and hopes for the future. Once this had finished, I actually didn’t know how this would go with regards to the shirt. Gary Neville was the first to get up and move faster than I had ever seen him move as a right back, I managed to grab him as he was getting into his car. He announced he was in a rush as he was presenting in London for the Arsenal v Liverpool game.
I made my way back into the lounge and both Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs were surrounded by fans, queued up and waiting for their moment with their childhood idols. I approached Nicky Butt and asked if he would mind signing my shirt, again slightly embarrassed it was the incorrect shirt. I, of course eventually made my way over for obligatory pictures with Ryan and Paul, I had seen them twice in as many months, incredible. ‘Butty’ was crossed off the list along with 1/2 of the Neville brothers.
29th March 2018- Le Meridien Hotel.
It had been three months since I had an addition to my shirt, in the mean time I had attended an event with Nemanja Vidic and even seen the current United team during their winter training camp here in Dubai.
Whilst on holiday in Sri Lanka, I learnt that Denis Irwin would be coaching on a week long camp as a part of a football academy based in Dubai. I contacted the head coach, who I knew from my involvement in football here and informed him of my current project. He gave me the ‘OK’ to go along to the camp and meet Denis, brilliant.
I nervously approached Denis and fumbled my shirt and trusty sharpie out of my bag, he pointed out the other signatures already in place and spoke about their golfing abilities and the United tour taking place in the USA again that summer. I apologised profusely about the year of the shirt to which he laughed. Phew.
11th July- Red Square, Moscow.
It was coming home and I had managed to get a reasonable flight and a ticket to the World Cup Semi Final between England and Croatia. Whilst in Moscow, I took in the atmosphere and came across a plethora of ex-footballers across the two days such as Ian Wright, Dion Dublin, Martin Keown and Lee Dixon. Of course, my United shirt had travelled with me to Russia but on this occasion I had kept it safe in my hotel room as I popped out to get some food. During this venture, I managed a quick selfie with the very busy Gary Neville- all was forgiven for the haste in Manchester in the previous December. I then learnt that Roy Keane had walked by 5 minutes earlier from a fellow football fan’s Instagram page, how had I managed to miss him? The fact I didn’t have my shirt in my bag made it slightly easier to get over, fate maybe?
November 1st 2018- Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence.
As a part of Football Escapes, a company which brings over football players to coach on holiday football camps had advertised the attendance of Wes Brown at their next camp. He was on the list and I messaged him on Instagram, his reply ‘yes of course, pop along any time’. Thankfully the venue was only a twenty minute drive and I was on my October half term. I parked up and spent half an hour watching the training session with a friend and member of the UAE Manchester United supporters group. He still looked sharp and could probably still do a job for United based on their current form under Jose Mourinho. I walked over and we chatted about my time as a teacher at Wilmslow High School, being out in Dubai and his holidays here in the desert. The hardest man in all the town with orange hair did not disappoint.
December 20th 2018- Hotel Football, Old Trafford.
Round two of the ‘Lunch with the Class of 92’ and this time I had someone to sit with, my friend whom I had met at the same event last year. We had exchanged emails and speculated about the players which may be present and what the ‘plan’ would be for the day and most importantly the shirts.
As I parked my car, I spotted David May getting out of a taxi, I was secretly shouting YESSS!!! in my head. He was on my list and I had failed to get his autograph in the US in 2017 during the United tour. I made my way into the Hotel and straight into the main lounge. I passed the boxer and massive United fan, Anthony Crolla, Norman Whiteside and Chris Casper, the newly appointed Director of Football at Salford City.
We sat and ate the delicacies on offer and it was at that point I found out that David Beckham had been playing in a 5-a-side team in ‘Heaven’. Oh.my.days.
Was he still in the building, should I stand downstairs in the hope he might walk out?
The host of the event sat next to me in the seat which had been purposely left empty, I decided to ask him about my childhood idol to which he replied ‘ he is about 100ft from you right now’. I put my knife and fork down and picked up my bag, making my way down to the entrance of the hotel. I waited and spoke to the reception staff who revealed nothing as to whether he had already left. The talk was then announced to be starting in 5 minutes and I made the choice to return to my seat at the dinner table with the thought that I had already missed him.
Phil Neville who had made an appearance at this years’ event, made his way out immediately, there was no chance of catching him. I finished off my cheesecake and made my way over to David May, a mixture of disappointment at missing Becks and Phil and delight at finally getting ‘Maysie’.
That night I tortured myself by looking though Instagram at people who had been lucky enough to catch Becks in the cafe at Hotel football that morning for a quick selfie or in ‘Fosters’ Fish and Chip shop in Alderley Edge. So close yet so far. That would have been the pinnacle but it was obviously not meant to be on that occasion.
January 7th 2019- One and Only Royal Mirage.
Jose was gone but United had still chosen Dubai as their destination for their Winter training camp once again. Better still, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had been appointed as caretaker manager, wow.
I knew the team would be training at NAS and found out they would be returning to the same hotel. It was that day I read an Instagram post from an account named ‘Perfect Memorabilia’ claiming they had a mutual respect with the players they deal with and how they don’t need to stalk the players to get their autographs. I saw the post and momentarily felt bad, would I be perceived as a stalker? I then tried to be rational and thought- this is a project for me as a fan, this is a team I have supported my whole life and have grown up with. It has been great to meet, interact and chat to my childhood idols. I also thought about the prices the company charges ‘real’ fans for the ‘mutual respect’- a signed photo was around £75, never mind any other memorabilia. You couldn’t put a price on my shirt or the memories which go with it… even if it is never to be fully finished.
Onto the next one. I had missed Ole two days earlier but had managed to speak to some representatives from the hotel who had informed me the team would be returning from training which was also the sponsors day with all of the associated companies at NAS. I sat patiently and waited.
The Mercedes people carrier pulled up and Michael Carrick and Mick Phelan made their way past. I stood up and politely asked Ole for his signature, he obliged and..
My first official event as an accredited member of the media began with the collection of the prestigious pass on the afternoon before the race, this was a result of an online application and invitation to the official press conference at the Hilton, Al Habtoor City. Walking in, wet behind the ears, I was met immediately by the sight of Marathon World Record holder since 2003, Paula Radcliffe. That was it, I could no longer concentrate on the relatively small task on hand.
Having to briefly explain that I was there to collect a media pass for an independent, local sports blog who no one had most probably heard of was nerve wrecking enough, never mind attempting to ask Paula about the possibility of a sub two hour marathon being ran right here on our doorstep in Dubai.
That same night included an appearance at the AFC Asian Cup match between Vietnam and Japan, where VAR won and some brief ‘prep’ took place for the race ahead. The alarm was set for 4:15am and what felt like only twenty minutes later, I was sat in the media tent at the finish line, amongst professionals in the world of online media, newspapers and radio.
I took a moment to go out and enjoy the Ethiopian support based in the spectator stand, a sea of bright colours and joyful song at 5:45am in the morning, this is what the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon means to them. I hoped they would last the duration of the race, they did, and it was brilliant.
The wheelchair, male and female main events were the first ones to be set off, simultaneously the big screens appeared in the media tent. I have never ran more than 10km in a race or been inclined to do so as I believe my talents lie in team games such as football but I could see and feel the build up of excitement as the mass crowds made their way down Umm Sequim Road to the start line. In that moment, I’m just grateful to be a part of the event in some capacity.
Next up we had an unannounced performance from an Emirati bagpipe group which did find themselves competing with the enthusiastic Ethiopian ensemble, of course, they were still flawless.
This is where I spotted Mr. Saeed Mohammed Hareb, Secretary General of Dubai Sports Council (DSC). Now this is a gentleman with the inside information on everything even mildly sport related within the city. Not a bad selfie to take.
I was a bit unsure of what was required by the media during the actual running of the race, I helped myself to a complimentary hot beverage and cookie and took in the times at each milestone, attempting to work out whether any of the athletes would be crossing the finish line with a time of sub two hours.
A number of interviews were going on around me with past athletes and members of the DSC, as well as commentary being provided over the big screens by Paula Radcliffe, I never knew you could commentate on running in such depth, her passion was evident in almost every word spoken.
Nervously, I made my way out towards the finish line as the last few milestones were announced, with the iPhone in hand, ready to capture any images which may be worthy at some point in the future. The reality set in that a sub two hour marathon was not to be achieved this year in Dubai but that didn’t dampen the Ethiopian support, if anything, it made them seem even louder.
Widely regarded as one of the world’s most lucrative marathons, only recently falling behind the Boston marathon for prize money, we had the Ethiopian athlete, Getaneh Molla finishing in an incredible time of 2:03:34, a new course record for the men’s event. This was followed shortly by Kenyan athlete Ruth Chepngetich crossing the line with a new course record of 2:17:08 for the women’s event. Despite the sub two hour record still remaining to be beaten, it didn’t overshadow a fantastic 20th edition of the Standard Chartered Marathon; well organised, great crowds and a city using sport as a vehicle to get so many cultures and nationalities together, once again.
I recently visited the Nad Al Sheba Sports Complex and was fortunate enough to chat with the manager of all sports events.
Kresh, has been an integral part of the complex for past 6 years and has seen the evolution from a single multi purpose venue including a volleyball and futsal court to the world class facilities now available to elite athletes and teams from all of the top sports.
The sports complex, more commonly known as NAS, has been transformed almost as impressively as the current Dubai Skyline over the past couple of years. It has allowed any keen sport person, both as a resident and tourist to gain a further insight into Dubai’s profound passion for sport, which I’m sure you will agree, has clearly transpired into the renovation plans and building of the complex.
NAS is quite rightly considered as a state of the art sports facility, with specially designed paddle tennis courts from Spain, FIFA standard grass pitches, an indoor Futsal pitch, IAAF Mondo athletics track and not forgetting the indoor pool, gym and recovery facilities such as a cryotherapy chamber where athletes can reach temperatures of -150 Celsius.
On the football front in the last month alone, NAS has enjoyed visits from elite teams and players from around the globe, particularly during the European season break.
A normal year will include hosting major events such as Jiu Jitsu, International Badminton Tournaments and the annual NAS Sports tournament, just to name a few. That isn’t even half of it by the way.
NAS is highly regarded as one of the best, if not the best, sports complexes in the world but what is it apart from the facilities which makes it a cut above the rest?
The top teams and individuals are often invited to train at NAS if they are planning on having a camp in the UAE but there is also some cases where hopeful athletes or teams may have to apply in order to have the opportunity to use the facilities. This process will often include a letter from a representative from the club or athlete which is then reviewed. However, the NAS team is keen to ‘open the door’ from time to time to enable developing sports people to experience what it would be like to perform at the top level and train in such prestigious facilities in order to push them further.
The culture at NAS is simple, the facilities are there to enable an athlete to be the very best, the newest technology to allow a team to recover quickly; assist with an injury and rehabilitation and most importantly, inspiring the future generation. The idea is for these facilities to showcase the hard work and determination which is required for an athlete to debated as one of the greatest of all time in the future.
The UAE is incredibly fortunate to have such a facility on their door step, a win-win for sports fans who may not otherwise be able to interact with their favourite sports people from across the world and at the same time enabling their teams to improve and benefit from using such advanced forms of training methods.
What is it? 24 national football teams competing in the 17th Edition of the tournament. Australia are the current holders of the cup but there will be a wealth of talent on display including a number of Premier league representatives for the likes of South Korea and China.
We all know that Netflix is famous for it’s vast array of movies, binge worthy series and documentaries but here are some recommendations for the world of sport, with some recent additions and some golden oldies. Here are my top 5:
1. Bobby Robson: More than a manager.
(1h 39 mins) An insight into the managerial life of one of football’s most loved, as described by the likes of Jose Mourinho, Ronaldo, Alan Shearer and Pep.
2. Sunderland ’til I die.
(8 Episodes) A docuseries which follows the black cats in the 2017-18 season and their attempt to bounce back from their relegation from the Premier League.
3. Anthony Joshua: The Road to Klitschko.
(1h 17 mins) A behind the scenes look at the preparation involved in a fight whereby the WBA (Super), IBF and IBO heavyweight titles were on the line.
4. Building Jerusalem.
(1h 29 mins) A film which demonstrates the evolution of English rugby from the 1990s to the famous 2003 World Cup Final in which Jonny Wilkinson gained his status as an immortal in the eyes of England Rugby fans.
5. Premier League Legends.
(10 Episodes) A docuseries following 10 of the Premier Leagues most famous players and their achievements in what has been described as the worlds most exciting football league.
“Dubai offers a desert similar to the one that exists in Chile, Peru or Morocco, that’s why the FIM has chosen to host a World Cup date here and the teams go here or to Abu Dhabi to prepare for the races and fundamentally the Dakar.” explained Pablo.
The 32 year old, who is also a two-time world champion ends his 2018 campaign having secured victory in Abu Dhabi, along side two podium results in Chile and Argentina and a fourth place result in Morocco. Impressively, he did also finish only six points behind newly-crowned FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion, Toby Price.
The professional motorcycle rider is aiming to become the first Chilean to win the prestigious race taking place in Peru at the beginning of January, 2019.
Often identified as an alternative sport, Pablo gave all the credit to his siblings with regards to his participation “I learned to ride a motorcycle at 5 years old because my older brothers, Rodrigo and Luciano started practicing motocross. From that moment on it became my passion and I trained and competed very hard in motocross and rally until I managed to become the best rider in Chile and then internationally, before becoming a professional rider.”
What training takes place when the sport involves a motorcycle?
Pablo explained the different methods included to compete at his level “My training routines are dependent on the time of year. Usually, I train from Monday to Saturday and in double shift; strength work in the morning in the gym and cardiovascular endurance on a road bike or mountain bike in the afternoons. The next day I do motocross or enduro in the morning and elongation sessions and massages in the afternoon.”
The Chilean singled out the impact social media is having upon the sport “social networks have ended up exploiting the image of cross country rallies or the Dakar itself and now in any part of the world a boy can see instantly my training in the Atacama desert or a race in Morocco.”
With retirement from the sport at around the age of 40, Pablo discussed the possible reasons for no longer competing “In the rally you must be honest with yourself and know if risking your life riding a motorcycle in the desert is still fun or if you already do it with fear then it is better to stop.”
Hopefully Pablo will be starting 2019 off with a win in the Dakar Rally which will take place in only one country for the first time in its history next season.
I had the opportunity to ask a few questions to ex- Welsh Rugby international Mike Phillips this week. The now resident of Dubai is embracing all aspects of life here in the Middle East.
Phillips, aged 36, is the most capped scrum-half for Wales and he has not shied away from sharing his rugby expertise whilst here in the UAE. Mike has taken on the role of director of Rugby at Jebel Ali Dragons, in addition to the ‘Mike Phillips Rugby Academy’ which is aimed at building upon the already strong rugby culture here, “I’m learning everyday about what my philosophies are in Rugby, coaching wise, I’m still adapting to that”.
Mike believes Dubai is one of the best places to be post-rugby career, “it’s an amazing place, so much to do, so much going on, it was more the wife’s decision to come here, so whatever she says, I do!”.
When asked about how club or international rugby prepared him for the prospect of life after playing, Mike admits this is still an area which could be worked on by both parties “they don’t really help you that much in all honesty, but I guess its up to your own devices, I remember chatting to a very successful team mate of mine who said to concentrate on the now, the next Saturday, the next competition, the next World Cup or Six Nations because that is the most important thing.”
With regards to the upcoming World Cup, the Welshman believes the Welsh team are moving in the right direction but with the England, Ireland and New Zealand teams in the mix, it is going to be a close competition, “England will always be tough to beat and Ireland are one of the best teams in the world, especially after beating the All Blacks”.
If you know of a boy or girl, aged 5-14, make sure you point them in the direction of the Christmas Camp hosted by the Mike Phillips Rugby Academy taking place at Kent College School.
Yousif Mirza is the first Emirati cyclist to ride for a UCI world team but whats more impressive, he is also proudly the first Emirati cyclist to have competed in an Olympics.
As with most athletes from time to time, Yousif’s attendance at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, did not come without it’s major obstacle; the major obstacle being a victim of a road traffic accident shortly before the games. The cyclist suffered broken bones in his legs and shoulder as a result of a motorcycle accident.
Identified as the UAE’s fastest man on two wheels, Yousif believes that cycling has the potential to become the leading sport within the UAE ” of course we can see the popularity of cycling from the number of races currently located here, some competitions are attended by cyclists from other countries, this is something we have been dreaming about for a long time and it is a reality”.
Despite his attendance at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, the cyclist believes his biggest achievement to date is winning the recent 2018 Asian Road Cycling championships held in Myanmar.
So what is a typical day for a professional cyclist?
Yousif gave me an insight into his cycling world; “I would do some light exercise in the morning followed by some breakfast, I like to meditate a bit too and prepare myself to start training. I would be happy to do this and then talk with my colleagues about how training went, have some lunch and then recover by sleeping”.
The 30 year old cyclist admits he loves a challenge and the feeling of winning, “cycling develops this feeling a lot”. Inspired by witnessing his older brother cycling whilst he was growing up, Yousif now has his sights set on a Olympic medal at the 2020 games in Tokyo.
As the saying goes ‘there is a first for everything’ and it would be great to see Yousif create a new first as a holder of an Olympic medal by an Emirati cyclist.