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TIME TO SHINE: SULTAN AL SUWAIDI

News
agleague.ae: 5 November 2014
 
From Greater Manchester to Ghana, it has been quite a footballing journey so far for Al Jazira youngster Sultan Al Suwaidi. Born in Ajman and raised in Abu Dhabi, the 20-year-old rose through the ranks at Al Wahda and Al Jazira before being selected for the opportunity of a lifetime: a three-year training and education program at the Manchester City Academy. “Since I started playing football when I was 6 years old, I was always put in teams above my age group. I was obsessed with football; I wanted to play every single day and I was neglecting my studies to focus only on the sport,” he recounts in an exclusive interview with AGLeague.ae, conducted in perfect English. “When I was 14 we had an amazing year with the Al Jazira U14 team and we won the title. Then it was decided to select 6 of the best players Al Jazira youth players and send them to the Manchester City Academy. The aim was to teach us how to be mentally and physically professional and learn football the English way,” Al Suwaidi explains. 
 
But from the six, only two survived the course; Al Suwaidi being one of them. “At the beginning it was really, really tough; much harder than we expected,” the right-back recollects. “Physically and mentally we were nothing compared to the players in the Manchester City Academy. At first it used to upset me when I was not selected to play games there because I love playing football, and when you are not picked you feel like you are less talented than everyone else. And actually it was true; I was less talented and less tough than them. Some of the guys couldn’t handle it and they went back to UAE. But I wasn’t about to give up on the challenge.” And rise to the challenge he did; adapting to the new climate, new culture and new schedule with dogged determination. “I decided to put my head down, deal with the situation and just work harder and harder to prove that I could be good enough. I changed everything in my life, from my sleeping pattern to my eating habits, learning the language, and getting used to the cold climate in the North of England.” 
 
And the then-teenage Emirati’s efforts paid off. “By the second year I was involved a lot more often in the Academy games, and by the third year I was going to the main Manchester City training ground at Carrington and training with the Reserve team and also some First Team players. It was an amazing experience to train with them and learn from them,” he enthuses. On Saturdays at 3pm, Al Suwaidi could often be found with his Academy teammates in the crowd at the Etihad Stadium, studying their First Team counterparts in Premier League action. “Micah Richards was my big inspiration at Man City as we both play-right back. I had to take a pen and paper to each Premier League game and note down everything: any mistakes he made, the number of passes he played, and any good things he did during the game. Then my Academy coach would give the official statistics from the game to compare with what I had seen with my own eyes and noted down. It was a learning technique that really helped my focus and understanding,” Al Suwaidi explains with a slight Mancunian twang; remaining evidence of his time in the UK, living at a strict boarding school in Halifax, an hour’s drive from Manchester. 



Always eager to learn, an inquisitive Al Suwaidi sought another new experience during a one-month break in his final year at the Manchester City Academy, travelling to Ghana to train at one of the club’s affiliated academies outside of Accra. “I was curious to see how the setup was in Ghana, because all the young Ghanaian players who would come and join us at City were always so much more powerful and athletic than any of us, and I wanted to understand more about their training background,” he explains. The conditions he found in Africa were ‘eye-opening’, to say the least: “It’s a place that really makes you appreciate everything you have in your life. We were surrounded by poverty, and if you want to go to a nice area you had to cross a very dangerous part of the river to reach there. The training was very tough and physical, and the facilities were really poor. The grass is nothing like what we are used to training on; it’s thick, long and uneven, reaching your ankles…” The young man, seldom lost for words, pauses to shake his head: “It’s a really hard life there. Every day we would wake up at 6am, pray together, drink one banana juice, train at 6:30am, go to school at 7:30am until afternoon, then walk all the way to the football field which was very far away, train again, then walk back to the school again to have dinner, then walk all the way back again to sleep. I saw snakes in the road where they were walking every day.”
 
With a world of experience on his young shoulders, Sultan Al Suwaidi returned to Al Jazira with a new outlook and renewed ambitions, and this season has seen him make 6 AGL substitute appearances and 1 Arabian Gulf Cup start so far. “To be honest I didn’t imagine that I would have played so many games already this year. I set a target for myself when I first signed my professional contract with Al Jazira; for the first year I wanted to be involved with the First Team more, by the second year I targeted making the substitutes bench at least, and now in the third year the aim was to get on the field more, which thankfully has happened. It shows that my hard work is paying off,” he says with a smile. And with a number of First Team regulars away on international duty during the Arabian Gulf Cup, Al Suwaidi and his teammates have a chance to step up to the plate. “The coach spoke to all young players and told us that the Arabian Gulf Cup is our competition; the Cup games are our opportunities to take on more challenges, to prove ourselves and to increase our hunger and desire. All the young players, myself included, are waiting for these games to show the coach what we are capable of.” Based on his capabilities displayed so far, Al Jazira fans can expect to see a lot more of Sultan Al Suwaidi in the near future.