The football pitch is one of NYU Abu Dhabi’s most visible assets. Physically separated from the rest of campus by a long stretch of empty space, its bright green grass stands solitary underneath towering flood lights. In December, Real Madrid, one of the most recognized football teams and brands in the world, was added to the list of outside teams that have trained on NYUAD’s pitch. The football pitch is not the only element of the campus used by members of the outside community, but it generates a lot of attention when certain guests step inside the premises.
Real Madrid’s visit to campus occurred during the week of Dec. 11, in preparation for the FIFA Club World Cup held in Abu Dhabi, which they went on to win. Real Madrid’s stay was the most high-profile visit the football pitch, and perhaps the university, has received. The visit caused a noticeable commotion among many students hoping to catch a glance of Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcelo, or any other one of Real Madrid’s superstars.
Peter Dicce, Director of Athletics, Intramurals & Recreation and Head Men's Soccer Coach at NYUAD, provided an overview of how NYUAD was chosen to host Real Madrid, processes and policies for using the football pitch and potential visitors in the future.
“The Abu Dhabi Sports Council has identified our facility as one of the top facilities in the area. Through a collaborative effort between Tamkeen
, the university, the Department of Athletics and the Sports Council, we had the privilege of having Real Madrid on campus,” said Dicce.
“We had exposure to one of the best clubs in the world, our players got to see them train in a professional environment and Real Madrid was very good to us. We did everything we could to make sure their experience was a positive one [so] that word would spread about the quality of our facility, the quality of our university and the quality of our education. They gave us a platform, not only on Real Madrid TV, but they also sent out on their social media profiles messages to over 100 million followers talking about their time here on campus.”
Real Madrid’s first training session had limited access for members of the NYUAD community as well as other members of the public. While security for the first session was strict, almost everyone was allowed inside to watch the latter part. The security for Real Madrid was extremely tight, especially on days when they had closed training sessions, at which point all students were unable to enter the football pitch.
The UAE will host the FIFA Club World Cup next winter, and Dicce said he expects NYUAD to receive another high-level guest, although he did not mention whether he thought NYUAD would receive another team from the European Champions like Real Madrid.
In January, Russian Premier League Football Club Krasnodar trained on campus for multiple days. Unlike the high levels of security and attention that surrounded Real Madrid’s presence on campus, students were free to walk in and out of the stadium while FC Krasnodar trained, and life on campus was not otherwise noticeably impacted.
Another reason for high-profile visits has been the African Cup of Nations, a biennial tournament returning in the winter of 2019.
“When the African Cup of Nations takes place, you’ll often see teams training in this area — when the weather is maybe not as nice in some of those countries, they will come and train here in the good conditions and then head back. Over the years we’ve had a few African national teams come in and we’ve had a few matches between national teams, all in preparation for the African Cup of Nations,” said Dicce.
Some Scandinavian national teams as well as a handful of youth national teams from varying regions of the world trained on our campus earlier this academic year in preparation for the Under-17 World Cup, which was held in India in October.
The Department of Athletics works with Tamkeen to set the schedule for the football pitch far in advance, reserving ample time for NYUAD’s football team and other NYUAD usage. However, once that schedule is set, outside guests including club and national teams can sometimes be added to the schedule. Because NYUAD’s pitch is a natural surface, and especially because of the climate in the UAE, there are only a limited number of hours that can be played on the surface per week in order to maintain its quality.
Additional draws for high-profile teams may include the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, which will be held in the UAE, as well as the 2022 World Cup, which will be held in Qatar.
“There will be teams looking to get into the region, looking to acclimate, trying to understand what the facilities look like and where they can train. I would think we will get some attention from some national teams, and certainly from some club teams now that Real Madrid has been here,” said Dicce.
Lastly, Dicce reminded The Gazelle that “we do have a world class team — Musbah FC, the school team, which trains here on a regular basis, and everyone can feel free to come out and support the team.”
Herbert Crowther is News Editor. Email him at email@example.com.