Finding Oman’s star footballers of tomorrow is the goal for a football coach who believes that the beautiful game is open to all.
Football aficionados will tell you that there’s no better feeling than landing the ball into the far corner of the net and away from the swift gloves of the goalkeeper.
But, the real fulfilment a footballer gets comes from beyond the playing field. It is derived from passing on your experience to the next generation – or at least that’s what Meeran Yoosuf, a footballer and full-time coach believes.
Once considered a ‘terror’ for his aggressive skills and pace as a forward for the ‘Hooligans’ football team in Oman, the 26-year-old Indian-expat made his name as a local star.
But what is it that motivated him – and his equally talented brother – to end their careers in local club football and launch what is quickly becoming the most prolific Omani football academy?
The answer isn’t money or fame. In fact, it’s far from it.
Launched in 2014, the Alpha Football Academy Oman was set up with two core targets, says Meeran, the founder and head coach: to start training for kids from a young age and to make football training accessible to all.
“We’d like to think so,” says Meeran. “We started with just three students but have now grown to 180 in strength. These kids are the future of football in the country – even if the kids here are a mix of Omanis and expats.
“We have children aged between five and 18 train with us here. What I can tell you is that these kids aren’t here for spending their time – they’re here to become the best players that they can be.
“It’s amazing to see that children as young as this are ready to put in the time and effort to be the best in their game. Even eight-year-olds of today are far better than I ever was at that age.”
His approach to target youth is right, too. Much of the most revered footballers – Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Luka Modric – began their professional training when they were as young as six. Moreover, a coach at GB Sport Performance says that the younger the child starts the greater the prospects of them turning into a sports star.
He says: “The best time for a child to start playing football is between the ages of three and five years-old.”
While Meeran believes that the Sultanate is blessed with a great wave of kids who want to become footballers and want to work hard to achieve their dreams, he understands that the dream can only be realised if you have the finances to do so.
“Back when I was starting off in football, I was asked to pay a steep RO120 for ten classes with the Arsenal Academy in Oman. The problem was that it was too expensive, and you can feel a bit hard-done by if your football career takes a hit because of finances.
“This is why I decided to start the Alpha Football Academy Oman,” explains Meeran. “We want to make football accessible for everyone.”
What this means is that you can now receive football training from Meeran, his brother Mohammed, and other certified coaches in the top football grounds in the capital for a mere RO30 – making this one of the most affordable football academies in Oman.
For Meeran and team, this means working day in, day out but what it provides is a platform for children to train two hours for eight days a month so it’s little wonder then that their efforts are now being heeded internationally.
Due to contractual agreements, Meeran isn’t permitted to disclose the name of the club but what we can reveal is that kids will now get an exclusive chance to showcase their talents and potentially enter one of the leading Italian Serie A clubs.
As a part of this, the team will fly out to Italy for their training and evaluation after which they could soon represent the famed Milan-based team.
They’ve also teamed up with Bengaluru F.C. from the famous Indian Super League to create the Alpha Pro – a joint venture between the academy and the club to train the kids for a period of five months.
And if that wasn’t all, Meeran is using his contacts to take the kids beyond Oman and into Europe.
He tells us: “For this, we have teamed up with Rognoni & Partners Group SRL. They are now our FIFA partner – meaning, they will now represent the academy and its students to expand into countries such as Spain, Italy, and France.
“Getting the opportunity to see these kids grow is what gives me much satisfaction,” he says, before revealing to us how the academy won’t charge students a single riyal to fly them abroad.
This brings us to question: without focusing on profits, how can they sustain the academy?
Meeran nods his head and answers: “Money is always a challenge but not so much for us. We’ll always stand by our morals. We charge the student RO30 every month for eight classes – and that’s all they should pay us for. We don’t believe in setting up hidden costs.
“Our greatest challenge currently, however, is breaking the stigma of being an Indian coach in Oman. Initially, we had a lot of enquiries coming in from Omani parents, but they’d lose interest when they heard that we were expats.
“But, four years is a long time, and during that period, we were able to gain the trust of several Omanis. They now train and play with us full-time.”
Even so, to meet with current demands, the academy is opening their doors in Mabelah, alongside their already existent practice grounds in the Royal Hospital and Jabir Bin Zaid School.
“We have some great plans coming up for the academy – and the first of which is expanding to at least four countries by the year 2025.
“I know it’s a tough ask, but if we can establish ourselves as a leading football academy in only four years, then we can do the same outside as well.
We know the challenges we faced when we set up here, and we had our sponsor Abdullah Mubarak al Fori supporting us then. We’ve learnt that the secret to success isn’t money but rather the quality of the service.
“At the end of the day, it all boils down to talent and hard work. Just like how a player would succeed in the game by putting down the two attributes, we can do the same with our academy.”