ABU DHABI THIS­TLE, KINGS OF THE DESERT

FourFourTwo - - PLANET FOOTBALL -

Meet the thank­ful for­ward who was un­able to walk for two years but now stars up­front for club and coun­try

It has of­ten been said that if any foot­ball club truly sym­bol­ises the ex­trav­a­gance of the Middle East and the mys­ti­cism of the desert, it’s Partick This­tle. There was that time they signed Alex Rais­beck for £500 and, of course, the days of the hosepipe ban in 1976.

So when Scot Archie Young (right) was set­ting up a team in the United Arab Emi­rates a decade ago, there was only one name he could pos­si­bly choose: Abu Dhabi This­tle.

“I started a wee team and I wanted them to have a Scot­tish flavour,” Young ex­plains. “One of the guys who started it with me was a Partick This­tle fan, so we chose their strip to play in.”

The youth club have ex­panded rapidly, and now even Manch­ester City, whose owner is part of Abu Dhabi’s rul­ing When­ever he strides out to rep­re­sent his coun­try, Martin Braith­waite re­calls his re­mark­able route to in­ter­na­tional foot­ball. Once, it was far from cer­tain he’d even be able to walk, let alone be­come a suc­cess­ful foot­baller. “I’m grate­ful ev­ery day,” the 24-year-old tells FFT. Braith­waite was foot­ball foot­ball-mad from the start. A pic­ture of him kick­ing a ball was cap­tured by his lo­cal news­pa­per when he was just two years old. But at five, ev­ery­thing changed.

“I was told I had to go into a wheel­chair,” the Dane ex­plains. “I had some­thing called Legg-calve-perthes dis­ease dis­ease, which means the ro­ta­tion bone in the hip is soft. When the bone de­vel­ops it can be de­formed and you can have dif­fi­cul­ties walk­ing, so it can can­not­not be put un­der any pres­sure by run­ning around. “It was re­ally dif­fi­cult. I was young and I didn’t u un­der­stand why I had to be in a wheel­chair. I was al­ways try­ing to get out of it. I felt em­bar­rassed. I needed peo­ple around me all the time to take care of me, like a baby. I couldn’t do the things that other kids did. All I wanted to do was just play foot­ball.”

Braith­waite was not told how long he’d be in a wheel­chair; just that he had to wait. So he waited – waited for the day his bones would be­come strong enough to al­low him to walk again, then kick a ball again.

“I was in the wheel­chair for two years,” he says. “Be­fore then, I’d played foot­ball all day ev­ery day. It was the only thing that mat­tered. I was just wait­ing for the doc­tor to say: ‘OK, now you can play foot­ball’. When that hap­pened, it was like my life be­gan again. I played for a team that week­end and was man of the match. Maybe it was just a char­ity thing, but it was still a won­der­ful feel­ing.”

From there, Braith­waite never looked back. He be­came a pro with Es­b­jerg, be­fore mak­ing his de­but for Den­mark and mov­ing to France to join Toulouse for €2m. Now, the for­ward of Guyanese de­scent has a dozen fam­ily, can’t live up to the might of the This­tle.

“Our un­der-12 boys thrashed Manch­ester City 4-0,” says Young. “Since I came here, acad­e­mies have been sprout­ing up. Arse­nal, Manch­ester City and Manch­ester United are all here now. We know they aren’t keen to play us. I don’t know if they’re scared, or if they don’t want the word get­ting out that caps, with am­bi­tions for many more. There could also be a World Cup on the hori­zon: only Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic’s goals stopped Braith­waite & Co. from reach­ing Euro 2016, but drawn into an open qual­i­fy­ing group, Den­mark have a good chance of mak­ing it to Rus­sia 2018. He also dreams of play­ing in Eng­land, hav­ing had a trial with New­cas­tle at the age of 18.

“Even when I was in a wheel­chair I al­ways had one goal: to be a great foot­ball player,” says Braith­waite. “I did not feel like I had to be care­ful when I started play­ing again, even though my par­ents told me that for a cou­ple of years I was limp­ing a lot.

“To be able to play foot­ball… I never for­get it’s a gift. I hope my story shows that you can be in a bad sit­u­a­tion but things can turn around. I didn’t stop be­liev­ing in my­self. I wanted to be a pro­fes­sional foot­baller.

“It feels won­der­ful to have done that, but I have a lot of things I still want to achieve in my ca­reer. I want to do more.” they’ve been beaten by an am­a­teur club. We’re the big­gest am­a­teur club here.”

Young be­lieves This­tle’s suc­cess has come from in­still­ing some Scot­tish bite and pas­sion, while the Premier League clubs fo­cus more closely on pro­duc­ing in­di­vid­ual stars of the fu­ture.

Pre­sum­ably Arse­nal are aim­ing to de­velop the Abou Di­aby of Abu Dhabi. Just slightly less in­jured.

Turkey Yil­maz Vu­ral, once tipped to suc­ceed Malky Mackay at Cardiff City, be­came the fifth Gen­cler­birligi coach to be sacked this sea­son – he lasted only six days. Oh well...

Manch­ester City and Arse­nal are run­ning scared from the mighty Partick of the Middle Eas East

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