ENGLISH giants Liverpool Football Club are looking to reach out to fans across the globe by bringing quality coaching to children from all walks of life.
Through the Liverpool Foundation and in cooperation with main club sponsor Standard Chartered Bank, the 18-time Premier League champions sent two of their finest coaches to Bahrain last week in an effort to help fulfil their mission in the region.
Forbes Duff and Karl Carney made the trip to the kingdom to work with children of different backgrounds. That is what makes what they do extra special, as they make the game accessible to all kids, irrespective of age, gender, and physical and mental ability.
"A lot of big clubs have soccer schools or academies in the Middle East, and they're usually here to make money and offer the best coaching available. What we try to do is more of impact the local community; bring the same level of coaching to children who may otherwise not be privileged enough to be a part of something like this," Duff told the GDN.
"Everyone is looking for the next big player. But in what we do, wherever we go, we incorporate that extra element and take it one step further with individuals of special needs and physical disabilities. We try our best to accommodate everyone we can and get them involved in our programme."
Duff and Carney are an extraordinary breed of coaches: they are not only qualified to teach football as the sport but they are also certified to pass on their knowledge of the game to physically disabled individuals, including the visually impaired.
"Back in UK, the Football Association (FA) offers certification for coaches and they offer disability coaching as well. What we encourage at Liverpool is to be qualified in both," Duff explained.
"Having those two skills is invaluable. Wherever you go, yes, you can coach anybody, but only a few are qualified to coach the blind or people with special needs. That is our unique element."
Carney concurs, and adds that there is a big difference between a coach who is able to teach great players and one who is, simply, a great coach.
"When you have great players, you can just tell them what to do and they do it," Carney explained. "To be a great coach, you have to adapt to all your different surroundings and to the different elements you may face.
"We like to say that it's best to be a great coach; to be well-rounded for all we have to deal with."
Prior to coming to Bahrain for a weekend-long visit, Duff and Carney also made stops at Qatar and Oman, and in each Gulf country held various coaching sessions for a wide array of children, all of which were free of charge.
The clinics in Bahrain involved up to 400 individuals, and they included kids from the Saudi Bahraini Institute for the Blind (as part of Standard Chartered Bank's "Seeing is Believing" initiative that aims to help tackle avoidable blindness), members of the Bahrain Olympic Committee for Special Needs, as well as three national schools in St Christopher's School, Bahrain Bayan School and Ibn Khuldoon National School (IKNS).
The coaches also conducted a session with Bahrain's national women's football team, as well as activities for the bank's staff members, their children, volunteers and the bank's own football team.
"The sessions were great," Carney said. "When we approach a clinic, we just like to see people as people, regardless of their disability or if they can play at an elite level or not.
"Football is international game; everyone should have the opportunity to do it, regardless of physical ability or skill. As long as they can enjoy themselves and take something away from a session - that is what is most important and that is what we hope to do in our clinics."
Duff and Carney were delighted with the high level of interest and lively participation they witnessed from the children in Bahrain, both from able-bodied children and those with special needs.
"You can definitely tell the talent was good," Duff said. "With the special needs children, it was a lot of watching and doing and you could see that many of them had the skills and were quite good; while for the visually impaired kids we worked a lot with clapping to help the session progress and it was great fun.
"With the other children, we were very much impressed with the level of the girls here. They were technically very good and very enthusiastic. That's a change from the UK, where the girls are not involved in sport as much.
"All in all, it was a great experience."
Added Carney: "The standard of football is improving all over the world, so I expected the level to be good here.
"I was quite impressed by the kids, especially in the technical aspect; their passing and movement was good. I was slightly surprised at first but at the same time I was aware that the game is developing everywhere nowadays."
Saudi Bahraini Institute for the Blind head Abdulwahid Al Kayyat was pleased with the coaches' involvement with their children. "We were delighted to be a part of the coaching clinics," Al Kayyat said. "The students learned new skills and were entertained at the same time.
"We thank the bank for this initiative, the coaches for visiting us and offering the training session to our students, as well as all those who helped make this activity a success."
Ibn Khuldoon kindergarten and elementary principal Maisae Affour added: "The Liverpool clinic provided our students with a great opportunity to be exposed to world-class coaching and enthuse them about team work and football skills.
"We hope that Standard Chartered Bank would help introduce our students to future events like this in Bahrain."
Duff and Carney hope that the success of their visit to Bahrain translates to similar events being held in the kingdom on a regular basis in the future.
At the Liverpool Foundation, both Duff and Carney work on a daily basis with the football development programme, where they coach in primary schools.
As part of the programme, they also help with special needs groups coaching, which include both children and adults.
Both Duff and Carney have been on a number of clinics abroad, which include the Goals Project in Mumbai with Standard Chartered Bank and recently the Liverpool FC Pre-Season Tour in the US.
Duff hails from Dundee in Scotland, and has been coaching for the past decade. He holds both Scottish and English FA coaching badges.
He got his start coaching at Liverpool as a volunteer while he was studying at the university level, and was later taken on full time by the club.
Duff has helped develop Liverpool's programmes for all sorts of disabled individuals. He has also worked in Liverpool's social programme tackling gun violence, and gang and knife crime in Liverpool, in an effort to take young men and women off the streets and getting them involved in football, helping them eventually get back on the right path.
Carney has been coaching for two-and-a-half years at Liverpool, where he started off as a player in the junior ranks.
With football being a passion and a personal interest, he has always desired to be involved in the game and after his playing years, and with his experience and skill-set, began coaching at the club.