Mark Hughes, the Manchester City manager, acknowledged yesterday that Abu Dhabi does not recognise Israel but insisted that the club's new Arab owners would not present a problem to his defender Tal Ben Haim, the Israel captain.
"It's not something that's been highlighted to me. I would not expect it to be [an issue]," Hughes said. There is a feeling among some who are close to Ben Haim, however, that the sale of the club to Arab owners – four weeks after the player signed from Chelsea – could present an impediment to the 26-year-old's career at Eastlands. Ben Haim would certainly be unable to play in any exhibition matches or attend training sessions organised by the new owners in Abu Dhabi, owing to the United Arab Emirates' policy of not allowing Israelis to enter the country. The UAE embassy in London reiterated this week that "an Israeli citizen would not be allowed into the United Arab Emirates because there are no diplomatic relations between the two countries."
Ben Haim, who has featured in each of City's three Premier League matches this season, is familiar with such difficulties. When his former club, Bolton Wanderers, left for a training camp in the UAE in 2006, the central defender was left behind. So were Yossi Benayoun and Yaniv Katan when West Ham travelled to Dubai to train.
Though Abu Dhabi prides itself on being relatively religiously liberal, there are instances of intolerance. One of the half-brothers of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, the man behind the £210m takeover of City, was responsible for setting up and running the Zayed Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up a few years ago, which sanctioned the publication of anti-semitic material and hosted anti-semitic speakers. Sheikh Sultan, the member of the Al Nahyan royal family who secured funding for the centre from his and Sheikh Mansour's father – the founder of Abu Dhabi – is understood to have been upbraided by his family. The embarrassed emiracy eventually closed down the centre in 2002.
City's managing director, Paul Aldridge, is familiar with the difficulties presented by the Gulf states' historic non-recognition of Israel. He was at West Ham when the Benayoun and Katan issue arose and the club resolved the affair by sending them to Marbella for a break of their own.
Hughes also said the Al Nahyan takeover at City has lifted him back into a world he has missed since his playing days were concluded. "One of the main reasons I came here was the anticipation of going into these games with top, top quality players," said Hughes, as he looked forward to Chelsea's visit in the League tomorrow. "I missed that, I had it as a player and to a certain extent with Wales but at club level [with Blackburn] I never really had that."