A faint mist hangs over the ASPIRE Academy for Sports Excellence in Doha. Almost inevitably, the sun is beaming brightly, but it cannot entirely cut through the sand trapped in the still air. And the sand-strewn grandstands surrounding the practice ground are another reminder that Bayern are well and truly in the desert – or more precisely, an oasis in the desert.
Slap bang in the middle of the largely inhospitable Qatari landscape, the Academy features seven shimmering green football pitches, which Germany’s biggest club are using this week as they prepare for the second half of the 2011/12 campaign. Nor are the players the only men at work here: a squad of groundsmen tend to the lush turf round the clock.
Lawn mowers are in action from the early hours of the morning, helping maintain a surface more reminiscent of a golf course than a soccer pitch. Watering is almost continuous, while a beefy security presence prevents any non-footballer from setting foot on the hallowed turf. Conditions for the Bayern stars are not simply good, they are excellent. “Obviously, training here on such a good surface is a real pleasure,” director of sport Christian Nerlinger told FCB.tv.
The men from Munich first came to know and appreciate the gigantic sports facility exactly a year ago. The only slight downside in early 2011 was a relatively long 45-minute transfer from the hotel to the training pitches. By contrast, conditions this year are “optimal,” Nerlinger commented.
Short walk to work
This is because the on-site hotel, The Grand Heritage, was finally completed in the course of last year. Bayern have duly set up their training base there, and the players are simply walking to work, as it were. “We lose less time on transfers, so the players have more time for regeneration,” Nerlinger explained. Alternatively, Bastian Schweinsteiger and company could take an exploratory stroll around the stunningly huge ASPIRE facility, which covers a massive 300,000 m².
The site incorporates two football stadiums, the ASPIRE Dome, which is the world’s biggest indoor sports hall with a total undercover floor area of 250,000 m², a swimming baths complex, training centres for judo, squash and fencing, and a five-star youth academy. Then there are the seven outstanding football pitches. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani commissioned the ASPIRE Academy at a reported cost of some US$1.5 billion. No one complains about travelling to the desert in the winter if the destination is a place as special as this.