Abdullah Alghamdi, chief executive of United World, told The Star that youngsters from across the globe are being tutored by coaches employed by his company at sites in France, Switzerland and Dubai.
The work, which has largely flown under the radar until now, is set to be expanded with a new facility set to open in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh and a partnership being developed in Brazil - where one UW employee has previously worked.
Alghamdi, who like UW’s architect HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is a Saudi national, insisted the work has already helped create legions of United supporters in hitherto under-exploited markets.
“Power is not only profit,” he said. “They will be visiting clubs. Last month we had visits from Switzerland to Sheffield United. They came to the Fulham game. Those kids, their parents, they were so excited. They will be telling stories for life about (Manager) Paul Heckingbottom, Billy Sharp, John Egan. Can you imagine if we get that into the thousands? They will be coached by our coaches and they will visit our clubs.”
“We are looking at 2000 kids by 2025,” he added. “Today we have nearly a hundred. But we are doing a partnership with one school and we will get 6000 in the next year and 400 from those will get membership.”
UW was constructed to oversee Prince Abdullah’s portfolio of sporting interests, which also include Beerschot, Chateauroux, Kerala United and Al-Hilal United. Alghamdi insisted only a tiny percentage of graduates from its academy, which runs independently to those operated by UW’s members, should be viewed as potential signings for United.
“It is based in Chateauroux and Geneva and Dubai,” he said. “In September we will have one in Saudi and we have a partnership with an academy in Brazil. We want one in the USA. We want to have 12 locations.
Alghamdi, previously an influential member of Saudi Arabia’s Olympic committee, said the work of UW and its academies means youngsters within its sphere of influence now “think Sheffield means Sheffield United” rather than their arch-rivals Sheffield Wednesday when discussing sport in the city.
“The academy is very interesting,” he added. “We are working on three elements. It is commercial and we are working on a residential student programme. We get players from the USA, Africa, China and the Middle East. We give them schools and a residential programme, with football training after school. Then the third one is football camps - we do football, nutrition, analysis and all sorts of things.”
Meanwhile, United have confirmed they will face Casa Pia, who were promoted to the Portuguese top-flight last term, in a friendly near Lisbon on July 8.