Salem Al-Dawsari’s enduring excellence draws attention from Europe

Salem Al-Dawsari had been a standout all the way during Saudi Arabia’s successful qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 14 May 2022

Salem Al-Dawsari’s enduring excellence draws attention from Europe

  • The Al-Hilal winger has been the standout performer for club and country in recent seasons, and now one of Asia’s best players

There were plenty of reasons to be pleased with Saudi Arabia’s successful qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup.

These include winning the group above Japan and Australia, the fact that two local strikers Saleh Al-Shehri and Firas Al-Buraikan finished in the top two places for goals scored in the third round, and the way that the team have developed since coach Herve Renard arrived in 2019.

One more reason is just how impressive Salem Al-Dawsari has been. The winger was a standout all the way along the road to Qatar. It’s not just when he pulls on his country’s famous green shirt that it happens either, the 30-year-old claimed the Best Player award as Al-Hilal won the 2021 Asian Champions League. He was also outstanding when Al-Hilal won Saudi Arabian title number 17.

Most would agree that Al-Dawsari was the best Asian player in Asia in 2021. Chinese media giant Titan Sports ranked the star fourth in their annual Best Footballer in Asia award last year, behind only European-based stars Son Heung-min of South Korea and Iran’s deadly duo Mehdi Taremi and Sardar Azmoun, who play for FC Porto and Bayer Leverkusen respectively. Had the Asian Football Confederation not canceled their annual award then it is likely that the Saudi Arabian international would have been named Asian Player of the Year.

It is not a surprise then that there is interest from Europe. It is also not a surprise that Al-Hilal don’t want to lose their star. It is natural and has been the case in much of West Asia for some time. Local talents emerge but their clubs are reluctant to let them go. Over in the eastern side of the continent in countries like South Korea, Japan and China, a big star attracting even a hint of European interest immediately gets people and the media excited. Clubs there generally are happy to let their best players head to the best leagues in the world and see it as good for the country’s and player’s development. Not only that, it can be hard to attract top young talent in the first place if they think that a possible route to Europe will be blocked.

I remember talking to UAE star Ismail Matar in 2015 after he finished training with Al-Wahda. The man who was named the most-valuable player of the 2003 U-20 World Cup had been linked to Europe for much of his career and had been told by all manner of coaches, agents and journalists that he should go, but never did. By the time we met in Abu Dhabi, such links were a thing of the past. He told me that he had wanted to try his luck but his club just wouldn’t let him go. It would have been fascinating to see what he could have done on and off the pitch in Europe.

Al-Hilal see Al-Dawsari in a similar light and just last December handed him a new four-year contract which is reported to be worth around $3.5 million (SR13 million) a year. That’s a lucrative deal anywhere in the world and it shows just how the player, who has been with the Riyadh club since 2011, is viewed. Foreign stars come and go in football but to have such a player for such a long time, and one that is in the form of his life, is hugely important. He is a talisman.

Al-Dawsari was one of several Saudi Arabian players who went to Spain back in 2018 and impressed more than most with Villarreal and actually made a league appearance against Real Madrid. Soon after he was scoring the winning goal in a World Cup game against Egypt. He has since gone from strength to strength.

That is why there are reports and rumors of interest from the same Spanish club, as well as Almeria, with apparently more in the mix. The important point is that any move gives Al-Dawsari a good chance of regular playing time. There is no point going to Villarreal, who have just appeared in the semifinal of the UEFA Champions League, and never getting a game.

Such a move may be possible for a youngster who has time on his side and would benefit from the experience and opportunity but for a 30-year-old senior international, it is not the right option. A move to Europe would be great for the player but it has to be for the right reasons to the right club and the right coach.

There is something bigger at play too. At some point Saudi Arabia will have stars in the big leagues of Europe, it is only a matter of time. That is what needs to happen because the top European leagues still represent the pinnacle of the club game and it is where the country’s best should test themselves.

At some point, there needs to be a pioneer who shows people overseas and his colleagues at home that it can be done and that pioneer could be Al-Dawsari. The sooner it happens the better. If an offer comes and it is one that provides genuine opportunity to play, and the man himself has the desire to try his luck abroad, then Al-Hilal should do the rest of football in Saudi Arabia, as well as much of West Asia, a big favor and let their star go.

Teen machines: Alcaraz looks to join elite Grand Slam club at French Open

Updated 19 May 2022

Teen machines: Alcaraz looks to join elite Grand Slam club at French Open

  • Nadal was the last teenage man to win a Slam — a feat which eluded his great rivals Djokovic and Federer

PARIS: At just 19, Carlos Alcaraz is bidding to become only the eighth teenager to win a Grand Slam men’s singles title at the French Open which gets underway at Roland Garros on Sunday.

AFP Sport looks at the seven men to have won majors while still in their teens:

• In 1974, Sweden’s reluctant superstar Borg won the first of his six French Opens having just passed his 18th birthday when he defeated Manuel Orantes 2-6, 6-7, 6-0, 6-1, 6-1. Borg would win 11 majors, including five in a row at Wimbledon from 1976-1980 before retiring — for the first time — at 26. Borg was the first male tennis player to earn a million dollars in a season in 1979. “It’s tough when you’re No. 1. You don’t have any private life, you can’t even walk anywhere. I think that was one reason why I lost my motivation to play tennis,” said Borg when he quit.

• At 17, Sweden’s Wilander defeated Guillermo Vilas of Argentina 1-6, 7-6, 6-0, 6-4 in a marathon four hours and 42 minutes French Open final in 1982 despite being unseeded. Wilander was widely hailed for his sportsmanship in his defeat of Jose Luis Clerc in the semifinals when he requested a replay of match point after a forehand from his opponent was called long. Wilander would eventually become a world No. 1, ending his career with seven Grand Slam titles.

• Becker burst on the scene with his maiden Wimbledon triumph in 1985 at the age of 17. His 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 win over Kevin Curren made him the tournament’s youngest men’s champion and its first unseeded victor. The German served and volleyed and dived right and left, enchanting the Center Court crowd. Becker would win six majors but he fell from grace last month when he was jailed in the UK after a bankruptcy trial.

• Sweden’s Edberg was 19 when he won his first Slam at the 1985 Australian Open, beating Wilander 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 having seen off Ivan Lendl in a marathon semifinal 6-7, 7-5, 6-1, 4-6, 9-7. The elegant serve-and-volleyer won a second Australian Open in 1987 and also captured four more Slams at Wimbledon in 1988 and 1990 and at the US Open in 1991 and 1992.

• Chang became the youngest male player in history to win a Grand Slam tournament when he claimed the 1989 French Open at 17 years and three months. Chang defeated Edberg 6-1, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 having also knocked out world No. 1 Lendl in a 4-hour and 37-minute last 16 tie in which he was cramping and forced to serve underarm. He was the first American champion in Paris since Tony Trabert in 1955. The diminutive Chang was also runner-up at the 1996 Australian and US Opens.

• Just a month past his 19th birthday, ‘Pistol Pete’ won the first of his 14 Slams at the 1990 US Open, beating American compatriot Andre Agassi 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in the New York final having seen off Lendl and John McEnroe in the previous two rounds. Sampras ended his career with 64 titles, with a majors haul made up of seven at Wimbledon, two at the Australian Open and five US Open triumphs. His last major was in New York in 2002, bringing the curtain down with another victory against Agassi.

• At 19, Nadal defeated Mariano Puerta in the 2005 French Open final, 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, 7-5. It was his first major title and the first of a record 13 Roland Garros triumphs. The Spaniard, who now has 21 majors, won on his Paris debut, the first man to do so since Wilander in 1982. He was also the youngest champion since Chang in 1989. Interestingly, 2005 also saw the French Open debut of Novak Djokovic who made the second round where he retired against Guillermo Coria. Nadal was the last teenage man to win a Slam — a feat which eluded his great rivals Djokovic and Federer.

Dainese becomes first Italian stage winner in 2022 Giro

Updated 19 May 2022

Dainese becomes first Italian stage winner in 2022 Giro

  • Spaniard Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek) retained the leader’s pink jersey after a 203-kilometer stage which was relatively comfortable other than the heat and wind

REGGIO EMILIA, ITALY: Alberto Dainese (DSM) became the first Italian winner in this year’s Giro d’Italia when he edged the sprint to take stage 11 in Reggio Emilia on Wednesday.

Dainese, 24, who had never previously won a stage in the Giro, beat the Colombian Fernando Gaviria in the dash for the finish. Another Italian Simone Consonni took third.

On the podium, the Italian was treated to the traditional giant bottle of prosecco, like his predecessors.

But significantly, the magnum had been uncorked as a precaution against a repeat of the accident that befell Biniam Girmay on Tuesday when he was injured in the left eye by the cork and subsequently ruled out of the race.

The Spaniard Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek) retained the leader’s pink jersey after a 203-kilometer stage which was relatively comfortable other than the heat and wind.

Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz, however, pocketed three bonus seconds in an intermediate sprint to climb two places into second, equal in time with the Portuguese Joao Almeida, 12 seconds behind Lopez.

“I saw Carapaz gained some time in an intermediate sprint but I’m not as fast as him. There was nothing I could do,” said Lopez who has been leading since the fourth stage.

“Anyway, I’m very happy to keep the pink jersey for at least one more day.”

Eritrean Girmay, who on Tuesday became the first black African to win a stage at the Giro, pulled out before the start following Tuesday’s cork accident.

Intermarche’s team doctor Piet Daneels said tests showed “hemorrhage in the anterior chamber of the left eye.”

With temperatures hitting 30 degrees, the peloton largely stuck together apart from one wishful breakaway by Luca Rastelli and Filippo Tagliani which was reeled in just after halfway.

Belgian Dries De Bondt embarked on a solo raid 58 kilometers from the finish, which ended just 1,300 meters from the line.

In the sprint, French rider Arnaud Demare, who already has two stage wins to his name in this Giro, attacked from deep.

He was hunted down by Gaviria before Dainese, taking full advantage of the slipstream, came through to take the third victory of his career.

Last year, he finished second in a Vuelta stage, behind Dutchman Fabio Jakobsen.

The peloton faces its longest day in the saddle on Thursday with a mountainous 12th stage of 204 kilometers which crosses the Apennines from Parma to Genoa.

Newcastle’s pre-season plans scrambled following US tournament cancelation

Updated 19 May 2022

Newcastle’s pre-season plans scrambled following US tournament cancelation

  • The cancelation leaves United and Howe with a real summer conundrum, especially just a few days before the end of the Premier League season

NEWCASTLE: Newcastle United have expressed their disappointment after their pre-season plans were torn to shreds by US organizers.

The Magpies were due to travel to the States to take part in the inaugural Ohio Cup in Cincinnati and Columbus, starting in July.

However, Newcastle were informed this week by organizers that the tournament, which was also set to feature Wolverhampton Wanderers, Valencia and Villarreal, would no longer go ahead.

No definitive reason has been given for the call-off, although it is understood the cancelation is categorically nothing to do with Newcastle United or their Premier League counterparts Wolves.

And Arab News has learnt the club themselves are angry at the development and timing of it, having had plans for the camp in the pipeline for quite some time.

The cancelation leaves United and Howe with a real summer conundrum, especially just a few days before the end of the Premier League season.

Despite having a number of late summer games already scheduled, against high-quality opposition, the front end of their off-season looks light.

And club officials, with the help of Howe and his team, now face a race against time to get a warm weather summer camp plus friendlies arranged. The first game of the summer is likely to take place in about eight weeks.

The prospect of the club going ahead with a trip to America is not being ruled out, but appears, at this stage, the least likely of all of the options on the table.

A trip a little closer to home is much more likely this summer, with United now working through a list of back-up alternatives.

The issue facing trip planners, and why the late nature of the cancelation is so upsetting to the club, is that many of those back-up options have likely already been booked up by other clubs from across the continent.

While a trip to the Middle East, where United spent two spells earlier this year, is possible again in 2022, it’s unlikely that will happen in pre-season due to the high temperatures in the region.

Meanwhile, Howe was in a less-than-sentimental mood on Monday evening as he gave a run-out to just one United player who is likely to leave this summer.

Dwight Gayle was the only player to get minutes in the 2-0 win over Arsenal, albeit  totalling just three. The likes of Matt Ritchie, and others, who are likely to be shown the summer exit door, did not get the farewell some may have expected.

Discussing the situation and emotional exits at St. James’ Park on Monday night, Howe said: “It’s a difficult one for me to answer, I can only speak for myself really. It was just great to see the families of the players come on because players work incredibly hard and are away from their families a lot.

“It’s great to see the kids, wives, families, mums and dads come onto the pitch and be part of the experience. Brilliant moment to come together because it’s not often I get to see them be together as one. They’ve all played their part in this as well. Let’s not forget how much time the players spend away, they need good role models and good people around, so that was a really touching moment. The photo at the end in front of the Gallowgate End was a great thing.”


Saudi gold medals for Al-Issa, Al-Yassin at GCC Games in Kuwait

Updated 18 May 2022

Saudi gold medals for Al-Issa, Al-Yassin at GCC Games in Kuwait

  • Bronze for Muzna Al-Nassar in women’s 5000 meters and Raghad Abuarish in women’s high jump

Saudi swimmer Ali Al-Issa has claimed a gold medal in the 100 meter backstroke competition on the third day of the GCC Games in Kuwait.

Al-Issa’s win was achieved with a time of 59.79 seconds.

There was more gold medal success for the Saudi contingent as Ahmed Al-Yassin won the decathlon competition with 7,270 points, while his Saudi colleague Saeed Mabrouk took silver with 7,017 points.

Elsewhere, there was plenty of success for Saudi athletes, while some experienced names just missed out on medals.

Al-Issa’s swimming team colleague Youssef Buarish — who took part in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo — could only finish fifth in the final of the 100 meter butterfly race with a time of 56.25 seconds.

In the athletics competition, runner Muzna Al-Nassar repeated her bronze medal performance from Day 2 after finishing third in the 5000 meter race with a time of 20 minutes, 33 seconds.

In the women’s high jump, Raghad Abuarish also claimed bronze after clearing a height of 1.45 meters.

Saudi runner Fahad Al-Subaie won the silver medal in the men’s 200 meter race with a time of 20.92 seconds, while his teammate Mahmoud Hafez finished third — and claimed bronze — with a time of 21.13 seconds.

Yousef Asiri achieved a bronze medal in the men’s 5000 meter race with a time of 14 minutes, 14 seconds.

Also in the athletics competitions, Ahmed Al-Taruti took the bronze in the men’s high jump with a distance of 2.1 meters.

Mohammed Al-Sharida, Fahd Al-Mutairi and Faisal Al-Dajani claimed a set of bronze medals after finishing third in the men’s team shooting competition.

Mourinho says he and Ancelotti still have a lot more to give

Updated 18 May 2022

Mourinho says he and Ancelotti still have a lot more to give

  • The 59-year-old Mourinho was asked Wednesday if critics had been too quick to write him and 62-year-old Carlo Ancelotti off too quickly
  • “The problem with Carlo was that when you coach Everton you definitely won’t win the Champions League,” Mourinho said

ROME: José Mourinho sees no reason to stop now after reaching another European final while approaching his 60th birthday.
The 59-year-old Mourinho was asked Wednesday if critics had been too quick to write him and 62-year-old Carlo Ancelotti off too quickly.
Mourinho’s Roma will meet Feyenoord in the Europa Conference League final next week. Three days later, Ancelotti’s Real Madrid team will play Liverpool in the Champions League final.
Both coaches had mixed results in their previous jobs in England at Tottenham (Mourinho) and Everton (Ancelotti).
“The problem with Carlo was that when you coach Everton you definitely won’t win the Champions League. My problem is that people looked at it as me taking on jobs to win but it wasn’t about winning,” Mourinho said. “When you have a history of repeated success, people can say those things — it doesn’t bother me.”
Next Wednesday’s match in Tirana, Albania, will mark the fifth European final of Mourinho’s career. He has won all four that he’s coached in so far, over a span of nearly two decades: the 2003 UEFA Cup and 2004 Champions League finals with Porto; the 2010 Champions League final with Inter Milan; and the 2017 Europa League final with Manchester United.
Still, younger coaches like Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp have attracted more attention than Mourinho in recent years.
“I don’t think about it as ‘the new generation,’ or ‘a different generation,’” Mourinho said. “Quality has no age. The same thing applies to players. There are players who are great at 20 and players who are great at 40.
“When you don’t have the passion anymore that’s when you’re done. When you don’t feel a bit of pressure before these games that means you’re done,” Mourinho added. “I know it for myself and I know Carletto (Ancelotti) fairly well. When you’ve got the passion and the quality, it’s up to us to say when we’re done. We’re the ones who will decide when to quit. But I think you’ll have to wait a while. Because it won’t be soon.”