Eddie Howe outlines Saudi Pro League stance as he discusses Newcastle United January transfer plans

Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe has questioned the media circus around this week’s Premier League vote and the focus on the Saudi Pro League. (Screenshot/NUFCTV)
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Updated 25 November 2023
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Eddie Howe outlines Saudi Pro League stance as he discusses Newcastle United January transfer plans

  • Magpies manager counts cost of long-term absentees and says injuries likely to shape any moves in winter window

NEWCASTLE: Newcastle United head coach Eddie Howe has questioned the media circus around this week’s Premier League vote and the focus on the Saudi Pro League when discussing the Magpies’ January transfer plans.

Despite reports to the contrary, and having admitted his liking for Al-Hilal’s Ruben Neves, Howe has revealed he has no intention of raiding any one of the four SPL clubs also owned by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia.

That revelation comes after a controversial Premier League vote on whether to close the rule loophole which allows players to be loaned between clubs with the same owners.

On Tuesday, the vote failed, with eight of the top flight’s 20 clubs voting against the changes. A majority of 14 was needed in order for the rules to be altered. With laws remaining unaltered, the subsequent days have been filled with reports of Howe’s interest in Neves, and Newcastle’s intent to exploit the Saudi market.

That is news to Howe, however. Asked whether he would look to the SPL’s PIF four for January loan deals, he said: “It’s not even in our thoughts at this moment in time. As I said, at the start of the season, January was not a window that we were looking to invest in. It would only be a reaction to the injuries that we have and whether we need to recruit because the majority of our players would be back in January, at this moment in time we don’t know.”

On the vote itself, Howe was quick to turn attention away from Newcastle United, although they do, of course, now have more options that they would have if the loophole had been closed.

“You say Newcastle’s favor, it was a Premier League vote; we’re not the only club involved in that vote,” Howe said.

“I think the majority of clubs in the Premier League own other clubs around the world, so it’s not solely on us, I don’t think.

“Newcastle, as a club, had a view. We voted our way in the way we’re allowed to and the vote came out on the side that it did. Just from my dealings with it, we’re very relaxed on it. It’s not the be-all and end-all for us.

“Nothing irritates me. I found it a bit strange that the focus has been solely on us. Every club has a right to vote how they want to vote and it hasn’t gone through so it’s not just about us. I think it’s the same for everybody. I understand the focus being solely on us, but it’s not solely on us. This is a vote for all Premier League clubs. We’ll be potentially allowed to recruit from a league, just like every Premier League club can as well.

“We’ve got a squad we really like. If we can get players fit before January, the need to recruit will become much less intense for us.”

Injuries are the major talking point at Newcastle, although that situation has, if potentially temporarily, eased.

Alexander Isak is expected to be in contention against Chelsea this weekend, along with Bruno Guimaraes, while a late call will be made on fellow midfielder Sean Longstaff. Miguel Almiron, Kieran Trippier and Fabian Schar have been passed fit. Lewis Hall is ineligible against the Blues, as he is on loan from Stamford Bridge this season.

Injuries are likely to shape any moves in the winter window, according to Howe, who is without the likes of long-term absentees Callum Wilson, Harvey Barnes, Dan Burn and Sven Botman.

Howe said: “Certainly we’re going to have to be reactive, I think, because we’ve got injuries in different areas of the squad; there’s not necessarily one area, there’s a few areas. I think that will be a decision made toward the window opening, rather than now. To sort of form any plans now would be a mistake. Of course, we’re doing the work now to prepare for that.”

“It’s hard to make any kind of decision as I sit here now because the squad could look very different by Jan. 1. The squad could look a lot stronger. I say ‘could’ because we don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few weeks. In general, I’m against making short-term decisions unless we absolutely have to. Last January, we invested in Anthony Gordon, who we really believed could be a top talent here for many, many years. He was the right personality at that time to improve the squad. I think they’re the types of signings that we want to be making. Sat here now, though, I’ve no idea whether we’ll be in a position to do that.”

One player Howe did not expect to be without long-term was summer signing Sandro Tonali.

The former AC Milan man is serving a 10-month ban for illegal betting activities, but has been allowed to train with his teammates during that period. Howe admits he is frustrated on that front, however, with the Italian midfielder looking sharper than ever behind the scenes, at a time when the Magpies could really do with him on the pitch.

Howe said: “Sandro has been training very well, which makes it even more frustrating for us that we can’t use him, especially in this moment when we really need him. He’s a player training, he’s fit and he’s looked really good.

“Despite the obvious frustration for me, I’m very pleased that he’s training at that level, and that’s a hallmark of his character because it’s very difficult when you’ve got such a long period out to keep your focus day-to-day and do your job as well as you can, and he’s certainly done that.

“So far, he’s coping very well with his situation in the fact that he’s doing extra work. He’s trying to improve himself despite the fact he can’t play for such a long time. You wouldn’t know from our training sessions that he’s unavailable to play, and it’s probably been the best we have seen him in training. That’s natural because he’s getting used to his surroundings and he’s comfortable now. I’d love to see him when he comes back into the team because I think he will be a huge player for us.”


Saudi Arabia lose to Iraq as both teams progress to quarterfinals of 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup

Updated 6 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia lose to Iraq as both teams progress to quarterfinals of 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup

  • The 2-1 reverse sees the Green Falcons finish second in Group C of tournament that is also a qualifying competition for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris

DOHA: Iraq defeated Saudi Arabia 2-1 on Monday night at Khalifa International Stadium in Al-Rayyan as both teams secured their spots in the last eight of the 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup.

Saudi Arabia entered the match as leaders of Group C with a maximum of six points from two matches. But the reverse sees them drop to second in the final standings, with Iraq — also on six points — taking top spot with a superior head-to-head record.

With three points apiece, Tajikistan and Thailand finished third and fourth respectively and were eliminated from the competition.

The tournament, which runs until May 3, provides a pathway to the men’s football competition at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

Iraq took the lead one minute into first-half stoppage time through an Ali Jasim penalty but there was still time for Saudi Arabia to equalize nine minutes later with a spot kick converted by Ahmed Al-Ghamdi.

Iraq secured the win thanks to Mustafa Saadoun’s winner on 63 minutes.

Monday also saw the conclusion of Group B with South Korea beating Japan 1-0 and China overcoming the UAE 2-1.

South Korea and Japan had qualified from the group ahead of the final round of matches.

Tuesday will see the final round of Group D matches, with Uzbekistan and Vietnam already guaranteeing their progress to the last eight as they sit on six points apiece.

The tournament has 16 nations split into four groups, with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals. The winners of the two semifinals secure automatic qualification to the Olympic Games.

The two losing semifinalists will contest third place, with the winners also booking a place in Paris, while the fourth-place finishers have a final chance with a playoff against an African qualifier.


Stacked fight card set for PFL Europe Newcastle

Updated 28 min 33 sec ago
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Stacked fight card set for PFL Europe Newcastle

  • Path to Greatness’ event by Saudi Arabia-backed brand takes place June 8 at Utilita Arena with bantamweight and flyweights competing
  • Boxing world champion Savannah Marshall makes her PFL SmartCage debut in her hometown of Newcastle against Brazil’s Mirela Vargas

NEW YORK: The Professional Fighters League has announced a stacked card for its PFL Europe Newcastle event on June 8, featuring bantamweights and flyweights looking to secure spots in the playoffs this September.

 

The “Path to Greatness” event has prize money of $100,000.

 

Local hero Savannah Marshall makes her cage debut against Brazil’s Mirela Vargas.

 

Dan Hardy, head of fighter operations for PFL Europe, said: “We can’t wait to come back to Newcastle on June 8th, where PFL Europe officially launched in 2023. Our bantamweight and women’s flyweight rosters are packed with quality and represent the best that the elite European MMA scene has to offer. And with the Regular Season format all of these fighters know what’s at the end of the line — the European title, $100k and a pathway to our Global Season.

 

“But it wouldn’t be a PFL Europe event without a stacked evening of showcase bouts, and we have a great selection of future stars, simmering tensions and a local hero in Savannah Marshall making her MMA debut.”

 

Marshall has 10 victories by knockout as a boxer. She joins the deepest female combat sports roster in the world, which includes a familiar foe in Claressa Shields. Her first test in the cage comes in the form of Vargas, a three-fight professional.

 

With the winners progressing and the losers going home, the stakes could not be higher for the bantamweights. England’s highly regarded Scouser Dean Garnett (12-2-1), who is on a four-fight win streak, faces Belgium’s Ayton De Paepe (12-4) as both step into the PFL SmartCage for the first time.

 

Also at bantamweight, last year’s finalist, Ireland’s Frans Mlambo (15-6) looks to return to winning ways against Scotland’s “The Apocalypse” Luke Shanks (10-4). Meanwhile, returning champion Khurshed Kakhorov (12-1) defends his PFL Europe title against Georgian Kikadze Bondo (8-3-1) who dominated striking expert Dom Wooding last time out.

 

Rounding off the bantamweights, Alexander Luster (7-1), who has lit up the German MMA scene with all seven of his professional wins coming inside the first two rounds, faces Alperen Karabulut (10-3-0, 1 no-contest), the first Turkiye fighter to compete inside the PFL SmartCage.

 

In the women’s flyweight division, one of the most highly regarded female prospects in the world, Shanelle “The Nightmare” Dyer (4-0), will make her PFL Europe Season debut against Georgian submission specialist Mariam Torchinava (9-2). Also on the card Dyer’s bitter rival and viral sensation, Sammy-Jo Luxton (2-0), makes her long awaited PFL Europe debut versus the returning Dutch talent Lizzy Gevers (3-1).

 

Also competing in the flyweight division, 2023 finalist Valentina Scatizzi (2-2) from Italy will face France’s experienced 43-year-old Marie Loiseau (6-4), and Ireland’s Dee Begley (4-5) faces Poland’s Paulina Wisniewska (2-0).

 

There will be one additional welterweight fight, with Jack Grant (19-8) facing Charlie Leary (17-13-1), with a chance to proceed to the playoffs and join the semifinalists who were victorious in Paris.

 

The 2024 PFL Europe Season began last month with a sold-out show in Paris. After Newcastle, the action moves to Glasgow’s OVO Hydro on Sept. 28. The season will conclude at a venue to be announced later.

 

PFL Europe Newcastle Main Card:

 

Main Event: Savannah Marshall (debut) vs Mirela Vargas (1-2)

 

Lightweight Showcase Bout: Kane Mousah (14-6) vs Dylan Tuke (7-4)

 

Welterweight Season Bout: Jack Grant (19-8) vs Charlie Leary (17-13-1)

 

Bantamweight Season Bout: Dean Garnett (12-2-1) vs Ayton De Paepe (12-4)

 

Women’s Flyweight Season Bout: Shanelle Dyer (4-0) vs Mariam Torchinava (9-2)

Featherweight Showcase Bout: Ibragim Ibragimov (6-0) vs Josh Reed (13-8)

 

Bantamweight Season Bout: Frans Mlambo (15-6) vs Luke Shanks (10-4)

 

Women’s Flyweight Season Bout: Lizzy Gevers (3-1) vs Sammy-Jo Luxton (2-0)

 

Lightweight Showcase Bout: Mark Ewen (5-0) vs Mathias Poiron (7-1)

 

Bantamweight Season Bout: Khurshed Kakhorov (12-1) vs Bondo Kikadze (8-3-1)

 

Women’s Flyweight Season Bout: Valentina Scatizzi (2-2) vs Marie Loiseau (6-4)

 

Featherweight Showcase Bout: Ben Woolliss (2-0) vs Maher Belkhadir (1-1)

 

Bantamweight Bout: Alexander Luster (7-1) vs Alperen Karabulut (10-3-0, 1 NC)

 

Women’s Flyweight Bout: Dee Begley (4-5) vs Paulina Wisniewska (2-0)


New Al-Tai boss Ramos believes dream debut win could boost SPL relegation fight

Updated 23 April 2024
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New Al-Tai boss Ramos believes dream debut win could boost SPL relegation fight

  • Uruguayan coach, whose side travel to Al-Fayha on Thursday, achieved dramatic last-gasp win over fellow relegation battlers Al-Riyadh at the weekend

RIYADH: Leonardo Ramos, the new Al-Tai manager, believes the club’s victory in his debut match could be vital to secure Roshn Saudi League football next season.

Ramos oversaw a dramatic 2-1 win for the Hail club at 10-man Al-Riyadh on Friday in the capital courtesy of a Khalid Al-Shuwayyi own goal 12 minutes into injury time.

The win lifted Al-Tai, who had gone four games without victory prior to the Uruguayan’s arrival, out of the relegation zone and into 14th place in the 18-team league.

“I know that every player in the team needs to bring his best abilities on the field, so the reason for my presence is my experience in ensuring this happens,” Ramos said. “Certainly, the ultimate goal is to play with greater performances and to improve the level and position of the club in the table. The win benefits this.

“The league is definitely approaching the end faster than I would have liked, but I think we can help the players a lot,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of games before I came here, and game by game we’ll have more vision. We were so happy because this was our first game together — and we are happy to have improved our position in the table. We have gone up in the table and that’s important.”

Al-Tai’s opener on Friday night at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium in Riyadh came from Bernard Mensah in first-half injury time. Al-Riyadh saw Abdullah Al-Khairbari red-carded just after the interval but equalized through Abdulhadi Al-Harajin. This came before Al-Shuwayyi watched in horror as a cross ball trundled into the net off his shoulder deep into stoppage time.

Ramos, 54, who earned eight caps for his country as a player, previously managed Al-Ettifaq in Saudi Arabian football in 2018 and was most recently in charge of Montevideo City Torque in his home country. He replaced Romanian national Laurentiu Reghecampf as Al-Tai manager.

Next up for Ramos and Al-Tai is a trip to Al-Fayha on Thursday, with kickoff at 6 p.m. The club then conclude their campaign with matches versus Al-Khaleej, Al-Raed, Al-Fateh, Al-Hilal and a final-day-of-the-season clash with fellow relegation battlers Al-Okhdood.

The Roshn Saudi League bottom five spots has Al-Hazem last on 16 points, followed by Al-Okhdood on 24, Abha and Al-Riyadh on 25 — with the former in the drop zone due to a considerably inferior goal difference — and then Al-Tai on 26 points. With the standings so tight, Ramos knows exactly what is needed now.

“For sure we need to continue working on improving performances,” the Uruguayan said. “I believe we played an outstanding match (against Al-Riyadh), although there were times that we lacked the rhythm, team spirit, and overall performance. Most of the time, we played on the sides and at the back, and we did not move progressively enough towards the opponent’s goal.

“However, we showed determination and desire to win, and we made some changes in the second half of the match to improve the result and achieve the victory, which we succeeded in at the end. I am very happy to work with the players, and the club overall, and achieving the victory was a great result.”

 


Spanish women among top Laureus winners and Djokovic is world sportsman of the year

Updated 23 April 2024
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Spanish women among top Laureus winners and Djokovic is world sportsman of the year

  • Laureus rewarded Spain as the first all-female team to win the team award
  • American gymnast Simone Biles was given the comeback of the year award

MADRID: Spain’s first Women’s World Cup triumph last year earned two more major plaudits at the Laureus World Sports Awards on Monday.

Spain were chosen world team of the year for 2023 and midfielder Aitana Bonmatí was picked as the best sportswoman.

Novak Djokovic received the sportsman of the year at the ceremony in Madrid, and American gymnast Simone Biles was given the comeback of the year award.

Real Madrid forward Jude Bellingham earned the breakthrough prize, and Rafael Nadal won the sport for good award thanks to his foundation.

The Spanish women’s World Cup breakthrough last August in New Zealand and Australia was tarnished in the following weeks because of an unwanted kiss of forward Jenni Hermoso by then-federation president Luis Rubiales after the final.

Laureus rewarded Spain as the first all-female team to win the team award.

Before the World Cup, Bonmati also helped Barcelona win a second Women’s Champions League. She’s the first female soccer player to win the Laureus, after also receiving the Ballon d’Or and FIFA best player award.

“I want to thank all my teammates and the staff of my club and national team who have helped me a lot, and because of them I am here today,” Bonmati said.

Djokovic won his record-equalling fifth Laureus sportsman award — tying Roger Federer — after titles at the Australian Open, French Open and US Open to reach a record 24 Grand Slam singles triumphs. NFL great Tom Brady presented Djokovic the award.

Biles made a record-breaking return to competition last year when she won four gold medals at the world championships, including a record sixth all-around title.

Nadal’s foundation was rewarded for helping more than “1,000 vulnerable young people in Spain and India,” according to Laureus.

Teenager Arisa Trew won the action sportsperson award after becoming the first female skateboarder to land a 720 in competition.

Dutch wheelchair player Diede de Groot was selected as the sportsperson of the year with a disability after winning her third straight calendar tennis Grand Slam.


Inter Milan seal Scudetto in derby thriller with AC Milan

Updated 23 April 2024
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Inter Milan seal Scudetto in derby thriller with AC Milan

  • Inter have become the second team to win 20 Italian league titles, and will have a second star stitched onto their jersey, after Juventus who are way out in the lead with 36 league crowns

MILAN: Inter Milan sealed the Serie A title on Monday after beating AC Milan 2-1 and creating an unassailable lead at the top of the league with their sixth straight derby victory.
Goals from Francesco Acerbi and Marcus Thuram gave Inter a 17-point advantage over closest challengers Milan and secured their 20th league crown with five matches of the season remaining.
Inter last won Serie A in 2021, followed by AC Milan in 2022 and Napoli last year.
For Simone Inzaghi it was the first league title as a manager and on a cold, soaking wet evening at the San Siro he strode proudly in front of a clutch of Inter’s “away” fans in the 75,000 crowd as they roared in delight and fired fireworks from the stands at the final whistle.
Milan made a fight of it in the final moments after Fikayo Tomori pulled one back with 10 minutes remaining but Inter held out to kick off a title party after a stormy ending to the match which featured three red cards.
“I feel like crying because we worked so hard, we deserve this joy,” said tearful captain Lautaro Martinez.
“It’s been wonderful but we have to keep going because we’ve already won a lot of trophies and we want to win many more.”
Inter have become the second team to win 20 Italian league titles, and will have a second star stitched onto their jersey, after Juventus who are way out in the lead with 36 league crowns.
Inzaghi’s team did it style, laying waste to the rest of the division and becoming the first team to claim the title by winning the Milan derby and leaving his opposite number Pioli on the verge of the sack.
“He was struggling 14 months ago according to the media and look what he has achieved since. I am happy here, I work well and I think the team has margin for improvement,” insisted 2022 Scudetto winner Pioli.
With outgoing champions Napoli crashing and burning early in the campaign and Milan falling away in the autumn Inter raced off into the distance at the turn of the year.
Juve looked like putting up a fight but they collapsed in February just as Inter strung together a run of 13 wins which also gave them hope of repeating a deep run in the Champions League.
Inter failed in that mission as they were knocked out of the Champions League by Atletico Madrid in mid-March, but by that time the domestic damage had already been done.
The future looks bright too as Inzaghi, Martinez and Italy midfielder Nicolo Barella are all set to renew their contracts while smart work in the transfer market and increased revenue have helped mitigate significant financial harm wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Piotr Zielinski and Mehdi Taremi will arrive from Napoli and Porto as free agents in the close season while big stars like Thuram should stay.
“Crazy feeling, crazy game. We wanted to do it for our fans and we did it. It’s my first league title and I’m very proud of it,” said Thuram.
The nominal away side on Monday, Inter were on their way to a title party in the 18th minute when Acerbi was left completely free to head home Benjamin Pavard’s flick-on.
Inter should have been two ahead seven minutes later through Lautaro Martinez who lost his footing when Federico Dimarco’s perfect cut-back fell to the Argentina striker.
And his strike partner Thuram was equally at fault for Inter not increasing their lead seven minutes before the break as he shot a great chance just wide after being set up by Nicolo Barella.
But shortly after half-time Thuram made up for that miss with a brilliant individual goal which took his tally for his debut Serie A season to 12.
France forward Thuram collected Alessandro Bastoni’s long pass on the left and eventually cut inside before drilling home at Mike Maignan’s near post.
Yann Sommer did well to keep out Theo Hernandez’s well-struck shot as Milan fans let go a barrage of flares in the stands.
The resulting smoke mixed with the persistent rain to create an misty atmosphere around the San Siro, and just as Inter looked set to see the match out Tomori made sure it would be a grandstand finish when he headed home on the rebound.
However instead of levelling the match Milan lost their heads, with both Theo Hernandez and Davide Calabria receiving straight red cards in stoppage time.
Inter’s Denzel Dumfries was also sent off in the closing minutes, but that will matter less to his team who danced and bounced in front of joyous fans.