Saudi legend Sami Al-Jaber urges young Arab players to follow in Mohamed Salah’s Liverpool footsteps

Wolves' Sami Al Jaber (R) controls the ball during the match Wolves vs Southampton Aug. 5, 2000, in Wolverhampton. (AFP)
Updated 08 March 2018
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Saudi legend Sami Al-Jaber urges young Arab players to follow in Mohamed Salah’s Liverpool footsteps

DUBAI: Sami Al-Jaber still gets goose bumps when he recalls his time as the first Saudi Arabian to play professional football in England.
The striker made only a handful of appearances for Wolverhampton Wanderers in the second tier of English football at the turn of the millennium, but the team’s army of fanatical supporters left him with memories he will never forget.
“They loved the club. The passion they had, you can’t believe. It gives you power and will make any player play their best,” he told Arab News.
“They always told me that they believed in me and knew I was good. I only played five games, but I could feel their passion every time I received the ball.”
Now retired, Al-Jaber is one of Saudi Arabia’s most celebrated footballers. Nicknamed “The Legend,” he helped the Kingdom reach its first-ever World Cup in 1994, scoring one goal and setting up two others in a thrilling 4-3 victory over Iran to help the Green Falcons qualify for the tournament.
He went on to represent his country at four World Cups, scoring in 1994, 1998 and 2006, with a tally of 46 goals in 156 appearances for the national team. In 1996, he was a member of the Saudi squad that beat the UAE on penalties to win the Asian Cup.
Al-Jaber joined Wolverhampton, popularly known as Wolves, in 2000, on loan from Al-Hilal. He was 27 and, nagged by injury, struggled to make an impact on the pitch.
But his move helped pave the way for future Arab stars, including Liverpool’s Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah and Leicester’s Algerian playmaker Riyad Mahrez, to light up the English game.
Al-Jaber’s one regret is that he failed to ply his trade in Europe earlier, giving himself time to adapt to the colder weather and higher standard of football.
“I really learned a lot of things in the eight months I was there, about discipline and professionalism. We were just getting started in this regard in Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Al-Jaber points to the stratospheric rise of Liverpool’s Salah as an example of the benefits Arab footballers can hope to gain by going to Europe early in their careers. The Egyptian has been one of the standout performers in this season’s Premier League, but even he took time to adapt to football outside his homeland.
Salah played for Basel in Switzerland and had an unsuccessful period at Chelsea in England before spells in Italy with Fiorentina and Roma that caught the eye of Liverpool. He is now in the quarterfinals of the Champions League and has scored 32 goals for his club in all competitions this season, winning praise for his pace and trickery.
“There are so many Salahs in the region, but he went as a young player to many clubs and then he gets the chance at Liverpool and he is ready, he already knows and has adapted to the European game. That would have been a better option for me,” said Al-Jaber.
Highlights:
-International debut in a 1-1 draw with Syria in 1992.
-Last international performance in a 0-1 defeat to Spain at the 2006 World Cup.
-International career lasted 13 years and 285 days.
-Among a small band of elite players to have scored in World Cups 12 years apart. Others to have achieved this feat include Pele, Maradona and Michael Laudrup.
-In January 2008, Al-Hilal held a testimonial for Al-Jaber against a Manchester United team featuring Cristiano Ronaldo. Al-Jaber scored a penalty in a 3-2 win.


World Cup live: Portugal 1 Morocco 0

Updated 4 min 22 sec ago
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World Cup live: Portugal 1 Morocco 0

  • Cristiano Ronaldo heads in an early goal

4.16pm: SAVE! What a save that was from Patricio to prevent Younes Belhanda from finding the bottom corner with a header. that's as close as Morocco have come.

4.11pm: How long before Herve Renard sends for striker Ayoub El-Kaabi from the bench? He has 11 goals for his country and is the top-scorer in the squad. Morocco need one badly here.

4.07pm: Ronaldo may have scored the only goal but he had the third fewest touches in the first half. Only Mehdi Benatia (21) and Goncalo Guedes (19) had fewer.

4.05pm: We're back underway at the Luzhniki Stadium and Morocco need to score and avoid defeat otherwise they are out of the World Cup.

4.02pm: Random fact but Ronaldo has five hotels in Marrakech. He was certainly made to feel welcome by the Moroccons from that fifth-minute corner.

3.50pm: 37 percent of goals at this World Cup have been scored from set-pieces. 

3.46pm: "I think Morocco have dominated the ball," says BBC Sport's Kevin Kilbane. "Portugal have been dreadful."

3.45pm: It's half-time in Moscow and Portugal lead thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo's fourth-minute header. 

3.42pm: Morocco's Mehdi Benatia is the first player to be booked. He is shown a yellow card for clattering into Cristiano Ronaldo.

3.37pm: Morocco are having a good go here. They've had 49 percent of the possesion and registered six shots to Portugal's four.

3.31pm

3.30pm: "There are worse teams than Morocco at the World Cup," said BBC Sport's Terry Butcher. "They may be 1-0 down and heading out of the World Cup, but there is plenty of confidence out there."

3.27pm

3.25pm: "Morocco should be pleased with how they have responded," said BBC Sport's Martin Keown. "They have not done an awful loy wrong apart from conceding that goal,"

3.21pm: Marking Ronaldo is a two-man job. Here Achraf Hakimi and Manuel Da Costa keep tabs on the Real Madrid superstar.

3.19pm: Goals are a big problem for Morocco. The only player who has more than ten international goals to his name is Ayoub El-Kaabi and he's on the bench.

3.15pm: "Morocco have got good variation from their corners," says BBC Sport's Martin Keown. 

3.12pm: Not content with scoring 44 goals in 44 games for Real Madrid this season, Ronaldo now has four in two World Cup games. He is a machine. 

3.08pm: "That is appalling marking by Morocco," said BBC Sport's Martin Keown. "You just can't give Ronaldo that amount of room."

3.06pm: GOAL. And it's Cristiano Ronaldo, who else? He steals a march from a corner and powers in a header. Worst possible start for Morocco.

3.04pm: A real positive start from Morocco. "What a start that was with 12-13 passes from Morocco," said BBC Sport pundit Terry Butcher. "Wonderful play. It all started with a ball up to Cristiano Ronaldo, who just shrugged his shoulders."

2.59pm: The size of the task facing Morocco this afternoon is demonstrated by the fact that Ronaldo has scored 33 goals in his last 23 games for club and country and has only failed to score in five of those games.

2.52pm: "The Moroccan fans are taking their seats and are already making a significant amount of noise," reports BBC Sport's Gary Flintoff. "They are dotted throughout the stadium, but there are thousands of them grouped together behind one of the goals."

2.45pm. "Ziyech is their playmaker and he's been instrumental at Ajax," said BBC Sport's Jermaine Jenas. "Technically, he's the one they need to be going through. He's got an eye for a pass and can glide past people. There are a lot of clubs looking at him. Morocco desperately need him today if they are to get anything out of the game."

2.42pm: Mexico '86 seems a long time but that is when these two last met at the World Cup. The Atlas Lions won that one 3-1. 

2.41pm: Cristiano Ronaldo needs just one goal to move outright second in the list of all-time international scorers.

2.39pm: Morocco's Mbark Boussoufa in the zone before the match at the Luzniki Stadium.

 

 

2.38pm: "It will be a different gamplan from Morocco," said BBC Sport's Kevin Kilbane. "They are going to have to play on the back foot."

2.35pm: "This Morocco side will feel they need to come out and produce a performance after their opening defeat," said BBC Sport's Jermaine Jenas. 

2.32pm: Morocco are chasing their first World Cup win since they beat Scotland 3-0 in France. Salaheddine Bassir (2) and Abdeljalil Hadda got the goals that day.

2.29pm: Cristiano Ronaldo is again partnered in attack by Goncalo Guedes, despite the Valencia forward's unimpressive form in a 3-3 draw with Spain. Joao Mario starts in midfield replacing Bruno Fernandes. 

2.28pm: Morocco coach Herve Renard has made three changes, with forward Khalid Boutaib replacing Ayoub El Kaabi, Manuel Da Costa coming in for Romain Saiss in central defense, and defender Nabil Dirar replacing winger Amine Harit.

2.14pm: Morocco need to bounce back from their agonising defeat against Iran but Portugal, and Ronaldo in particular, pose Herve Renard's men a monumental challenge at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium.
"We lost a battle but we haven't lost the war. We're not dead," said midfielder Faycal Fajr, one of 17 foreign-born players in Morocco's squad.

2.10pm: The surprise team news is that Nordin Amrabat has been passed fit for Morocco. He came off following a head injury against Iran and the feeling was he would not pass the concussion protocol.

2.09pm

It has not been the best World Cup so far for the Arab nations. Saudi Arabia were thrashed by Russia, Egypt lost late on to Uruguay, Morocco were floored by a sucker punch from Iran and then Egypt were beaten again, this time by Russia. But now Morocco have the chance to make up for that by pulling off the shock of all shocks against European champions Portugal. A win would go down as one of the biggest in their history and resuscitate their hopes of getting out of Group B. And you can follow our live coverage of the game at the Luzhniki Stadium right here, so stay tuned for our insight and opinion on events in Moscow.