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.


Luka Modric wins world player of year, ends Ronaldo-Messi duology

Updated 25 September 2018
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Luka Modric wins world player of year, ends Ronaldo-Messi duology

  • Egyptian legend Mohamed Salah wins fan-voted Puskas Award for scoring the best goal of the year
  • Saudi Arabian legend Sami Al-Jaber presents award for Best Fans to Peruvian contingent

LONDON: Croatia’s Luka Modric was crowned Men's Player of the Year at FIFA’s The Best Awards, but insisted beaten finalist Mohamed Salah should be proud of his record-breaking season, assuring the Egyptian he will have other opportunities to win the sport’s premier individual award. 

Modric, who won the Champions League for a third successive year with Real Madrid and led his country to the World Cup final in Russia this summer, beat both Salah and Cristiano Ronaldo to the award. The 33-year-old is the the first player outside of Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to win the prize since 2008. Neither of the two former winners attended the otherwise star-studded event at Royal Festival Hall.
 
“It’s a great honor and beautiful feeling to stand here with this amazing trophy,” Modric said, after being presented the award by FIFA president Gianni Infantino. “I want to give congratulations to Mohamed and Cristiano for the great seasons they had.”

Looking at Salah, Modric added: “I am sure in the future you will have another opportunity to fight for this trophy.”

The 26-year-old Egyptian did take to the stage to collect a prize when, earlier in the evening, he picked up the fan-voted Puskas Award for scoring the best goal of the year. The Liverpool forward’s strike against city rivals Everton last December in the Premier League was deemed more worthy than Ronaldo’s bicycle kick in the Champions League and Gareth Bale’s emulation in the competition’s final a few weeks later. 

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah is presented with the FIFA Puskas award by Noel Gallagher and Didier Drogba. (Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley)

“I’ve nothing much to say about this,” Salah responded after accepting his award from fellow African Didier Drogba and English musician Noel Gallagher. “I’m very happy and proud… and looking forward to another award later tonight.”

He, however, had to wait to learn he would be not be returning to the stage as host Idris Elba and a host of special guests presented a wide range of other awards. 

Didier Deschamps was awarded Best Coach having led France to World Cup glory, beating out competition from Zinedine Zidane and Zlatko Dalic. Zidane resigned from Real Madrid earlier this year after winning three successive Champions League titles and embraced his former France teammate amicably. Dalic, who spent seven years in the Gulf with Saudi clubs Al-Faisaly and Al-Hilal before enjoying great success with Al-Ain in the UAE, inherited a Croatia side on the edge of failing to qualify for the World Cup and took them to the final within 12 months. 

Reynald Pedros won Best Women’s Coach for his work with Lyon, having led them to a memorable league, cup and Women’s Champions League treble, while Brazil's Marta was crowned Best Women's Player for a record sixth time for her role in winning the Copa America, fending off Lyon duo Ada Hegerberg and Dzsenifer Marozsan.

Real Madrid new boy Thibault Courtois was handed Best Goalkeeper for his performances for Chelsea last year, although was curiously beaten by Manchester United’s Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea to a place in the Fifa All-Star Team. Salah was also surprisingly snubbed for the FIFA All-Star Team, with Ronaldo being joined in a forward line alongside Messi, PSG’s Kylian Mbappe, and Chelsea’s Eden Hazard. Modric slotted in behind alongside N’golo Kante, who was positioned to protect a defense of Marcelo, Dani Alves, Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos.

“I am very happy and proud to be named as one of the best 11 players in the world again,” Varane told reporters afterwards. The French defender was the only player to win both the World Cup and the Champions League this past year.

Salah, who disappeared after the ceremony without speaking to any media, had said before the awards were announced that he was not pinning his hopes on victory, instead looking forward to the future.  

“I'm happy to be here, but I’m sure it’s not the last time,” he said. “My goal is just to be better than last season, but I’m not worrying about that. We’ll just see what happens. [Qualifying for the World Cup was] the best moment in my life so far; a big thing for us as a nation. It would mean a lot to win; it’s a dream come true, but I have a long time still to play football.”

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabian legend Sami Al-Jaber presented the award for Best Fans to a small contingent of Peruvians who represented the more than 40,000 compatriots who attended this summer’s World Cup in Russia, their country’s first appearance in 36 years. 

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AWARD RESULTS


Puskas Award: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
Best Goalkeeper: Thibault Courtois (Real Madrid)
Best Coach: Didier Deschamps (France)
Best Women’s Coach: Reynald Pedros (Lyon)
Best Fans: Peru Fans
Fair Play Award: Lennart Thy (VVV Venlo)
World XI: De Gea; Alves, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Kante; Hazard, Messi, Mbappe; Ronaldo 
Women’s Player of the Year: Marta (Orlando Pride)
Men’s Player of the Year: Luka Modric (Real Madrid)