Mukhtar Ali ‘fit and ready’ for Saudi Arabia if World Cup call comes

From Jeddah to London to Vitesse, Mukhtar Ali has travelled far during his young footballing career. (Courtesy of Vitesse)
Updated 06 April 2018
0

Mukhtar Ali ‘fit and ready’ for Saudi Arabia if World Cup call comes

  • Mukhtar Ali hopes for a Saudi Arabia World Cup call up
  • Vitesse Arnhem player joined Chelsea youth team aged 8
BELO HORIZONTE: The Chelsea website says he was born in Mogadishu. The Vitesse website says he was born in Mogadishu. Various newspaper articles, blogs and forums say he was born in Mogadishu. The player himself says he was born in Jeddah. Last year, he made his Saudi Arabia debut.
Mukhtar Ali, whose parents are Somali, moved to London when he was an infant and joined Chelsea aged eight. The only player to appear in every game in the club’s victorious 2015-16 UEFA Youth League and FA Youth Cup-winning team, he followed the path of many Chelsea products, joining Dutch side Vitesse on loan.
The deal was made permanent in July and despite having represented England at Under-16 and U17 level, by October he was summoned by then-Saudi Arabia coach Edgardo Bauza to attend a special training camp for “muwallid,” the term given to people born in the Kingdom to foreign parents.
“They knew I was born in Jeddah,” Ali said of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation. “My parents grew up in Saudi when I was a kid, so it wasn’t a difficult decision. The Somalian community support it a lot as well and what my family thinks is the most
important thing — they are very proud and happy. It’s my career and they just want the best for me.”
The deep-lying midfielder, who said he has visited Somalia only once, was fast-tracked by Bauza to train with the Saudi first team. He made his debut as a substitute against Jamaica in October, setting up the final goal of a 5-2 win, and came on for 10 minutes in a 3-0 defeat to Ghana.
“It was a special moment for me to get the assist on my debut,” Ali told Arab News.
“I had a lot of family and friends watching, so they got to enjoy it too. The Saudi players are very good generally and they’ve obviously qualified for the World Cup, proving they are one of the best teams in Asia. I definitely enjoyed the two games and there were a lot of young players involved. It was a great experience.”
If Ali’s ascent from England youth to Saudi Arabia international was rapid, the speed with which he risks being forgotten could be just as quick. He celebrated his 20th birthday in October, but has not featured for Vitesse since. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, have dismissed Bauza, and new coach Juan Antonio Pizzi did not call on Ali for last month’s training camp in Spain. To the player’s knowledge, the national side do not have scouts actively watching him.
“I’m not sure what chance I have of going to the World Cup because managers look at players’ playing time and I’ve not played a lot this year,” said Ali, who speaks English and Somali. “But at the same time, I don’t feel like I’m behind on fitness; I’m still training hard and I play games with the second-team here. I feel fit and ready, and definitely believe I could go to the World Cup and perform.”
Ali remains quietly hopeful that if he can break into the Vitesse team, he might still get the call. Saudi’s next camp will be in early May when they contest friendlies with Algeria and Greece.
“I haven’t spoken to the new coach,” Ali said. “Obviously I haven’t had many opportunities with Vitesse, but I feel like I am learning and getting better as a player. When you are young, it is important to play games and I am not doing that at the moment, but I’m training hard and learning things every day from Thulani Sereno, who I believe is the best midfielder in the Eredivisie.”
Learning from talented teammates is nothing new to Ali. At Chelsea, academy players are encouraged to train with the first team. Ali worked regularly alongside the likes of Eden Hazard, Gary Cahill and N’golo Kante. A criticism often levelled at the West London club, however, is that while Chelsea are quick to snap up the world’s top young talents, they are usually farmed out on loan rather than given a first-team opportunity. It is a charge Ali rejects.
“The club builds a mentality where every player thinks they can make it at Chelsea,” he said.
“There are world-class players there and it’s important young players get games under their belt, so the club’s strategy sees most of them go on loan. But I’ve seen players go on loan and come back and do well and I have seen players go straight to the first team.”
For Ali, though, Chelsea is in the past. Meanwhile, he is looking to the future, though he hopes to bring his experience gained in London with him — and not only to the Eredivisie, but also to Russia.
“Working with (Jose) Mourinho was a good experience because he is a top-class manager and had me train with the first team, while (Cesc) Fabregas and Kante were the guys I spoke to the most because they play in my position,” Ali said.
“Kante is very good defensively, while Fabregas, technically, is one of the best in the league.
“But I don’t think I need to improve on this or that to break into the
Vitesse team. If it’s a question of being good enough, I definitely think so. But everyone has their own opinion and preferred players. I hope to earn a place in the squad soon. And that’ll help with my goal for the year — to go to the World Cup.”

QUICK QUESTIONS
Hero growing up?
Zinedine Zidane.
Favorite current player?
Sergio Busquets.
Career highlight?
My goal from inside my own half against Real Madrid in the under-16 Premier League tournament in 2013-14.
Career goal?
To win the Champions League.
Goal for next 12 months?
Be selected in Saudi Arabia’s World Cup squad and play in Russia.


Finch's century helps fire Australia to eight-wicket win over Pakistan

Updated 23 March 2019
0

Finch's century helps fire Australia to eight-wicket win over Pakistan

SHARJAH: Aaron Finch's fine century drove Australia to a convincing eight-wicket win over a new-look Pakistan in the first one-day international on Friday.
The Austraian skipper scored 116 off 135 balls for his 12th one-day international century that helped his team overhaul the 281-run target in 49 overs on a flat Sharjah stadium pitch.
The win gives Australia the lead in the five-match series and has come on the back of their 3-2 series win in India earlier this month.
Finch's match-winning knock overshadowed Haris Sohail's maiden one-day hundred (101 not out) which helped Pakistan to 280-5 in their 50 overs.
The 32-year-old smashed Shoaib Malik for a huge six towards deep mid-wicket to complete his century -- his first since June last year against England at Chester-Le-Street -- off 120 balls.
Finch, who knocked four sixes and eight boundaries, added an innings-building 172 runs for the second wicket with Shaun Marsh who scored an unbeaten 91 off 102 balls with four boundaries and two sixes.
With 46 needed Finch became Mohammad Abbas's maiden wicket but Peter Handscomb hit 30 not out to help Marsh cross the line.
Finch and Marsh came together after opener Usman Khawaja fell for 24 to medium pacer Faheem Ashraf, the only other success Pakistan's new-look bowling attack could achieve.
Pakistan rested six of their key players including regular skipper Sarfraz Ahmed in order to keep them fresh for the World Cup starting in UK from May 30.
But the young and inexperienced Pakistan led by Malik proved no match for Australia, who are on a roll after their win in India earlier this month.
Left-hander Sohail, who reached 1,000 runs in his 27th one-day international when on 40, anchored Pakistan's innings, adding 98 for the third wicket with Umar Akmal who made a 50-ball 48 in his first international match for two years.
Sohail took a single to complete his hundred in the last over, finishing with six boundaries and a six.
Pakistan had handed one-day debuts to opener Shan Masood and Abbas -- who have played 15 and 14 Tests respectively.
Masood put on 35 in an opening stand with Imam-ul-Haq (17) before off-spinner Nathan Lyon dismissed Imam in the seventh over, caught and bowled.
Masood, who hit five boundaries in his 62-ball 40, was then bowled by paceman Nathan Coulter-Nile who finished with 1-38 in his 10 overs.
Umar smashed three sixes in one Jhye Richardson over but fell one short of his half century.
Malik fell for 11 and Ashraf and Imad Wasim scored 28 each.
Wasim hit four boundaries and a six during his 13-ball unbeaten knock, helping Pakistan to 55 runs in the last five overs.
Sunday's second ODI is also being played in Sharjah, with the third in Abu Dhabi (March 27) and the last two in Dubai (March 29 and 31).