What now for Saudi Arabia’s big four teams?

Al-Hilal celebrate another Saudi Professional League title.
Updated 19 April 2018
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What now for Saudi Arabia’s big four teams?

  • Al-Hilal won their 15th top-flight title this season.
  • Big summer for Saudi Arabia football with the Green Falcons at the World Cup.

Now the Saudi Professional League season is over for another year Arab News can look back at their title tilts and what the big four clubs have to do over the coming months ahead of the next season.

 



AL-HILAL

Finished: Champions

Coaching situation: Ramon Diaz was in charge for much of the season, but was fired in February after setbacks in the Champions League.
Assistant Juan Brown did Okay in the final stretch, but a top-class coach could get more out of this team.

Squad priorities: A reliable goalscorer to support Omar Khribin and with veteran defender Osama Hawsawi leaving for pastures new, a replacement center-back with leadership qualities. Welcoming back the major stars — Carlos Eduardo, Khribin, Nawaf Al-Abed and Salem Al -Dawsari — will be a major boost.

Aim next season: Win the AFC Champions League

 



AL-AHLI

Finished: Second

Coaching situation: Sergiy Rebrov is out of contract at the end of June. His future is likely to depend on how the team fares against Al-Sadd in the second round of the AFC Champions League in May.

Squad priorities: There is not much wrong. The Jeddah giants were the highest scorers in the league last season and had the second best defense. Keeping star midfielder Leonardo fit will help as will a little cover in the center of defense. Star striker Omar Al-Somah fell out with the coach in a public way in the penultimate game of the season. It may be that one of them has to go. The Syrian has been player of the year for three years and has a longer contract than Rebrov.

Aim next season: Win the league. Maintain good performances in Asia.


 
AL-NASSR

Finished: Third

Coaching situation: Krunoslav Jurcic arrived in January and the former Croatian national team boss produced an upswing in results. May just be a temporary appointment and it needs to be sorted quickly.

Squad priorities: Looks good with the Saudi Arabia national team keeper, a strong center-back pairing of Omar Hawsawi and Bruno Uvini and the full-back position seemingly sorted with the January signing of Saad Suhail. They probably need a defensive midfielder and have to keep Junior Kabananga. The DR Congo striker has shown enough in his few weeks at the club to suggest that he could be a real star next season, especially with Leonardo pulling the strings behind him.

Aim next season: A genuine title challenge and getting through the play-offs into  the 2019 AFC Champions League.

 


AL-ITTIHAD

Finished: Ninth

Coaching situation: A bottom half finish is unacceptable for a team with Al-Itithad’s stature and history. Chilean coach Jose Luis Sierra may find that winning domestic cups is no substitute for challenging for the title.

Squad priorities: There is too much reliance on players such as Carlos Villanueva, a creative spark in the team, and Fahad Al-Ansari, the midfield engine, who are the wrong side of 30. The possible return of star winger Fahad Al-Muwallad will help, but an introduction of energy is needed.

Aim next season: Top three and, if the team wins the King’s Cup, a good showing in the 2019 AFC Champions League.


Saudi Arabian squash supremo expects sport to grow in the Kingdom

Updated 18 October 2018
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Saudi Arabian squash supremo expects sport to grow in the Kingdom

  • Ziad Al-Turki, the Saudi Squash Federation President and PSA Chairman, wants more squash in the Kingdom
  • He wants to stimulate the growth of the game in Saudi Arabia and give local players the chance to climb up the world rankings

The Professional Squash Association (PSA) chief plans to build on the success of staging the first ever professional women’s squash tournament in Saudi Arabia by making a men’s and women’s tournament in the Kingdom a permanent fixture in the squash calendar.
Ziad Al-Turki, the Saudi Squash Federation President and PSA Chairman, collaborated with the General Sports Authority and Princess Reema bint Bandar to stage the landmark event at Princess Nora bint Abdul Rahman University in January, which featured 32 international players.
Eight-time world champion Nicol David hailed the tournament as a historic moment — and Al-Turki revealed plans are underway to make the Kingdom a regular stop on the hectic World Tour.
“It will happen again,” he said. “We are looking at either the end of this year or again in January. Hopefully it will be an annual event and hopefully we can bring back a men’s event. The PSA World Tour is full this year but we are going to find a slot probably for 2019 and then hopefully do a men’s and woman’s tournament back-to-back.”
The Kingdom last hosted a men’s event in 2010 when Nick Matthew won the Men’s World Championship, but Al-Turki now has the appetite to bring back the game’s top male players to Saudi Arabia after seeing the transformative effect the women’s game in January has had.
“Princess Noura University and King Saud University are contacting us telling us they want us to bring in trainers so they can host an amateur tournament between each other,” said Al-Turki. “We are getting contacted by girls who want to start participating in squash — that’s the ultimate goal. In that sense, it was a great success.”
Al-Turki said he will learn the lessons of the January tournament when staging future events.
“It took a lot of administrative work to get it approved – it didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “I started this when Prince Abdullah was at the helm and then it got another push when Princess Reema was first appointed. It was a few years in the making. 

“We were under certain constraints and we couldn’t go out and advertise it as much to try and get more spectators. I would have loved for it to be at one of the women’s universities as it would have drawn a bigger attendance.”
Al-Turki does not just want to make the Kingdom a money-spinning opportunity for the world’s top players. He wants to stimulate the growth of the game in Saudi Arabia and give local players the chance to climb up the world rankings — and not just have to rely on wildcard entries.
“We are not just looking at big events — we are looking at doing smaller events to give the guys a chance to participate and get some points,” he said.
“Nada Abu Alnaja, for example, has become a professional player because she had to get a wildcard (for entry to the Saudi Women’s Masters). We are looking to build on the grassroots and bringing in top players for tournaments gives the grassroots a push.”
That will be music to the ears for the likes of rookies Mohammad Almwled, Abdulmajeed Boureggah and Abdulelah Boureggah. Their inexperience of playing competitive squash was exposed when they represented Saudi Arabia at the World Team Squash Championship in India in July. It was the first time a team from the Arab state had competed in the event and they finished last. Al-Turki is seeing signs of a revival of the game in the Kingdom and is excited about two young prospects.
“We did have quite a few young, aspiring players back in 2008-2009 but it fizzled out a bit,” he said. “Now it’s picking up again. We have two juniors who I am sponsoring and sending to international tournaments, they are 11 and 12. We had a third place finish at a junior tournament in Europe, so we’ve got high hopes for them. They are competing in the Kingdom and in GCC tournaments. The grandfather of squash in Saudi Arabia (Samer Al-Khateeb) has kind of adopted them and I pay their expenses. They are very eager, so the future could be bright with those two.”