Both Omar Khribin and Al-Hilal at a crossroads after a year of ups and downs

Having won the Asian Player of the Year title Omar Khribin's season was blighted by injury.
Updated 24 April 2018
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Both Omar Khribin and Al-Hilal at a crossroads after a year of ups and downs

  • Asian player of the year just back from injury could follow path walked by Mohamed Salah
  • Despite winning the title Al-Hilal season has been a mixture of good and so-so

DUBAI: In the end, Omar Khribin returned in triumph. But not before a season of ups and downs.
The Syrian forward was named Asia’s best player last November, but there was always the sense that he was not appreciated beyond the Saudi Professional League were he plays for newly crowned champions Al Hilal.
For club and player, this has been a defining season.
Before the league title was wrapped up with a comprehensive 4-1 win over Al-Fateh, thanks to Khribin’s hat-trick, there was a traumatic AFC Champions League campaign to endure. Having reached the final of the continent’s premier competition as recently as November, an exit from the 2018 edition in the group stage has been hard to stomach for supporters dreaming of a third title.
It has been a curious season for the champions, one that saddled contrasting AFC Champions League campaigns, seen a Saudi Arabia World Cup qualification and of course a managerial departure.
Al-Hilal dispensed of the service of Ramon Diaz on February 20, a day after a 1-0 loss to Esteghlal in the AFC Champions League, a seemingly harsh move considering his previous achievements in the competition not to mention a league title last year.
In truth, performances had dipped below what Al-Hilal’s supporters and, crucially, board expect. There was also an exit from the King’s Cup at the hands of Al-Qadisiyah; the loss to Esteghlal in their second Group D fixture (having drawn the first 1-1 at home to Al-Ain) was the final straw.
The incoming interim manager Juan Brown had to do without his side’s most potent weapon, and it is not stretching a point say that Khribin’s absence for three months through injury played a major role in Al-Hilal’s inconsistencies.
The 24-year-old had played a pivotal role in the club reaching the ultimately disappointing final against Urawa Red Diamonds last year, and his leadership and goals have been missed this time around.
In 2017, his 10 goals were a competition high, helping cement his reputation as one of Asia’s most feared strikers and, along with his contribution to Syria’s gallant stab at World Cup qualification, earned him the Asian Player of the Year award.
Suddenly, Khribin was the continent’s hottest property, less than a year after joining Al-Hilal from the UAE’s Al-Dhafra.
So where do Al Hilal and Khribin go from here?
Mohamed Salah’s astonishing first season at Liverpool has rocketed him into the bracket of world’s best players, and is now being held up as an example for other Middle Eastern players.
Khribin, at only 24, is one of the select few who can potentially carve out a career abroad should he choose to. While others like Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout have so far shunned interest from foreign clubs, could Khribin be the next Arab to make a big move to one of Europe’s elite leagues?
So far there has been no indication that the player wants a move, and Al-Hilal will certainly be doing all they can to keep hold of their prized possession as they look to maintain their domestic dominance and reassert their continental credentials in 2019.
First order of business would be to confirm a full time manager, and barring injuries the new man will still be working with the best squad in Saudi Arabia, and one of the strongest in Asia.
The Moroccan Achraf Bencharki has been a successful addition to the ranks of foreign players that include Ali Al-Habsi, the Argentine Ezequiel Cerutti and the Uruguayan Nicolas Milesi, as well as the injured and much-missed Brazilian Carlos Eduardo.
Captain and Hilal stalwart Yasser Al-Qahtani may have announced his retirement after last week’s title triumph, but the club remains home to some of the best local talent around, many of whom will represent their country at the World Cup in Russia.
No doubt more ingoing and outgoing transfers will be conducted during the summer.
The title win has eased the pain of the Champions League exit, and if Al-Hilal can hold on to their best players, above all Khribin, even better things can be expected next season.


Saudi football chief quits, eyes Asia’s top job

Updated 18 August 2018
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Saudi football chief quits, eyes Asia’s top job

RIYADH: Saudi Football Federation chief Adel Ezzat resigned on Saturday, expressing his intention to run for the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation.
“I presented to (Saudi sports authority chief) Turki Al-Sheikh... my resignation from my position as of today,” Ezzat told a Saudi sports broadcaster.
“I will begin preparing... for elections of the Asian Football Confederation, which will be held next year.”
Ezzat’s deputy Nawaf Al-Timyat has been named the Saudi federation’s interim chief until fresh elections are held.
Ezzat was last week elected as the first president of the South West Asian Football Federation, a new regional bloc of federations comprising 14 nations.
The kingdom has long been a marginal player in football’s ruling classes, unlike its Gulf rival Qatar — set to host the 2022 World Cup — with which it is embroiled in a year-long diplomatic spat.
But the oil-rich kingdom is in the midst of a major push for global influence in football governance.