Manchester City plot summer move for Ajax teenage star Justin Kluivert

Manchester City could land Justin Kluivert in a cut-price deal. (AFP)
Updated 10 May 2018
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Manchester City plot summer move for Ajax teenage star Justin Kluivert

  • Super agent Mino Raiola is looking to move the Dutch international
  • Kluivert is also admired by Jose Mourinho

LONDON: Manchester City have added Justin Kluivert to a shortlist of potential summer signings as Pep Guardiola seeks to further strengthen an attack that has scored over 100 English Premier League goals this season. The teenage Netherlands international has refused to sign new terms at Ajax Amsterdam, who are resigned to losing him in the coming transfer window. And sources close to the player and at Ajax expect the Premier League champions to lead the race to sign him.
Kluivert turned 19 this week and has scored 10 goals in 30 top-tier appearances for Ajax this season, having broken into the Eredivise side’s first team during a run to last year’s Europa League Final. Fast, two-footed and comfortable playing anywhere in the second line of the attack, his skill set is an obvious fit to the system with which Pep Guardiola had led City to a runaway domestic title success.
As Kluivert is approaching the final year of his first professional contract, the Dutchman also represents a relatively low-cost alternative to other candidates for the position. City attempted to use Abu Dhabi’s prodigious funding to recruit Alexis Sanchez and Kylian Mbappe last summer, and were stymied in a January move for Riyad Mahrez.
AS Monaco’s Thomas Lemar and Chelsea’s Eden Hazard rank among the top-end options on the coming window’s market. City also hold a strong interest in Portugal U-21 international Rafael Leao; however Sporting have so far refused to even discuss the possibility of selling a player the Portuguese club considers central to future plans.
Kluivert is represented by Mino Raiola, who has applied the strategy with which he moved a teenage Paul Pogba out of Manchester United in 2012, setting his client’s salary demands at a level Ajax refuse to match. Ajax chief executive Edwin van der Sar held an unsuccessful meeting with Raiola this week.
“We have been talking for 10 months now, and we are a bit done with it all now,” Van der Sar said this week. “He is difficult to keep. His agent pushes him toward the exit, which is a shame. It is not our intention to let players aged 18 or 19 leave the club. That is not the philosophy of Ajax.”
Although Ajax’s bargaining position is constrained by the length of Kluivert’s contract and an expectation that Raiola will attempt to maximize financial return from the player’s next employer, the club will attempt to secure as high a transfer fee as possible. “We think he is better than Raheem Sterling,” a club source told Arab News. “We’ll try to get as much as possible.”
Manchester United are also in the market for a winger comfortable playing off his left foot, with Kluivert included on their own recruitment short list last year. Jose Mourinho made a point of personally complimenting the forward on his debut campaign in the immediate aftermath of United’s Europa League Final defeat of Ajax last May.
Raiola’s relationship with United, however, has deteriorated in recent months. The Dutch-Italian agent has offered marquee player Pogba to domestic and Champions League rivals and unnecessarily complicated January’s Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan exchange deal. It is unclear whether the Old Trafford club would be prepared to enter into another complex negotiation with him.
Raiola and Guardiola have also been at odds this season, with the agent branding the City manager “a coward, a dog.”
Kluivert’s father, former Netherlands striker Patrick, has publicly stated a preference that his son’s next club be his own former home, Barcelona. While the newly crowned Liga champions are considering a bid for Kluivert, he is just one of a number of candidates on a recruitment list that also includes Real Betis forward Fabian Ruiz.


Jaka Ihbeisheh’s heartwarming journey from Slovenia to Palestine — via football

Updated 18 November 2018
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Jaka Ihbeisheh’s heartwarming journey from Slovenia to Palestine — via football

LONDON: Jaka Ihbeisheh’s eyes glisten as he recalls the moment his father first watched him play for Palestine. While the midfielder’s path to the national team may have been unconventional, those feelings of pride on his debut were wholly natural. From western Yugoslavia to the West Bank, Ihbeisheh’s journey was fueled by a desire to rediscover his roots.
Ihbeisheh was born in Ljubljana in 1986 to a Slovenian mother and a Palestinian father, who met while the latter was studying medicine in Croatia. His parents separated when he was seven years old, however, and his father moved back to Palestine.
It would be 18 years before he saw his father again.
An early love of football developed into a career for Ihbeisheh, who played for a number of Slovenian clubs. But while he lived out his childhood dream professionally, in his personal life there remained a nagging question about the whereabouts of his father.


In 2013, Ihbeisheh finally decided to try to reach out to the man from whom he had been estranged for three quarters of his life.
“After getting married, I started to question more where I was from and what my father had been doing,” Ihbeisheh explained. “We still had an envelope at home with an address on it so I decided to write a letter to him asking him if he wanted to meet me.
“I wrote three letters — in Slovenian, Croatian and English — and to be honest I had no idea if I would receive a reply.”
A month passed by with no response but then one day Ihbeisheh opened his Facebook account to see a friend request from someone whose name was written in Arabic.
“It was a strange moment after all those years but the date of birth matched my father’s so I knew it was him. We started to talk on Skype first, in Croatian. I was amazed he could remember but he said that because he studied medicine in the language he had never forgotten it. He still used Croatian medical textbooks.

 

Jaka Ihbeisheh in action for Slovenian side Rudar Velenje. (Photo / Twitter: @ihbeisheh)


“After a few calls, my wife and I decided the time was right to go and visit him in Palestine. A lot of people said things like, ‘Don’t go there you are crazy, you will get shot’ — but my father lived there and I wanted to go and visit him. I was not afraid.”
That first trip was fraught with nervous excitement as Ihbeisheh made his way to his father’s homeland via his aunt’s house in Jordan. The midfielder had read and heard about the potential difficulties of the crossing into Palestine and his own passage was not straightforward.
“The security at the border was very heavy and when they asked me where I was going, I said Palestine. He said, ‘No, to Israel’ and I said, ‘No, Palestine’. Then he separated me and my wife and a soldier came and took me into a room to ask a lot of questions.
“They asked about my life, my father, my work, my wife. They went on Wikipedia to check if I really was a Slovenian professional footballer. Then they called my wife inside — they were checking our stories matched. They asked my wife the name of my coach and fortunately she knew it. We were there for five hours in all.”
For Ihbeisheh it was glimpse into the border woes that are a regular part of life for Palestinians, though happier experiences were to come.


“When we got off the bus, my father and all his family were there waiting and it was very emotional. Of course, we had a big meal to celebrate.
“After that trip, I knew that if the opportunity came up I would want to play international football for Palestine. My father didn’t need to say anything for me to know how much it would mean to him.”
When Ihbeisheh returned to Slovenia, the thought of playing for Palestine was still on his mind but he had no idea how to put the wheels in motion. Then a fortuitous meeting with a Palestinian diplomat’s son opened the door. Six months later, Ihbeisheh received a text inviting him to be involved with the squad for the first time.
“My first game was a friendly in Dubai ahead of the 2015 Asian Cup and it was an amazing day. When the national anthem played, I was so proud. You meet the other players and hear their stories, then you understand why it means so much to represent Palestine.
“Since then I have come to play every time they call me. I love being part of this team.”

 

Jaka Ihbeisheh meeting hero Xavi, and on the sidelines of a Rudar Velenje game. (Photo / Twitter: @ihbeisheh)


Ihbeisheh went on to make a major impact at the Asian Cup in Australia, becoming the first Palestinian player to score at a major international tournament in a 5-1 defeat to Jordan.


But while that was a moment to savour, it paled in comparison to the first game he played in Palestine.
“It is a totally different occasion playing in Palestine. Everyone is supporting their country and they make incredible noise, they want to take pictures with us. We feel like heroes. It’s a shame that our home games are often moved away from our land and our people — I hope this stops.
“My first game there was a 0-0 draw with UAE in (the West Bank town) Al-Ram and of course it was the first time my father saw me play in Palestine. This was an emotional moment for him and for me. He said, ‘I was really proud to see you play but I am proud even when you are not playing. You are always representing your country.’
“The more I am called up to play for Palestine, the more I see him so, for us, football has an important meaning.”
That sentiment is true for many in Palestine, for whom football offers a temporary escape from difficult lives. Palestine may often appear to be a byword for conflict but Ihbeisheh has found the opposite to be true, the country uniting him with both his father and his heritage.
“I feel really sad about some of the things I hear, some of the experience my friends and family have. It is difficult to imagine for people like me who have always lived in Europe. You just hear the things on TV or radio but it is not the same as when my teammates tell me their stories.
“What each of them has gone through, and achieved, to play football for Palestine is inspirational. They know how football can help to give the supporters something, for a little bit of time they forget about all the worries. This is important to them, and me.
“I may not come from Palestine but when we are together as team-mates, there is no difference if you have lived your whole life in Palestine or outside of Palestine. We are all the same, we are family.”