Jorge Jesus ready for a challenge at Al-Hilal

Jorge Jesus has been brought in as boss of the Riyadh giants to take them to the next level and win the AFC Champions League. (AFP)
Updated 18 August 2018
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Jorge Jesus ready for a challenge at Al-Hilal

  • Portuguese boss pipped Al-Ahli to the title last season.
  • Jesus excited for the new season and ready to defend Saudi Pro League crown.

LONDON: Al-Hilal coach Jorge Jesus is looking forward to his first season in charge of the Saudi Arabia giants as the defending champions look to defend their league title in the forthcoming campaign that kicks off in two weeks’ time.
The 64-year-old joined the Riyadh club in June and is charged with leading the two-time continental champions into a new era under club president Sami Al-Jaber, appointed in April.
Working outside his native Portugal for the first time in a distinguished career, the former Benfica and Sporting Lisbon boss is happy to have made Al-Hilal his home away from home.
“I have come to a country that has a different culture in football and also in many aspects,” Jesus told Arab News ahead of last night’s Super Cup clash against Al-Ittihad in London.
“I have to get used to that culture and also the players. There were opportunities to go overseas before but this is the one that seemed most exciting and challenging and I am really looking forward to the season starting. I hope that I can do a great job and bring trophies to Al-Hilal. This is my job and this will also help the reputation of Portuguese coaches around the world.”
After time in charge of Benfica — where he won three Portuguese league titles — and Sporting Lisbon, Jesus understands that there is a similar expectation of success at the 15-time Saudi Arabia champions.
“I have worked at big clubs in my career and Al-Hilal are a big club,” Jesus said.
“This is a club with lots of fans and these are fans with a huge amount of passion and love for their team. I have seen this already whether it is waiting at the airport for new players in the middle of the night or greeting the players for the new season. They are special and it is my job to have a team that excites the fans and brings success.”
The Riyadh giants won the Saudi Pro League title in May, pipping Al-Ahli to the post thanks to victory on the final day of the season. Like a number of clubs in the country, the champions have been active in the international transfer market with each team now allowed to sign eight foreign players.
Refusing to rest on their laurels, the champions have signed Peruvian international Andre Carrillo — who is reunited with his former boss from Sporting Lisbon — former Barcelona defender Alberto Botia and, most dramatically last week, 2016 Asian Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman.
“In football you have to keep trying to strengthen and there is no better time to do so than when you are winning trophies. We should always be looking to improve,” Jesus said.
“We have brought in some good players and I think the fans will be excited to see them in action when the season starts. It is not only us. Other teams have also been strengthening. This is good for the league and it means that standards will be getting better for everyone.
“We have a few injury concerns but overall we are  feeling good,” added Jesus.
“We had a good time in pre-season training and I have come to know the players. They have a desire to improve and to be as good as they can be. We will try to win every competition that we enter. This is what being at a big club is all about. Now we are focused on the season. We are ready and want to get off to a good start.


Riyad Mahrez comes of age at Manchester City in search for glory

Updated 16 November 2018
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Riyad Mahrez comes of age at Manchester City in search for glory

  • Riyad Mahrez signed for City in a $76.6 million move
  • All eyes were on how Pep Guardiola’s only summer signing would add an extra edge to a record-breaking side

MANCHESTER: It took eight games for Riyad Mahrez to show why Manchester City paid a club record £60 million ($76.6 million) for his services.
All eyes were on how Pep Guardiola’s only summer signing would add an extra edge to a side that broke records on the way to claiming the Premier League title last season.
The Algerian winger came off the bench just past the hour mark against Cardiff two months ago and slid home his first City goal from close range before curling in a second with a fine left-foot finish.
The brace provided lift-off for the 27-year-old and his confident displays since have quickly dispelled any doubts that he would struggle to adapt to a system under Guardiola that demands commitment as well as class.
For Mahrez, he has been working to fulfil this footballing dream ever since he was a youngster practicing his skills on the streets of Paris suburb Sarcelles, encouraged by his late father Ahmed.
“I’m proud,” he says of an inspiring journey that began professionally in the French Second Division with Quimper in 2009, then at Le Havre a year later, before joining Leicester City for just £400,000 in 2014.
“It’s not easy to arrive here (at City), to come to a club like this. You need to work very hard to get here and when you do it’s not the final thing.
“You still need to work even more, to perform, to be humble, and to try to go higher. Of course, I want to do even better.
“I didn’t feel any pressure when I came because of the price, I don’t think about this stuff.
“I’m feeling good now at City, playing good at the moment and we are winning games. But it’s not finished yet and we need to keep going. The season is very long and we all have to keep going like this.”
While Mahrez has already won the league title with Leicester during a fairytale 2015-16 season that also saw him crowned the PFA Player of the Year, he remains ambitious and convinced he can still improve.
A yardstick has perhaps been set by Liverpool’s Egyptian frontman Mohamed Salah, who took his game to another level with 44 goals last season, winning the PFA and Football Writers’ Player of the Year awards and named third in the 2018 Best FIFA Men’s Player.
“Salah had a very good season. And we have a good team, we can score a lot of goals and I hope to do more, like he has done,” Mahrez told Arab News exclusively.
“But the most important thing is that we keep on winning as a team, and I’m going to try to help the team to do this, to score goals, make assists.”
The performances of Mahrez, who has claimed four more goals since the Cardiff match, and eight-goal Salah on Merseyside could well be integral to how their clubs eventually fare in this campaign.
Both teams are unbeaten in the league after 12 games with City two points clear of Liverpool, a lead confirmed by the impressive 3-1 win over neighbors United in the recent Manchester derby.
But Mahrez knows the mesmerising manner in which they have roared to the top will mean nothing if they are not there next May.
“The derby was special, a good atmosphere, a good win, I’m very happy,” he said after his first experience of the rivalry.
“But it’s not that because we beat United we are going to win the league. You can’t think like that, there’s still a long way to go and we have to keep focus.
“We have a good team, we are playing well. We just need to keep working hard for each other and we know we are going to be there at the end of the season. That’s the target.
“I won the title with Leicester, but I came here to win more trophies.
“I’m not going to say I’m going to win this or that, but of course this is a club that wants to win trophies. Win the Premier League, I don’t know. Win the Champions League, I don’t know.
“But we are going to make everything we can to try to do that. That’s the challenge for us.”