Former Swansea teammate Leon Britton backs new signing Bafetimbi Gomis to become an Al-Hilal hero

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Bafetimbi Gomis signed for the Riyadh giants this summer for $16.2 million. (Al-Hilal)
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Updated 10 September 2018
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Former Swansea teammate Leon Britton backs new signing Bafetimbi Gomis to become an Al-Hilal hero

  • Britton claims former France international has what it takes to score a sackful of goals for the Riyadh giants.
  • Out-and-out No. 9 is Gomis' best position, former teammate says.

LONDON: A former teammate of Al-Hilal’s new star signing Bafetimbi Gomis said he is not surprised the former French international has moved to the Middle East and that the Saudi Pro League title favorites have signed a No. 9 with real pedigree.
Leon Britton, the Swansea City legend, spent two seasons playing with Gomis in the Premier League and got to know the striker’s game inside out. He said it did not come as a shock when it was announced the 33-year-old was moving to the Kingdom.
“It’s funny really, as he very nearly left Swansea for Dubai or Qatar — somewhere like that,” Britton told Arab News.
“He was very close to going there and we all thought it was done. We’d said our goodbyes but it fell through. So it doesn’t surprise me he has gone to the Middle East now as it was on the cards three or four years ago.”
Gomis signed for Al-Hilal last month in a deal that saw the Riyadh giants pay Galatasaray a reported €14 million ($16.2 million), making the 33-year-old the league’s second costliest ever player. He made his debut against Al-Feiha, playing just over an hour of the 1-0 win and he is expected to lead the line again when they travel to Al-Raed on Saturday.
Al-Hilal coach Jorge Jesus will hope the striker will quickly capture the form that earned the player 12 international caps and 16 goals in 64 games for Swansea.
“It’s difficult to assess his time at Swansea, really,” said Britton.
“It was a success and it wasn’t, I suppose. He was fighting against Wilfried Bony for that starting place in the team as we weren’t playing two up front. It was either Bony or Baf. When he did play, he proved his quality.”
Only 28 of his 64 league appearances for Swansea did not come from the bench, but he still managed to score 13 league goals, despite a lean start that saw him open up with just one in his first 11 matches.
“A lot of top players find it difficult coming to the Premier League and getting used to the pace and intensity of the game,” said Britton. 
“I remember being quite surprised when we signed him, because he’d come from Lyon where he’d been scoring in the Champions League, so it was a big coup for the club. He definitely took a while to adjust to the English game, but you could always see his quality in training.”

Gomis enjoyed his time in the Premier League for Swansea City, seen here terrorizing Chelsea's John Terry. 

Gomis eventually got up to speed, scoring a winner against Manchester United and finishing the season with five in his last six games to end his first season as the club’s top-scorer, inspiring the team to a record eighth-place finish.
He then got four in four at the start of the following season, including the winner again against United, but things then tailed off and he only managed three for the rest of the campaign and was loaned to Marseille in the summer of 2016.
“His opportunities were limited and we didn’t quite give him the service he needed,” said Britton.
“But he’s very good in and around the box and a very good finisher.”
Al-Hilal played him as a lone striker in their opening league game and that is where Britton feels he is best suited, as an out-and-out No. 9.
“He’s always playing on the last shoulder and looking to get in behind,” said Britton. “He’s not lightening quick but he’s got a bit of pace. He gets caught offside a few times as he’s always on the shoulder rather coming to feet.
“He’ll always look to stretch the defense and his best work is in the penalty box rather than coming short and linking. He’s strong in the air and his hold-up play is good. He’s a powerful boy.”
Britton said he was sad when Gomis was loaned from Swansea to Marseille in 2016 and then eventually sold to Galatasaray, as the Swans fans did not quite see the best of him.
“I know he was growing a bit frustrated as he wasn’t getting the minutes he would like,” Britton said.
“Someone of his quality and the type of lad he is, he wants to be playing all the time. It’s understandable he wanted to get out and play, but we were disappointed to lose a good player.”
Gomis spent 14 years playing in Europe but the Middle East is now his arena and he now shares a dressing room with attacking talent Carlos Eduardo, Omar Khribin and Omar Abdulrahman. 
“Baf is a lovely guy,” said Britton.

Leon Britton is a big fan of Gomis and backs him to do well for Al-Hilal in the Saudi Pro League. 

“In fairness, he didn’t speak much English, but he made a massive effort to learn the language as quickly as possible. He is a really good guy, very pleasant, very happy and was never a problem, even when he wasn’t playing he didn’t cause any issues. When I retired (in May) he put something on Twitter so that showed his character.”
Al-Hilal fans hope it will not be long before they see Gomis’ trademark panther goal celebration, a move that sees him crawl demonically toward the fans like a big cat.
“He got a bit of stick from our lads when we first saw it,” said Britton. “But he took it in good jest and I think you know you are going to cop a fair bit of banter from the lads when you do something like that. It’s certainly unique.”


England celebrate World Cup triumph with young fans

Updated 15 July 2019
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England celebrate World Cup triumph with young fans

  • After 44 years of trying, England became world champions with a stunning victory over New Zealand

LONDON: England revelled in their first World Cup triumph on Monday, soaking up the adulation of a disbelieving nation after one of the most extraordinary finishes to a cricket match in history.

The host country, after 44 years of trying, finally became world champions with a stunning victory over New Zealand at Lord’s, triumphing on superior boundary count after both the match and the additional Super Over shootout ended with the scores level.

The game was watched by the biggest audience in a generation, with around 30,000 packed into Lord’s, thousands congregating in front of a big screen in Trafalgar Square in central London and the first free-to-air terrestrial coverage in 14 years.

Hundreds of children flooded across the outfield at the Oval — across town from Lord’s — to help Eoin Morgan’s men celebrate their historic triumph. The south London ground was where England launched their World Cup campaign with a victory over South Africa way back on May 30.

Many of the young children at the Oval were wearing the kit of the All Stars junior program run by the England and Wales Cricket Board and others were dressed in their school uniforms.

As “Happy” by Pharrell Williams blared out, the youngsters were delighted to catch sight of England stars such as Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer and flocked toward their new heroes.

It was a more modest celebration than the open-topped bus parade through the streets of London for England’s 2005 Ashes victors but was in keeping with the push to sell the game to a new generation.

“I don’t know if it’s sunk in yet but coming down here and seeing what a small portion of the support we’ve had feels about it, the kids, the adults, the energy they all had for what they saw yesterday is amazing,” said man-of-the-match Stokes.

England coach Trevor Bayliss, drafted in with the aim of winning the World Cup following their miserable first-round exit at the 2015 tournament, said: “I heard some of the young guys in the team say the 2005 Ashes inspired them to bigger and better things.

“I think they are very proud they’ve been put in a position where they can hopefully inspire a few of the next generation.”

On Sunday the Queen sent her congratulations to England and the Royal Mail postal service announced it would issue a series of special stamps and decorate 15 post boxes to celebrate both the World Cup win and England’s victory at the 2017 Women’s edition of the tournament.

Prime Minister May, a lifelong cricket fan, was due to host the team at a reception.

“Yesterday (Sunday) was a brilliant performance by a brilliant team,” said May. “They showed flair, courage and an absolute determination to become world champions.

“The achievement, delivered in such a thrilling style on home soil, will live forever in our sporting history.”

“It’s also exciting to think just how many children will be inspired by this victory to pick up a bat for the first time and hopefully become the great cricketers and World Cup winners of tomorrow,” she added.

“We must build on this success.”