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.”


Felipe Massa ready for Formula E challenge around the streets of Riyadh

Updated 25 September 2018
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Felipe Massa ready for Formula E challenge around the streets of Riyadh

  • Not only will the December date mark the Kingdom’s entry into Formula E, but it will also mark Massa’s debut
  • Massa called the Formula E vehicles “the car of the next generation”

Noor Nugali Riyadh: Felipe Massa cannot wait to get behind the wheel of a Formula E car and jumpstart his new career when the spectacle of speed storms into Riyadh for the season opener on Dec. 15.
The Saudi Arabia capital was named as the newest stopping point for the sport in May, with it being the first race of a 13-race season, which sees the electric-powered cars tackle street circuits across the globe.
Not only will the December date mark the Kingdom’s entry into Formula E, but it will also mark Massa’s debut, having left the Formula One paddock for the growing sport. And the 37-year-old told Arab News he is excited about the prospect of tackling the streets of Ad Diriyah, the oldest part of the capital, in one of the electrically powered speed machines.
“I am ready for the race. It’s a fantastic feeling driving around the city, the town, it’s historical. It will be a big event,” Massa said at press conference to announce Saudi Arabian Airlines’ new long-term partnership as official airline partner of the all-electric series.
“I’m really happy to be a part of this new challenge for my career. In a new place and country, it’s motivating.”
Having won 11 Grands Prix during an illustrious career in F1, during which time he raced for Ferrari, some might think Massa would not be daunted by the move to Formula E. The Brazilian, however, is taking nothing for granted.
“It’s a big challenge for me to change categories, to Formula E,” he said, having got a chance to put some early practice in as he took a Gen2 car around the streets of the capital.
“Learning everything is a challenge. It’s different cars, different tracks and a different way of driving. I need to learn and grow to understand but I like new challenges.”
Massa called the Formula E vehicles “the car of the next generation” and it is hoped that the Ad Diriyah race helps the changing face of Saudi Arabia by inspiring more women to get behind the wheel in the Kingdom — something not lost on Massa.
“I heard that women are driving (in Saudi Arabia) now and that’s fantastic — hopefully in the future there will female racers,” he said.
“We are racing in a country (whose main export is oil), and we are racing with electric cars. I think it shows that this country wants to change its mentality and its thinking of the future. It’s really positive and I’m so happy to be a part of this.”
Thanks to the Bahrain and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix, the Middle East has long been associated with motorsport, and it is well known that the region is awash with petrolheads. The Riyadh Formula E race, however, will be international motorsport’s first move into Saudi Arabia.
But rather than look to bring F1 to the country his Abdul Aziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal, vice-chair of the General Sports Authority, revealed that Formula E was the only format they wanted to see in the capital.
“This is a truly game-changing moment for Saudi Arabia and one that we can share with the world,” he said. “It is very fitting that the such a futuristic and sustainable sport as Formula E is pointing to the future direction of our country.
“Saudi Arabia is home to literally millions of passionate young fans of motorsport, many of whom simply cannot believe that Felipe Massa took the Gen2 car around the streets of the capital today and that they now have a ‘home race’ on the Formula E calendar. So already the excitement is building, especially since we’re adding live music concerts to the weekend line-up.”
The track Massa and Co. will be tackling this December was revealed at the press conference. At 1.76 miles long, the first road circuit in the Middle East features 21 corners, a number of which are long flowing ones taken at high speed. It is hoped that the race will get both Saudi Arabia’s entry to the sport and the season itself off to a spectacular start, and in doing so inspire a new generation of speed demons.
Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Faisal Al-Saud, president of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation, said: “Something we haven’t announced yet, is that there will be a support race for Formula E.
“It’s the Jaguar I-Pace trophy, it will race around the world with the Formula E circuit.
“Saudi Arabia will participate in that championship as a national team with two Saudi Arabian drivers and we will announce the names soon.”