Al-Ittihad banking on experience of Saad Al-Shehri to replace Ramon Diaz

Without any over-age players, the 38-year-old Saad Al-Shehri led the young Green Falcons to the last eight of the 2018 Asian Games which included a famous 4-3 win over a strong Chinese team. (FIFA.com)
Updated 19 September 2018
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Al-Ittihad banking on experience of Saad Al-Shehri to replace Ramon Diaz

  • Al-Shehri led the young Green Falcons to the last eight of the 2018 Asian Games
  • Diaz was fired on Saturday after two defeats in the opening two games of the Saudi Pro League season

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad are not hanging around in replacing manager Ramon Diaz as the Jeddah club are set to appoint Saudi Arabia U-23 coach Saad Al-Shehri as their new boss.
Diaz was fired on Saturday after two defeats in the opening two games of the Saudi Pro League season.
The 3-0 defeat at home to Al-Qadisiyah at the weekend sent the eight-time champions to the bottom of the table and resulted in the instant dismissal of the Argentine who was handed the reins only in May.
Al-Shehri has a growing reputation. Without any over-age players, the 38-year-old led the young Green Falcons to the last eight of the 2018 Asian Games which included a famous 4-3 win over a strong Chinese team in the second round and then a narrow 2-1 loss to finalists Japan.
“The question for the club now is one of stability in the coaching side,” an Al-Ittihad official told Arab News. “There have been a lot of changes and it is time to grow the club and Al-Shehri could be the man to settle everything down. He deserves a chance.”
Al-Shehri is regarded as the opposite of Diaz. The 59-year-old South American had a stellar playing CV and a long coaching resume that stretches back to 1995 while the Saudi Arabian saw his promising career cut short through injury.
So far, the former physical education teacher has been heavily involved in youth football, winning titles at that level with Al-Ittifaq and Al-Nassr before leading the U-20 team to the knockout stage of the 2017 World Cup and a hard-fought 1-0 loss to Uruguay.
“He is young but has had plenty of time to prepare for a coaching career after he finished as a player in his early twenties,” added the official. “His football is more positive as we saw at the Asian Games and the players enjoyed that experience and he also knows the local players really well. Al-Ittihad want to play more aggressive football than under Diaz. He wasn’t here a long time but the style of play did not fit the expectations of fans.”
The club are keen to get the deal done as soon as possible, though Al-Shehri is holding out for a contract until the end of the season. In the meantime, Bandar Basirah will take temporary charge of the team for the crucial trip to Al-Taawon on Thursday, a team that has drawn its first two games of the season.
“I am proud to be part of this big club and I thank the management here for having faith in me,” Basirah said. “I don’t have a magic wand to wave to change everything overnight but we will do everything we can to make the fans happy. We don’t have much time to prepare for the next game but I trust the players and we are all focused on getting the victory and get our season really started.”
At the very least, there is a desire to play more entertaining football. “We know that we haven’t been at our best this season so far but we have studied the opponent well and are ready to get the three points.”
Assuming that Al-Shehri comes in sooner rather than later, there will be funds available to strengthen the team. President Nawaf Al-Muqairn has promised fans that better times are around the corner.
“We will give our players a chance in the coming weeks but when the time comes, we will not hesitate to strengthen the team with local and foreign talent.”


NBA, FIBA announce plans for pro league in Africa

Updated 45 min 52 sec ago
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NBA, FIBA announce plans for pro league in Africa

  • The Basketball Africa League is a new collaboration between the NBA and the sport’s global governing body FIBA
  • Qualification tournaments will be held to determine those clubs that will take part

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina: The NBA is bringing a pro league to Africa.
The Basketball Africa League, a new collaboration between the NBA and the sport’s global governing body FIBA, was announced Saturday. The initial plan is for the 12-team league to begin play in January, and former President Barack Obama is among those who are expected to have direct involvement with the league’s plan to keep growing the game in Africa through the league and other initiatives.
The scope of what Obama’s involvement will be remains unknown, and it’s yet to be determined which existing club teams will be part of the league. Qualification tournaments will be held later this year to determine those clubs, with teams from Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia expected to be among those taking part. No nation will have more than two teams in the league.
“As we’ve been talking about this concept over the last several months, there’s been a tremendous reception from many of our NBA team owners ... and in addition, several of the partners of the NBA have expressed a strong desire to work with us in Africa,” Silver said.
Silver said Pepsi and Nike’s Jordan Brand — Charlotte owner Michael Jordan was among the owners in the room where Silver made the announcement — are among the partners who have reached out to the NBA and said they want to be part of the Africa league. Silver also said that Obama, an enormous basketball fan, has told him he wants to “be directly involved with these activities in Africa.”
Silver said talks between the NBA and Obama are ongoing. Obama spoke on a video that was shown during the event where Silver announced the league.
“I hope you know through sport, that if you put in effort, you will be rewarded,” Obama said. “I hope you learn through sport what it means to play as a team, and even if you are the best player, your job is not just to show off but your job is to make your teammates better.”
The NBA and FIBA’s involvement will include financial support and resources toward continued growing of the game on the continent, as well as providing training for players, coaches and referees and some infrastructure for the new league. Silver said there are 438 companies in Africa that generate more than $1 billion in revenue annually, but that sport there has not seen the same growth — yet.
“Africa is a huge economic engine,” Silver said. “And one place, though, where we haven’t seen enormous economic growth yet is in the industry of sport. And that’s something that we are all particularly focused on.”
The NBA has held three games in Africa since 2015, all of them selling out — two games in Johannesburg, the other in Pretoria. Many of the league’s current players and coaches, along with several legends and Hall of Famers, have been part of those trips.
“I went with them last year,” Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said. “The NBA reaches out across the world.”
The league has an office in South Africa, has helped create 87 learn-and-play facilities in seven African nations, and 13 players who were born in Africa on opening-night NBA rosters this season. The league also built an academy in Senegal that opened nearly two years ago.
“It’s a huge joy to see our partnership with the NBA enter uncharted territory as we work together for the first time to maximize the potential of professional basketball in Africa,” said Andreas Zagklis, FIBA’s secretary-general.
This marks the first time the NBA has been involved with the operation of a league outside of North America.
“We’re excited to work closely with the NBA to develop and put in a place a professional league like none that we have ever seen in our region before,” said FIBA Africa Executive Director Alphonse Bile. “Through the Basketball Africa League, we can provide the many great clubs and players with the best possible environment to compete for the highest stakes.”
The NBA says more details about the new league will be released in the coming months.