‘No surprises’ about former Premier League duo Nordin Amrabat, Jurado flying high in Saudi Arabia

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Amrabat, center, became Al-Nassr’s fourth costliest player ever when he joined from Watford for $10 million. (Twitter: @AlNassr)
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Jurado did not pull up as many trees in the Premier League as he would have liked, but is flying at Al-Ahli. (Twitter: Al Ahli)
Updated 13 November 2018
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‘No surprises’ about former Premier League duo Nordin Amrabat, Jurado flying high in Saudi Arabia

  • Amrabat signed for big-spending Al-Nassr in the summer and has scored three goals in eight games
  • Jurado, meanwhile, joined Al-Ahli from Espanyol in the summer and his playmaking ability has resulted in the Jeddah giants succeeding

LONDON: A former Premier League coach is not surprised high-profile imports Nordin Amrabat and Jose Manuel Jurado are flourishing in the Saudi Pro League, believing they have the ability and the pedigree to inspire their clubs to mount a title challenge.
Amrabat signed for big-spending Al-Nassr in the summer and has scored three goals in eight games to propel Jose Daniel Carreno’s side up to third in the table. Jurado, meanwhile, joined Al-Ahli from Espanyol in the summer and his playmaking ability has resulted in the Jeddah giants becoming the second most prolific team in the league. Both clubs are hot on the heels of leaders Al-Hilal and are prepared to pounce should the champions slip up.
Dean Austin, the former Tottenham defender, coached both Amrabat and Jurado at Premier League club Watford and has kept a keen eye on their fortunes.
“I’ve followed their careers closely since I worked with them and I saw they had moved to Saudi Arabia,” Austin told Arab News. “I fully expected them to make a big impact as they are very good players and top professionals. It sounds like they are really enjoying themselves and good luck to them as they both work so hard.”
Amrabat, 31, became Al-Nassr’s fourth costliest player ever when he joined from Watford for £7.65m ($10.05m). According to Austin, he is capable of playing on either flank and has experience of playing in Holland, in La Liga and the Premier League.
Amrabat has said in previous interviews he feels he plays his best football on the left flank, where he can cut in on his favored right foot and have a crack at goal. He is playing on the left in a 4-1-4-1 formation at Al-Nassr.
“I felt he was good enough to play off either flank, but I guess the left might have been his preference,” said Austin. “If he is going to play there, I think you need a really quick, offensive left-back who is prepared to go past him and go on the outside. You need to have the correct balance in the team.”
Moroccan Amrabat was in many pundits’ team of the World Cup at the end of the group stages. His displays helped his team to a 2-2 draw with Spain and saw them narrowly lose out to Portugal.
“He had a good World Cup and I reckon there would have been a few clubs looking at him. He has pace, strength, a great desire and is a really willing worker. He wants to work,” Austin said.
Amrabat played in the same Watford side as Jurado in 2016 and they were reunited when Al-Ahli beat Al-Nassr 2-0 in Riyadh earlier this month. Jurado was taken to Watford and then to Espanyol by Quique Sanchez Flores, the coach who was offered the chance to take the top job at Al-Hilal earlier this year.
Sanchez Flores never made it to the Kingdom, but Jurado, 32, did and he is showing why he played at Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Schalke.
“He is a really good technician,” said Austin. “He is silky smooth and can pass off either foot. From the first day at Watford, you could tell he was seriously talented. He’s clever and a very talented footballer.”
Jurado did not pull up as many trees in the Premier League as Watford hoped and he lasted just one season before returning to Spain.
“He had an indifferent time with us,” said Austin. “He had some good games, but he found it tough in some others. He came to us from Russia and it was not easy to adapt. He found it very quick, but the Premier League is a very difficult league and he probably didn’t show us as much as he would have liked. Sometimes with Jose, it’s about trying to find the right balance of the team to have him in it.”
Al-Ahli coach Pablo Guede is fielding Jurado in a left-sided role just behind Djaniny, the big-money summer signing from Mexico, or as a No. 10 behind Djaniny and the prolific Omar Al-Somah.
Jurado scored his first goal in the 2-0 win over Al-Faisaly and pulled the strings in the 5-1 rout of Al-Fateh, claiming two assists. Jurado has played alongside Raul, won the Europa League and finished runner-up in La Liga twice, but Austin says the playmaker is “as humble as they come.”


NBA, FIBA announce plans for pro league in Africa

Updated 17 February 2019
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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.