Balotelli all smiles on debut; Messi scores, Ronaldo’s woes

Updated 05 February 2013
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Balotelli all smiles on debut; Messi scores, Ronaldo’s woes

LONDON: European soccer’s big-name strikers enjoyed contrasting fortunes as Mario Balotelli enjoyed a scoring debut for AC Milan to share the spotlight with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo who had weekends to forget.
Prolific Messi scored again for La Liga leaders Barcelona, although his side were held by Valencia, but Ronaldo put through his own net as Real Madrid’s slim La Liga title hopes faded further with defeat at Granada.

ITALY
Mario Balotelli scored twice on his AC Milan debut, the second a controversial stoppage-time penalty, to give them a 2-1 win over Udinese.
Milan moved up to fourth place with 40 points, ahead of neighbors Inter Milan on goal difference and only three behind third-placed Lazio, who lost 3-2 to Genoa. Inter were beaten 3-1 at lowly Siena.
Leaders Juventus stayed three points clear of Napoli at the top as both won to pull clear of the pack. Juventus won 2-1 at Chievo with first-half goals from Alessandro Matri and Stephan Lichtsteiner, and Napoli beat Catania 2-0, leaving them six points clear of Lazio.
SPAIN
A Cristiano Ronaldo own-goal condemned champions Real Madrid to a 1-0 defeat at lowly Granada and a fifth defeat of the campaign further damaged their fading title hopes.
Ronaldo headed into his own net at a 22nd-minute corner and leaders Barcelona and second-placed Atletico Madrid both capitalized.
Lionel Messi scored in his 12th consecutive league game, a penalty just before halftime, to cancel out Ever Banega’s strike as Barca drew 1-1 in Valencia.
Atletico were 1-0 home winners over fifth-placed Real Betis thanks to a Diego Costa header. Barca have 59 points, Atletico 50 and Real remained on 43 in third.
ENGLAND
Manchester United stretched their lead at the top of the Premier League to nine points after a 1-0 win at Fulham and Manchester City’s 2-2 home draw with Liverpool.
Wayne Rooney’s superb controlled finish after 79 minutes at Craven Cottage was enough for battling United to seal a vital win over Fulham.
City had Sergio Aguero to thank for their point after the Argentine scored a magical goal from an acute angle.
Edin Dzeko had given the hosts the lead, only for Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard to hit back in style for the Reds.
Third-placed Chelsea lost 3-2 at Newcastle United in a rip-roaring encounter, so Tottenham Hotspur moved to within a point of their London rivals thanks to Gareth Bale’s cracker in a 1-0 win at 10-man West Bromwich Albion.

GERMANY
Leaders Bayern Munich continued their seemingly unstoppable march to their first league title in three years when they beat Mainz 05 3-0 with two goals from Bundesliga top scorer Mario Mandzukic.
The Bavarians hold a 12-point advantage over champions Borussia Dortmund who went second after a scintillating 3-2 victory at Bayer Leverkusen.
Early goals from Marco Reus and Jakub Blaszczykowski gave the visitors a two-goal cushion but Leverkusen raced back in the second half to level with Stefan Reinartz’s double.

Robert Lewandowski snatched the winner in the 64th with his 13th goal of the season to lift Dortmund to 39 with Bayern on 51. Leverkusen dropped to third on 37 points.

FRANCE
Paris St. Germain celebrated David Beckham’s signing with an impressive 4-0 demolition of Toulouse, which lifted them three points clear at the top of the Ligue 1.
PSG are on 48 points with second-placed Olympique Lyon on 45 after they lost 3-1 at lowly Ajaccio, Adrian Mutu scoring his first double for the Corsican side.
English midfielder Joey Barton was dismissed for the first time since joining Olympique Marseille on loan from Queens Park Rangers as his side slumped to a shock 1-0 home loss to struggling Nancy.
Marseille are third with 42 points, four ahead of Girondins Bordeaux who defeated Valenciennes 2-0 at home thanks to former Manchester United forward David Bellion’s first league goal in more than three years.

NETHERLANDS

Leaders PSV Eindhoven scored six second-half goals, with doubles from Dries Mertens and Georginio Wijnaldum, in a 7-0 thrashing of ADO Den Haag.
Ajax Amsterdam moved into second, three points behind PSV, with a 3-0 win at VVV Venlo. Twente Enschede slipped to third, a point further back, after a surprise 4-2 home defeat by Utrecht.

PORTUGAL

Porto and Benfica remained neck and neck at the top with comfortable wins over Vitoria de Guimaraes and Vitoria de Setubal.
Both are on 45 points from 17 matches, 15 ahead of third-placed Braga.
In-form Colombia striker Jackson Martinez grabbed a hat trick in Porto’s 4-0 away thrashing of Guimaraes. The crafty Martinez pulled clear in the top scorers list with 18 goals.
Benfica punished Setubal 3-0 at home thanks to goals from Argentine midfielder Enzo Perez, Brazilian striker Lima and Spanish youngster Rodrigo.


Arabian Gulf League CEO shares bright vision for the future

Updated 15 min 42 sec ago
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Arabian Gulf League CEO shares bright vision for the future

  • Waleed Al-Hosani has been Arabian Gulf League CEO for 18 months
  • Al-Hosani's vision for the league includes making attending matches more appealing to fans

DUBAI In an unassuming office 
block above an Audi showroom in Abu Dhabi, Waleed Al-Hosani is plotting the future of professional football in the UAE.
It is a task that requires creativity and the Pro League Committee (PLC) workspace is certainly conducive to that; a replica substitutes’ bench complete with leather chairs sits in the reception area, while a running track weaves its way among the desks and chairs.
The PLC office is bright and innovative, mirroring Al-Hosani, who for 18 months has been the organization’s CEO. In that time, the Emirati has already demonstrated significantly more foresight than his predecessors. Al-Hosani’s goal is to reinvigorate the Arabian Gulf League (AGL).
From the outside, it may appear that it does not need reinvigorating. UAE clubs have appeared in two of the past three AFC Champions League finals and the UAE has been ranked as the AFC’s best league for the past four years. Millions of dollars have been plowed into the AGL, with marquee players improving the standard of football and ensuring progress to the latter stages of continental tournaments.
Competitiveness is not, however, the criteria that concerns Al-Hosani.
Last season, the average attendance for AGL matches was just 2,500. The league commands some princely sums in TV rights and reportedly attracts an impressive viewership of up to eight million people. But empty stands are a source of both embarrassment and worry.
Tackling this fan apathy is the central tenet of the PLC’s new four-year plan, introduced at the start of the 2017-18 season.
“Poor attendances is the biggest issue we are facing in the Arabian Gulf League,” Al Hosani told Arab News.
“When the Pro League Committee first launched in 2007, the focus was on investing in the teams, getting better players from around the world and creating a big buzz in the media.
“Unfortunately they didn’t manage to balance this with community engagement. This has resulted in clubs becoming closed, not realizing the role they can play in the community and the responsibilities they have to preserve and develop their fanbase.”
This failure by the clubs strikes a personal chord with Al-Hosani. Raised within a stone’s throw from Al-Wahda FC in Abu Dhabi, the PLC chief spent his childhood immersed in the club.
“For many of us, Al-Wahda was our life,” he recalled. “Of course we played football there whenever we could. But beyond that they put on classes to helped us with maths and English, we went bowling — there were a lot of activities. It created loyalty between us and the club.
“Somewhere along the way, this was lost. You look around the AGL and that sort of environment doesn’t exist. I think I’m fortunate I had this experience in my childhood as I can now try to recreate that feeling for people again.”
Diverting money away from transfers and salaries and into infrastructure has been the PLC’s main aim this season. Each club now has a budget set aside for marketing and community activities, which must be designed with long-term benefits in mind.
“A lot of clubs want to use the money for 
prizes but you cannot buy loyalty. A few years ago, Al-Jazira did an amazing giveaway — if you attended matches you could win a Ferrari. It received a lot of attention and attendances exploded that season.
“It was a nice project but when it finished, the fans were gone. The people didn’t come for the club, they came for the prizes. We want to avoid that — we want to build a new, loyal generation of supporters.”
Al-Hosani is demanding that clubs focus their efforts on engagement with supporters. He wants to see community initiatives and liaison with schools and neighborhoods — in order to create a greater sense 
of belonging.
The matchday experience, too, is a target for improvement. It has been lacking for some time for UAE football fans, who have grown accustomed to broken Wi-Fi and closed food and beverage outlets. The rebuilding and refurbishment of a number of stadiums ahead of next year’s Asian Cup in the UAE will be a welcome boost for supporters.
“The improved stadiums will help many clubs,” Al-Hosani explained. “But it’s not enough — we want them to build fan zones, F&B structures — anything that improves the experience of going to an AGL match for fans.
“This change is not easy as most clubs have never thought about it, but that is why we are providing workshops and education so they can understand how to engage 
with the fans and increase the attendances.”Even the act of purchasing a ticket is now significantly easier. It seems remarkable that just a year ago, the majority of UAE football supporters could only buy a ticket when they arrived at the stadium. The introduction of a new central online ticketing system, in English and Arabic, 
has created a more efficient mechanism that also opens up the AGL 
to a wider audience.
Attracting expats and tourists to games has long been regarded as the Holy Grail for the AGL. Almost 90 percent of the country’s population are non-UAE nationals, but in the 11 years since the Pro League Committee was formed it has failed to unlock the secret of how to get them to matches. More accessible tickets is the first step, according to Al-Hosani, who has been encouraging clubs to recognize the importance of diversifying their fanbase. “Reaching out to expats is of course vitally important. I’m not sure why we are so late to do this but based on my experience when I was a fan of the league, I think the initiatives weren’t consistent. Maybe they did one campaign and then stopped for two years before doing another one. “We are working on future promotional activities. We will go to beaches, malls, public gardens — we will do kids’ activities, entertainment, competitions — we want people to know the AGL. The key is to be patient and persistent.”
A desire for quick wins has long been an issue for both the league and its clubs, who are notoriously trigger-happy with their managers. Al-Hosani and his PLC team are working hard to change that mentality and have already made admirable inroads. “As any change anywhere in the world, it’s difficult,” Al-Hosani said. “People are afraid of the unknown, this is natural. There will be resistance but there is a growing understanding that these changes will benefit UAE football in the 
long term.”