The big plan: Learning from loaning Saudi

Saudi Arabia celebrate making it to next year’s World Cup. It is hoped several of the players get to play in Europe before the tournament in Russia. (AP)
Updated 23 October 2017
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The big plan: Learning from loaning Saudi

DUBAI: News broke on Sunday about a major plan by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) to send national team players to spend the second half of the season on loan at various European clubs ahead of the Green Falcons’ participation in next year’s World Cup in Russia.
The fine print reveals that the federation along with its government umbrella, the General Sport Authority, are in the process of signing agreements with clubs and leagues across Europe to allow Saudi players the opportunity to test themselves against stronger opponents, week in, week out in the old continent. The first of those agreements was signed with Spain’s La Liga last week.
The ambitious plan is aimed at delivering improved performances in Russia compared to the team’s last three appearances on the global stage, which all ended at the group stage with no wins recorded. The nadir of that run came in 2002 when they were thrashed 8-0 by eventual runners-up Germany.
Eight years earlier, Saudi Arabia had made an impressive World Cup debut, beating Belgium 1-0 courtesy of Saeed Al-Owairan’s iconic solo effort. They went on to reach the knockout stage before leaving the USA with their heads held high after a 3-1 defeat against would-be bronze-medalists Sweden.
The SAFF’s determination to transform the 32-million-people-strong nation into a football powerhouse has seen them take big steps over the past few months; they set up a national scouting committee consisting of legendary former players to roam the country in pursuit of the next generation of top talents.
The scouts’ eyes were also cast on the previously untapped Saudi-born expat players, a key demographic in a country with 12 million expats and many others who were born in the Kingdom before moving on elsewhere.
Former England U-17 midfielder Mukhtar Ali is one of those who were born in Saudi Arabia. Ali’s parents hail from Somalia, but they immigrated to the UK via the Kingdom where he was born. The midfielder has now answered the call of his birthplace and made his debut for the Green Falcons in a 5-1 win over Jamaica, contributing an assist in the process.
The plan to loan out players was met with some raised eyebrows and a certain amount of skepticism. For Saudi clubs’ fans, the main concern is the prospect of going the entire second half of the season without key players. AFC Champions League finalists Al-Hilal are set to be the worst affected as they could find themselves missing as many as 12 players.
The quality of the league could see a serious drop after January, and with it attendance figures. Questions have also been raised about whether a four-month loan spell with a European club could really benefit the players; to put this into perspective, even greats of the game such as Zinedine Zidane and Dennis Bergkamp needed as long as six months to adapt when moving to new leagues.
Those are the possible downsides of the plan; the positives are there for all to see. The new strategy opens the door for players from the Kingdom to make a name for themselves in European football. For all Saudi Arabia’s success on the Asian stage, its players never rivalled those from Japan, South Korea and Iran in moving to top European leagues.
Osama Hawsawi’s one-game spell at Anderlecht and Saeed Al-Muwallad’s controversial switch to Portuguese minnows Farense are hardly inspirational.
To that effect, sources revealed the SAFF has put a plan in place to ensure players only join clubs where they can get game time, rather than warming benches at bigger clubs.
Moreover, should the plan continue beyond the World Cup, it could pay dividends for the national team at the 2019 Asian Cup and for younger generations of Saudis aspiring to reach the glamorous heights of European football.


Ex-England forward Beardsley suspended over racist comments

Updated 19 September 2019

Ex-England forward Beardsley suspended over racist comments

  • Peter Beardsley suspended from all football-related activity for 32 weeks
  • Beardsley, who denied the allegations, has also been ordered to complete a face-to-face education course

LONDON: Former Newcastle Under-23s coach Peter Beardsley has been suspended from all football-related activity for 32 weeks after he was found guilty of making racist comments.
The England international, who played for Newcastle and Liverpool, was charged earlier this year by the Football Association with three counts of using racist language.
The 58-year-old’s departure from the Premier League club was confirmed in March after he was placed on leave while an investigation into bullying was carried out.
An FA statement said: “All three breaches of FA Rule E3 were denied but subsequently found proven based upon the results and findings of Newcastle United FC’s disciplinary proceedings.”
It added: “An independent regulatory commission has suspended Peter Beardsley from all football and football-related activity for a period of 32 weeks until 29 April 2020.”
The commission’s report described Beardsley as a “towering figure in football” and said his football reputation was “beyond question.”
But it found: “On the three occasions which are the subject of the charges, he made remarks which were obviously racist and were wholly unacceptable.
“Even if he did not intend to do so, he plainly did cause offense. It is particularly important at a time when racism in football is prevalent that remarks of the kind made by Mr. Beardsley are punished severely.”
Beardsley, who denied the allegations, has also been ordered to complete a “face-to-face” education course.
In a statement released on his behalf by his solicitors, Beardsley spoke of his disappointment at the decision, but vowed to return to football.
It said: “Peter Beardsley is very surprised and disappointed by the decision of the regulatory commission.
“It was almost impossible for Peter to clear his name because of the serious flaws and contamination of evidence that occurred in the disciplinary process before Newcastle United and by the unusual fact that the FA Rules put the burden of proof on him to prove his innocence in the proceedings.
“After a long process which has been unnecessarily protracted, Peter feels vindicated that the commission has expressly found that he is not a racist.”