Turki Al-Alshaikh: More Saudi stars will make move to Europe following loaning out of nine players to Spanish clubs

Al-Hilal winger Salem Al-Dawsari has been snapped up by La Liga club Villarreal
Updated 22 January 2018

Turki Al-Alshaikh: More Saudi stars will make move to Europe following loaning out of nine players to Spanish clubs

DUBAI: Turki Al-Alshaikh, head of Saudi Arabia’s General Sport Authority (GSA), believes the loaning out of nine Saudi Arabian players to Spanish clubs is just the start and will pave the way for more Saudi stars to head to Europe and represent the country.
At a joint press conference with Spain’s Liga de Fútbol Profesional (LFP) held in Riyadh on Sunday night the GSA announced that the nine players had completed loan moves to clubs in the Spanish first and second divisions.
The deals are part of an agreement signed between the two parties in October last year, aimed at developing football in the Kingdom.
Commenting on the transfers, Al-Alshaikh said it was “an opportunity for the players to learn what it is to be real professionals, gain experience and represent Saudi Arabia abroad.”
Al-Alshaikh was central to the completion of the transfers, laying the foundations for scouts from Spanish clubs to visit Saudi Arabia to select players. He sees the loans as being the first part of what he hopes will result in a host of Saudi stars make the move to the big European leagues.
“I have infinite faith in the ability of our players. It is our role, all of us, to back them in this experience, which will be the beginning of many more transfers to Europe,” Al-Alshaikh said.
While the benefits of the move for the national team during World Cup year are easy to see, there have been concerns from clubs at losing their key players for the remainder of the season.
Al-Alshaikh added: “This is a big step, a substantial move forward for Saudi sports. We have to put the national team interests above everything else.” 
Of the nine to make the move to Spain three are key men who played a huge part in getting the Green Falcons to this summer’s World Cup.
Al-Hilal winger Salem Al-Dawsari was snapped up by Villarreal, who are currently fifth in the La Liga table, while Al-Nassr playmaker Yahya Al-Shehri joined mid-table side Leganes. Relegation-battling Levante boosted their ranks with Fahad Al-Muwallad, the Al-Ittihad attacker who scored the goal that beat Japan and got Saudi Arabia to Russia. The three are expected to form the heart of the Green Falcons attack this summer.
For the Spanish clubs, the loans are a way to gain exposure in a little-tapped market.
“With Yahia Al-Shehri's arrival, the club has improved its squad and also gained visibility in the Arab world,” Leganes said in a statement.
Another three promising players who are on the fringes of the Saudi Arabia squad have also made the move to Spain. Al-Fateh midfielder Nouh Al-Mousa was not part of Bert van Marwijk’s squad in the qualifiers, but has established himself as a candidate for the team heading to Moscow with strong performances in the Gulf Cup. Al-Mousa signed for Valladolid, currently ninth in the Spanish second division.
Joining Al-Mousa in signing for Segunda Division mid-table teams are Al-Shabab duo Abdulmajeed Al-Sulaihem, who moved to Madrid-based Rayo Vallecano and Abdullah Al-Hamdan who was signed by Sporting Gijon.
Completing the nine players are three youngsters, identified through the National Scouting Committee as Saudi-born talents and have since been naturalized. Youngsters Ali Al-Nimr, Jabir Mustafa and Marwan Othman were all born in Saudi Arabia to expat parents, and have been identified as talents who could serve the national team in the future. The trio were signed by Riyadh-based Al-Shabab before being loaned out to Spanish clubs. Al-Nimr joins second division side Numancia while Mustafa and Othman will play for the B teams of Villarreal and Leganes respectively.
YAHYA AL-SHEHRI — LEGANES: At 164 cm, the Al-Nassr playmaker may lack the physique to match his European counterparts, but Al-Shehri makes up for it with his eye for the killer pass and silky dribbling skills. The 27-year-old can function centrally or wide on either flank, and by joining Leganes he is at a club where finding first-team football will not be a rarity. Al-Shehri has what it takes to grab this chance in impress in La Liga.
FAHAD AL-MUWALLAD — LEVANTE: Arguably the highest profile player of the nine, Al-Muwallad’s pace and energy can add much-needed flair to Levante’s attack. The Valencian side has the second-lowest goal tally in the top division, and if Al-Muwallad can replicate the form that saw him score 11 goals in 20 matches for Al-Ittihad last season, he will quickly become a fan favorite.
NOOH AL-MOUSA — VALLADOLID: Al-Hilal’s Salem Al-Dawsari may be the bigger name on the list, but it is Al-Mousa who can surprise many with his abilities. The combative midfielder made his name at his hometown club Al-Fateh, and following impressive performances in the league, he earned his first Saudi Arabia call-up under Edgardo Bauza. Al-Mousa’s physicality in defensive midfield and his composure on the ball are qualities that can serve him well at second division side Valladolid.

FIFA: Iran must allow women into football games

Updated 20 September 2019

FIFA: Iran must allow women into football games

DUBAI: The ban on women attending football matches in Iran is “unacceptable” and must be lifted, the head of the sports’ world governing body said in a statement.

FIFA’s position is “clear and firm” and that women “have to be allowed” into football stadiums in the country, according to president Gianni Infantino.

Iran’s ban on women attending sports stadiums was put in place shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, despite international pressure to let them attend.

Infantino’s call comes shortly after the death of Sahar Khodayari, a female fan who set herself on fire after she was denied access to a football stadium in Tehran.

Khodayari, dubbed the “Blue Girl” because of the colors of the team she supported, Esteghlal FC, was detained and charged with “openly committing a sinful act” by “appearing in public without a hijab” after attempting to enter a stadium “dressed as a man” in March.

She died of her injuries on September 9 in a hospital after setting herself on fire outside a court earlier this month.

“I am hopeful that the Iranian Federation and the Iranian authorities were receptive to our repeated calls to address this unacceptable situation,” Infantino said in a statement.

“I contacted them several times in the recent past and so has the FIFA administration. We have a delegation of FIFA members in Iran at the moment and I am looking forward to hearing good news from them.

“We understand there are steps and processes that need to be taken before this is done in a proper and safe way but now is the moment to change things and FIFA is expecting positive developments starting in the next Iran home match in October.”

Iran’s Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar has asked the judiciary to investigate the circumstances of Khodayari’s death, although the department’s spokesman, Gholamhossein Esmaili, has said that Khodayari “had clearly confessed her mistake during questioning, accepted it and expressed regret.”

FIFA has sent a letter to the to the Iranian Football Federation in June, requesting a timeline that would allow women to be able to buy tickets for World Cup qualifiers. Iran’s men’s national team takes on Cambodia in a World Cup qualifying game on October 10.