Pablo Zabaleta eyes Middle East career finale

Pablo Zabaleta's contract with West Ham ends next summer and he is pondering a move abroad, with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar all possibilities. (AFP)
Updated 02 November 2018
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Pablo Zabaleta eyes Middle East career finale

  • Pablo Zabaleta's contract with West Ham ends next summer
  • Zabaleta could emulate his former City boss Pep Guardiola who spent two seasons with Qatar side Al-Ahli at the end of his playing days

LONDON: Pablo Zabaleta’s first Gulf experience came 15 years ago.
It was the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in the UAE, a tournament that saw home hero Ismail Matar named best player as his side reached the quarterfinals, while Saudi Arabia just failed to qualify for the last 16.
Zabaleta, then 18, was in Argentina’s squad alongside Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, Spain had Andres Iniesta and eventual winners Brazil included Dani Alves.
Zabaleta recalled these moments when old club Manchester City became Abu Dhabi-owned in 2008. Over the past decade, his interest in the region has grown to the extent he is now looking to end his playing career there and take his first steps into coaching.
His two-year contract with West Ham ends next summer and he is pondering a move abroad, with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar all possibilities.
“My heart tells me I would like to play forever, but I will be 34 in January and I need to listen to my body at that time,” he told Arab News.
“At the end I will know what I want to do and where to go, but I would like one or two more years to carry on playing. At 34 I think it might be the right time to try something different, have a new experience.
“If I carry on playing in Europe, Italy is one of those leagues I haven’t played, but I have always been thinking about the Middle East. I first went to the UAE for the Under-20 World Cup in 2003 and have seen how much the region has changed.
“I’ve been to Saudi Arabia and Qatar with the national team and you see the fantastic progress, football standards improving and passion of fans.
“The League is not as long as in Europe, but there’s still the chance to play for trophies, to play big games competitively like in the Asian Champions League.
“I can’t see myself going to China; the Middle East and America are more attractive.
“I know the Middle East clubs have three or four spots for foreign players and they always try to bring attackers who have more influence on a game. But I’ve been playing in the top leagues and believe I can give experience, versatility and quality.”
At 21, Hammers team-mate and compatriot Manuel Lanzini became the youngest foreign player to play in the UAE Arabian Gulf League with one season at Al-Jazira before a dream Premier League move in 2015.
“I spoke to Manu about his experience and he said it was great,” added Zabaleta. “But the difference was he was only 21, then wanted to go to Europe and test himself further. He said the lifestyle was fantastic, you train late in the evenings because of the conditions. After England, this is what I’m looking for.
“You see Ahmed Musa was playing for Leicester, did well in the World Cup and had attractive offers from Europe, but went to Saudi Arabia with Al-Nassr. It was a surprise, but this is what can happen now. I have read Saudi Arabia are thinking about 2030, changing many things to make it better. Football and sport is important to this.”
Zabaleta could emulate his former City boss Pep Guardiola who spent two seasons with Qatar side Al-Ahli at the end of his playing days before going into a successful coaching career.
After nine years at the Etihad, the full-back would love to take charge one day as he added: “Why not? I spent nine years at Man City, it was like a home and my last meeting with (chairman) Khaldoon Al-Mubarak, he said the door will be open for me to come back to Man City in some role, so we will see. It would be special.
“I know Pep did this and went to Qatar after playing for Barcelona and then moved into coaching. It would be nice to do that.
“I have done my B license, next is the A license. In football you never know, but I’d like to keep involved, whether as a manager or off the field. I want to prepare myself by having those badges.
“I’m always watching football, talking about it. Whether it’s Spain, Italy, China or the Middle East. My phone is full of football apps.”
For now, though, Zabaleta is focused on keeping the Hammers in the top flight. Three points clear of the bottom three, they host Burnley tomorrow.
“I don’t want relegation,” he added. “We have to fight. After 11 years in England, I would like to leave the Premier League in a good way if I do go.”


Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc takes third straight pole position at Singapore Grand Prix

Updated 21 September 2019

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc takes third straight pole position at Singapore Grand Prix

  • Leclerc has won the previous two races.
  • Hamilton holds a 63-point championship lead over Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas

SINGAPORE: Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc claimed a third straight Formula One pole position on Saturday after outpacing championship leader Lewis Hamilton in qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix.
Leclerc clocked a lap of 1 minute, 36.217 seconds at the 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) Marina Bay street circuit, beating Hamilton by 0.191 seconds. Leclerc’s teammate Sebastian Vettel was third.
“If you look at the lap, it was a good lap, but there were some moments that I lost control,” Leclerc said. “We brought some new bits that worked properly, which was good to see. I had a very tough Friday and didn’t feel comfortable in the car, but we worked hard and it paid off.”
Leclerc has won the previous two races. After his first-ever F1 victory in Spa at the Belgian GP, the 21-year-old Leclerc became the first Ferrari driver to win the Italian GP since Fernando Alonso in 2010.
Hamilton holds a 63-point lead over Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas with seven races remaining.
“I don’t know where Ferrari picked up their pace, it’s not usually one of their circuits,” Hamilton said. “But they did a great job, Charles did some great laps. Hopefully we can be in the mix with them tomorrow. I think we can be aggressive.”
While Hamilton already has eight wins this season, his last came at the Hungarian GP in early August.
Pole position in Singapore is crucial as its one of the hardest tracks for overtaking in F1. The driver leading the field has won eight times in the past 11 years.
Hamilton has won in Singapore the past two years. Another victory in Sunday’s night race would move the Briton a step closer to his third straight championship and sixth overall, one shy of Michael Schumacher’s record of seven titles.
Vettel, whose contract ends in 2020, is on a 13-month winless streak. His last victory was at the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix.
Vettel and Hamilton are the only two drivers on the grid with victories at Singapore — with four wins each.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was fourth, almost four-tenths behind Vettel. Bottas was fifth for Mercedes ahead of Red Bull’s Alex Albon.
Carlos Sainz Jr. took seventh place for McLaren in front of the Renault of Daniel Ricciardo.
Nico Hulkenberg was ninth in the second Renault with McLaren’s Lando Norris rounding out the top 10.