Season over, Real Madrid face turbulent summer

Real Madrid's players acknowledge fans at the end of the Spanish League football match between Real Madrid and Real Betis at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on May 19, 2019. (AFP / PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU)
Updated 21 May 2019

Season over, Real Madrid face turbulent summer

  • Loss at home to Real Betis brought to a close one of the most disappointing seasons in years
  • Madrid finished in third place and 19 points adrift of champion Barcelona

BARCELONA, Spain: The best thing for Real Madrid about this season is that it is finally over.
A humiliating 2-0 loss at home to Real Betis on the last day of the Spanish league on Sunday brought to a close one of the most disappointing seasons in years for the most successful team in European club competition.
Madrid’s last match exemplified the collective decline of a group of players who had won four of the previous five Champions League titles but found themselves practically out of the running for any major trophies months ago. Defenders often a step too slow, midfielders unable to maintain ball possession, and forward incapable of producing sufficient scoring chances, much less put the ball in the net.
Madrid finished in third place and 19 points adrift of champion Barcelona, the largest-ever deficit with its fiercest rival by the end of a season.

“When you want to try harder and you can’t even achieve the smallest little thing, it is complicated.”

Real Madrid Coach Zinedine Zidane

Madrid was effectively out of the league title race by January and was eliminated from the Champions League and Copa del Rey in early March, leaving the club with nothing to play for other than pride.
And pride couldn’t stop the team from failing to get a win in its last five away matches, or ending the season with back-to-back losses.
Coach Zinedine Zidane wants his players to remember this feeling.
“When you want to try harder and you can’t even achieve the smallest little thing, it is complicated,” Zidane said. “We have to accept that it has been a bad season. We can’t forget it; we have to have it very present in the future so it can help us improve.”
Now Zidane and club president Florentino Pérez can finally put in motion their plans to breathe some life into a squad that performed far below what its fans expect.
“Football is motivation ... Next season this is going to change,” Zidane said.

WHO’S OUT?
Candidate No. 1 to leave is Gareth Bale.
Bale arrived at Madrid in 2013 as the biggest signing in football history. Six years, multiple titles and more than 100 goals later, Zidane looks more than ready to part ways with the Wales winger.
Zidane has rarely counted on Bale since he returned to the club in March nine months after stepping down, becoming Madrid’s third manager of the season following the failures of Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari. Bale didn’t leave the bench on Sunday in what many believed was his last game for Madrid.
But with Bale under contract until 2022, his exit may hinge on finding a club that can cope with the 29-year-old winger’s salary of a reported 15 million euros a season.
Goalkeeper Keylor Navas is reported to be unwanted after he became a second-choice player following the signing of Thibaut Courtois.
The future of midfielders Toni Kroos and Francisco “Isco” Alarcon and defender Marcelo are also in doubt after their sub-par campaigns, while Zidane has shown little interest in playing midfielders Dani Ceballos, Marcos Llorente and left back Sergio Reguilón.
“Nobody is going to take away what these players did for five years,” Zidane said. “(But) we don’t have excuses. We ask our fans for forgiveness because we have the obligation to give it our all.”

WHO’S IN?
Of all the names floated, Belgium midfielder Eden Hazard’s is the most commonly heard. His contract with Chelsea expires in 2020 and he may be ready before then for a change after seven years in London.
The other major name is Manchester United star Paul Pogba, who Zidane has said he admires.
But unless Madrid can somehow succeed in prying Kylian Mbappé away from Paris Saint-Germain, then the goals that went missing when Cristiano Ronaldo left last year won’t be found in a single player.
Zidane will still have to solve the pending problem of retooling a team that spent most of the last decade feeding that goal-scoring machine called Ronaldo.
If not, then next season may not be much better.


Top Saudi duo leads staggering entry for Rally Qassim 2019

Updated 15 October 2019

Top Saudi duo leads staggering entry for Rally Qassim 2019

  • Several drivers are keen to test their skills ahead of Dakar Rally next year

BURAIDAH: A staggering entry of 63 cars, 1 truck, 18 motorcycles and 8 quads will tackle this weekend’s Rally Qassim 2019, the second round of the exciting new Saudi Toyota Desert Rally Championship.

There is strength in depth throughout the entire car field and the three T1, T2 and T3 categories, with Saudi Arabia’s leading cross-country star Yazeed Al-Rajhi topping the entry after finishing fifth overall at last week’s Rally of Morocco.

Fellow Saudi Yasir Seaidan wheels out his MINI All4 Racing, as the two leading Saudi stars go head-to-head across home terrain. Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi is also on hand to challenge for overall honors in a Peugeot 3008 DXR.

There is a strong Saudi influence in the upper reaches of the top 10 with the likes of Essa Al-Dossari, Ahmed Al-Shegawi and Mutair Al-Shammeri, but there is an international flavor to the entry as well, with several drivers keen to test before the Dakar Rally crosses the country for the first time in January 2020.

Czech driver Miroslav Zapletal wheels out his Ford F-150 Evo, Egyptian Yara Shalaby has entered a Nissan and there are entries for Kuwait’s Mohammed Al-Dhafiri and Emirati Abdullah Al-Heraiz.

Saleh Al-Saif tops a strong lineup in the T3 category at the helm of his Can-Am Maverick X3 and faces 12 Saudi rivals – three in Yamahas, one in a Polaris and eight in Can-Ams.

Ibrahim Al-Muhanna won the Hail International Rally back in 2014 with Emirati navigator Ali Hassan Obaid and he drives the sole T4 Mercedes truck, with Osama Al-Sanad and Raed Abo Theeb alongside.

 Using the event as a perfect opportunity to shake down his KTM 450 Rally after the recent Jordan Baja win is the Emirati racer Mohammed Al-Balooshi. 

He leads  an 18-strong motorcycle field that includes other riders from the host country, New Zealand and the UK.

Philip Wilson represents New Zealand, Anthony King is the sole UK entrant, while Emirati Abdullah bin Dakhan rides a Yamaha against a field that includes 14 Saudi riders.

Multiple Hail International Rally winner Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi tops the quad category on his Yamaha. 

The Saudi has won the Kingdom’s premier off-road rally’s quad section for the last six successive seasons — three times on a Kawasaki and three times on a Yamaha - but faces some of his strongest ever competition in Buraidah.

He lines up against the likes of the experienced Sultan Al-Masoud, Abdulsalam Hamam and Yousef Al-Namasi.

The event is  organized by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, under the chairmanship of   Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, and takes place from Thursday  to Saturday.

It is the second of five rounds of the Saudi Toyota Desert Rally Championship with three further rallies still to run this year on Nov.  4-9, Nov. 27-30 and Dec. 12-14 . 

Action at Rally Qassim 2019 gets underway with a short super special stage of 3.55km from 16:10hrs at Wahtan in Buraidah on Thursday afternoon. There will be 347.80km timed against the clock in a compact route of 548.80km.

The event runs with the support of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, the General Sports Authority, Abdul Latif Jameel Motors (Toyota), the MBC Group and Al-Arabia.