Saudi Arabia’s future Falcons ready to soar with La Liga stars

Thanks to a new agreement with Real Sociedad that extends the number of partners of the Saudi program, members of the Future Falcons will be able to immerse themselves in one of the most professional clubs in Europe. (Supplied)
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Updated 09 September 2020

Saudi Arabia’s future Falcons ready to soar with La Liga stars

  • Best young Saudi players get elite training as part of Real Sociedad partnership

JEDDAH: Promising young footballers in Saudi Arabia are set to benefit from a partnership between the Saudi Scholarship for Developing Football Talent Program and Spanish club Real Sociedad — one of the most historic clubs in La Liga.

For several months in the past year, the Kingdom’s best players aged between 18 and 21, known as the “Future Falcons,” have been training at an elite performance center in Salou, Spain.

The training is overseen by world-class coaches and involves competition against leading European teams as part of a four-year football scholarship system to improve and develop talent.

Now, thanks to a new agreement with Real Sociedad that extends the number of partners of the Saudi program, members of the Future Falcons will be able to immerse themselves in one of the most professional clubs in Europe.

The club's coaching setup has produced homegrown stars such as former World Cup winner Xabi Alonso, and is responsible for helping the club claim two Spanish Liga titles, two Copas del Rey and one Spanish Supercopa during its illustrious 110-year history.

Real Sociedad also reached the Copa del Rey final, ensuring the club’s participation in the next Spanish Supercopa, which will take place in Saudi Arabia for the second successive season.

Sports Minister Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal said: “For these young players, experience is everything. They are learning their profession. That is why establishing relationships with the right partners is vital and why we’re so pleased to confirm an agreement with Real Sociedad, a club that we look forward to welcoming to the Kingdom in the near future during the Supercopa.

“Beyond being one of the most historic football clubs in Spain, with a passion for the beautiful game, it is well known for taking special care of developing young talents. I am sure this partnership will help create the ideal pathway for all our players, giving them the opportunity advance and learn from one of the top clubs.”

The partnership gives young Saudi talent direct access to training with Real Sociedad youth teams and allows them to take part in Real Sociedad friendly matches.

The Saudi Scholarship for Developing Football Talent Program is an investment by the Ministry of Sports in the future of Saudi football. The program offers an elite development platform to the Kingdom’s leading young footballers.

During the four-year period, players will also join European teams on loan depending on their profile and development needs — a last step before returning to their teams of origin in Saudi Arabia.


Dapper Pirlo and Juventus move on from Sarri era

Updated 15 min 15 sec ago

Dapper Pirlo and Juventus move on from Sarri era

  • Pirlo’s Juve look slicker and more attractive than the Bianconeri under Sarri

MILAN: Wearing a suit and tie, new Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo cut a very different figure on the sidelines to his predecessor Maurizio Sarri, who often appeared wearing a tracksuit.

And his Juventus team also looked slicker and more attractive than the Bianconeri of the Sarri era.

Right from the start of Juve’s 3-0 win at Sampdoria in Serie A on Sunday there was an intensity to the team’s play that had been lacking for much of the previous year.

“We accepted the changes made by the club,” Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci said. “This season, the new coach is Pirlo, who has changed our way of interpreting soccer that we had last year.

“It’s too early to say if it is right or not, but it is different.”

Juve’s new players also suit Juve’s new style even if Weston McKennie — the first American to play for the Italian champion — was the only player Pirlo signed.

McKennie assisted on two of his side’s goals and also had chances himself.

Two of the team’s other new players who stood out, Dejan Kulusevski and Arthur, were signed by Sarri but fit well into Pirlo’s set-up.

“We have four central midfielders with the right characteristics to play like this,” Bonucci said. “McKennie, Adrien and Arthur and Rodrigo cover a lot of the pitch. They have the legs to be aggressive and are also good at passing the ball.

“That way, we manage to unite being aggressive and having more quality in possession, I think that’s the difference from last season.”

Pirlo has had little time to settle into his new role. The 41-year-old was handed his first coaching job at the end of July when he was put in charge of Juventus’ under-23 team, which play in Serie C. But he had not led a game before he was promoted to replace the fired Sarri.

However, Pirlo knows several of the players well having played with them at the club.

The former midfield great kicked off an unprecedented era of dominance when he joined Juventus in 2011, helping the side to the first four of its record nine successive Serie A titles.

Pirlo has once again been tasked with leading the team to new heights — this time the Champions League, which Juventus hasn’t won since 1996 but which Pirlo won as a player twice with AC Milan.

Massimiliano Allegri went closest for Juventus, steering it to the final in 2015 and 2017.

“Pirlo is much more similar to Allegri (than Sarri), but everyone has their own character,” Bonucci said with a wry smile and a laugh. “Andrea transmits a lot of calm serenity, as he did when he was a player when you could give him the ball in the midst of five opponents and you were sure he wouldn’t lose it.

“We have great respect for him and for this path that has just begun, which I’m sure will allow us to take away great satisfaction.”