Filip Kiss and Al-Ettifaq ‘on right path’ to Saudi league title

Filip Kiss and Al-Ettifaq ‘on right path’ to Saudi league title
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Slovakian international Filip Kiss celebrates a goal for Dammam club Al-Ettifaq. (AN Photo)
Filip Kiss and Al-Ettifaq ‘on right path’ to Saudi league title
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Dammam’s Al-Ettifaq finished eighth in the Saudi Professional League in 2019-2020. (AN Photo)
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Updated 24 November 2020

Filip Kiss and Al-Ettifaq ‘on right path’ to Saudi league title

Filip Kiss and Al-Ettifaq ‘on right path’ to Saudi league title
  • Filip Kiss: In order to beat teams like Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr then you have to work really hard with a certain philosophy and need more than one season
  • Filip Kiss: We kept our coach for the whole season and he is working with us now in his second season and this is really positive

LONDON: After an unhappy stay in England, Filip Kiss has no regrets at all about moving to Saudi Arabia. The midfielder arrived at Al-Ettifaq in 2017 and after three years in Dammam believes that, if he stays three more, he can help the team to a first league title since 1987.

Not many foreign players last that long but the Slovakian international has no intention of leaving yet. “In order to beat teams like Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr then you have to work really hard with a certain philosophy and need more than one season,” Kiss told Arab News. “In two or three years, winning the title is possible but we have to stay patient and get the right players. Let’s see what the future will bring but I hope we can win while I am still here.”

Fans shouldn’t get too excited this season as the 30 year-old points out that the team that finished eighth in the last campaign have been too inconsistent in the past and only now, under head coach Khaled Al-Atwi is the right man in place for the right length of time.

“We needed stability,” Kiss said. “We have changed so many coaches since I came here. I think that finally we are on the right path. We kept our coach for the whole season and he is working with us now in his second season and this is really positive.” He believes a top four or five finish is possible. “We will need some luck with all the players staying fit as much as possible. We are on the right path.”

Kiss seems to be on the right path now after his move from Europe. “I was playing in Norway and the offer came but we were still playing in the Europa League.” A loss to Poland’s Lech Poznan helped to make up his mind. “Then I felt it was the right time to move but I had a long contract and I was captain so there had to be a transfer fee and Ettifaq was willing to pay.”

It has been far from easy. “Many good players who came here from top leagues in Europe find it harder than they expected.” The weather is the big difference especially in the summer. “The first and last four or five games of the season are really hot and humid especially here in Dammam and this affects the tempo of the game and training is also really difficult. In winter it is perfect and the quality of the games is getting better.”

All in all, it is going rather better than his time with Cardiff City. It started well as the loan period in 2011 turned into a full transfer the following year. There was an appearance against Liverpool and Steven Gerrard in front of 89,000 fans at Wembley in the 2012 League Cup final  but soon, Kiss was on the sidelines.

“My dream was to play in England since I was young. I was not always a starter but was always involved and then they signed me and paid a fee and I signed the contract. It was like living the dream.” Then things changed. “The Malaysian owner [Vincent Tan] was spending lots of money and bringing in big stars as he wanted direct promotion. So the philosophy changed but I didn't want to leave as I thought we could go to the Premier League.”

Despite not playing, Kiss was still determined to fight for minutes on the pitch. “I really wanted to play in England and didn’t want to leave even though I had options. Then, when I decided it was time to go, the coach said he wanted all his players to be there and he wanted a big squad.”

Then, in 2014, there was another loan move, this time to Ross County in Scotland. “I enjoyed it – in my first two games I scored four goals as I was so hungry! I am not a striker but a defensive midfielder.” He has not forgotten the lessons of a tough time at Cardiff however. “That's football. It was not easy but I learned a lot. I was young and only 21 and maybe didn’t have the best advice about what to do from my agent.”

That experience has helped in Saudi Arabia and means he has plenty of wisdom to pass on. “The players here ask me about Europe. We go there for training camps and friendly games and they see the difference in how physical and fast it is. It is important to play teams from Europe and compare ourselves and know how we can improve.”

One day he is sure that Saudi players will go to the big leagues just as Slovakian players do. “There is no question they have the talent but in even the leagues that are not at the top, you have to work really hard because there is so much competition to become a professional player. If they want to keep improving and don’t feel that signing a first contract is enough then they can go far, achieve something with the national team and get a contract in Europe.”

While team-mates may leave, Kiss is happy where he is. “The most important thing was that my family could live with me here and they can. Life is perfect for my family in Saudi Arabia.” And a league title at some point means it would be perfect for Filip Kiss.


Messi sent off, Athletic beats Barca in Spanish Super Cup

Messi sent off, Athletic beats Barca in Spanish Super Cup
Updated 29 min 43 sec ago

Messi sent off, Athletic beats Barca in Spanish Super Cup

Messi sent off, Athletic beats Barca in Spanish Super Cup
  • Iñaki Williams' goal in extra time gave Athletic the lead and a come-from-behind win

MADRID: Lionel Messi lost his cool after another Barcelona collapse on Sunday, hitting an opponent away from the ball and being sent off for the first time while playing with the Catalan club in the team’s 3-2 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the final of the Spanish Super Cup.
Iñaki Williams' goal in extra time gave Athletic the lead and a come-from-behind win. Barcelona had little chance of recovering when Messi swung his right arm toward the head of an Athletic player while trying to free himself. Messi was shown the red card following a video review.
The card came in his 753rd appearance with Barcelona. He has been sent off twice with Argentina, including in his national team debut in 2005. The other red card with Argentine came in the 2019 Copa America.
Messi could face a lengthy suspension for his ejection on Sunday.
After Athletic scored in the 90th minute to seal a 2-2 draw and force extra time, Williams netted the title-clinching goal with a neat curling shot from just inside the area, with the ball hitting the far post before going into the top corner.
“Because of what it meant for the team, this is the best goal of my career,” Williams said.
The goal three minutes into extra time secured Athletic its third Super Cup title, and first since it beat Barcelona in the 2015 final. The Basque Country club also won the title in 1984.
Barcelona was seeking its 15th Super Cup title, and third in the last five seasons. It was also looking to end its title drought after going without a trophy last season, something that hadn't happened since 2007-08. The team got off to a slow start this season and trails Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid in the Spanish league.
Messi, who asked to leave Barcelona in the offseason but had his request denied, had been doubtful to play in the final because of an unspecified fitness issue that had caused coach Ronald Koeman to leave him out of the semifinal against Real Sociedad on Wednesday, when Barcelona prevailed in a penalty shootout.
He helped set up Antoine Griezmann's first goal on Sunday but was far from his best throughout the match at the La Cartuja Stadium in Seville.
Barcelona opened the scoring with a shot from the middle of the area by Griezmann in the 40th minute but Athletic equalized two minutes later with a close-range strike by Óscar de Marcos after a well-placed cross by Williams. Griezmann put Barcelona ahead with another shot from inside the area in the 77th but Athletic evened the match again with Asier Villalibre finding the net following a set piece in the 90th.
Villalibre was the player hit by Messi in the final minutes as the players tangled together outside the area. The ball was already on the left side of the area when the incident happened.
Athletic, which beat defending champion Real Madrid 2-1 in the other semifinal, had a 57th-minute goal disallowed by video review because of offside following a header by Raúl García, who had netted twice in the semifinal.
The final was the third match in charge for Athletic coach Marcelino García Toral. His debut had been against Barcelona in a league game at home, when Messi scored twice to help the Catalan club recover from an early goal by Williams and secure a 3-2 victory.
“The players deserve all the credit for this achievement,” the new coach said. “They defeated Real Madrid and Barcelona to be able to win this trophy.”
Accompanying the Athletic squad in Seville was Aritz Aduriz, the club’s former striker who was forced to retire last season because of a hip injury.
When Athletic defeated Barcelona in 2015, the Spanish Super Cup final was still played in two legs between the Spanish league and Copa del Rey winners.
This year’s edition was moved to southern Spain after the coronavirus pandemic stopped it from being played in Saudi Arabia for a second straight season. The tournament’s revamped Final Four format includes the top two finishers in the Spanish league and the finalists of the Copa del Rey from the previous season.