When Diego Maradona played in Saudi Arabia - Arab world mourns passing of a legend

When Diego Maradona played in Saudi Arabia - Arab world mourns passing of a legend
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Diego Maradona played an exhibition match for Al-Ahli in Jeddah in 1987. (Twitter)
When Diego Maradona played in Saudi Arabia - Arab world mourns passing of a legend
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Argentine football legend Diego Maradona (L) looks at his new shirt with Marwan Bin Bayat, chairman of the Emirati al-Wasl Football Company, during a press conference in Dubai, on September 11, 2011. AFP PHOTO/Karim SAHIB KARIM SAHIB / AFP(AFP/FIle)
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Updated 26 November 2020

When Diego Maradona played in Saudi Arabia - Arab world mourns passing of a legend

When Diego Maradona played in Saudi Arabia - Arab world mourns passing of a legend
  • Saudi Arabia was lucky to witness Diego Maradona’s outrageous skills at their prime
  • Football legend went on to manage in the UAE

LONDON: The debate as to whether Diego Maradona is the best player the world has ever seen will spark back into life with the news of his death at the age of 60 on Wednesday, However, those lucky Saudi fans who saw him in action in Jeddah in 1987 will surely insist that he was the greatest. Even those who do not will join the Arab world in mourning the loss of Argentine.

Maradona is best known internationally for leading Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup when he was at the peak of his form. His performances in Mexico will never be forgotten.

 

 

So to see him in Jeddah a year later wearing the shirt of Al-Ahli was something special. He had joined to help celebrate the club’s 50th anniversary in an exhibition game against Brondby of Denmark.

Napoli, where he played every week, were unhappy that their star asset was heading to Saudi Arabia and were afraid of a possible injury, but this was Maradona and he did what he wanted, on and off the pitch with a fee of $100,000 too good to turn down.

Inspired by the star’s presence, Al-Ahli defeated their European opponents 5-2. Three were made by the South American and he scored the other two. The first was a delightful lob over the Danish goalkeeper with the second a casual flick. It sent a full house wild with delight. It wasn’t just the skill but the love of football that thrilled.

Maradona scored just once against Arab opposition but fans of Morocco will not mind that their defense was breached by the maestro in a 1994 friendly against Argentina. It was his last penultimate goal for his country and after failing a drugs test at the subsequent World Cup, he never played on the international stage again.




Diego Maradona played an exhibition match for Al-Ahli in Jeddah in 1987. (Twitter)

He did coach the Argentine squad, taking them to the last eight of the 2010 World Cup and a chastening 4-0 loss to Germany. Less than a year later, however, the then 50-year-old shocked the football world and thrilled those in the UAE and the wider region by taking over Al-Wasl. West Asia had seen better coaches with better records but there had never been a bigger football name to come and ply their trade.

I remember the buzz around the stadium in Abu Dhabi for his first game in charge at Al Jazira in September 2011. The bigger than usual crowd was swelled by media from all over the world all trying to get a word with the legend. The sheer number of microphones placed in front of the smiling South American as he talked to the press has rarely been seen in Asian football.




Diego Maradona played an exhibition match for Al-Ahli in Jeddah in 1987. (Twitter)

In truth, he was a success even before he started. The club put itself in headlines around the world. 

“From a business perspective it’s a feasible decision that makes absolute sense,” said Marwan bin Beyat, the club chairman. “The name of Al-Wasl has exploded on the worldwide radar. The publicity we are getting can be compared to the largest clubs in the world.”

On the pitch, that first game was an entertaining one but ended in a 4-3 loss for the visitors, setting the tone for the rest of the season. There was rarely a dull moment but it ended in disappointment. He was fired in July 2012 after a turbulent 14 months in charge with Al-Wasl ending the season in eighth place.




Maradona looks at his new shirt with Marwan Bin Bayat, chairman of the Emirati Al-Wasl Football Company, during a press conference in Dubai, in 2011. (AFP/FIle)

Gabriel Calderon, the former Argentine international who played with Maradona at the 1982 and 1990 World Cup, and coached in the UAE at the same time as Maradona, said his compatriot was the best player in the world.

“With him in your team then you knew that anything was possible,” Calderon, who coached Bani Yas and followed Maradona at Al-Wasl, as well as coaching in Saudi Arabia. “As a coach in UAE, he knew that it would not be easy but although he was the center of attention with the media, he just loved football, he loved  being around the players and trying to help them as much as possible. He had many happy memories of his time in UAE and I know that the fans there loved him too.” 

After Al-Wasl, Maradona wasn’t done with the UAE and took over Fujairah in the second division in 2017 but left the following year after failing to secure promotion.

That will, rightly, be a footnote as the world mourns the passing of a legend but the Arab world has its own special memories of Diego Maradona, a player who briefly shone so brightly in Saudi Arabia in 1987.


Saudi showjumpers riding high

Saudi showjumpers riding high
With SR130,000 ($34,600) in cash prizes, the three-day competition, held without spectators due to the coronavirus restrictions, has been organized by the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation (SAEF) in partnership with the Ministry of National Guard and the Diriyah Gate Development Authority. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 16 January 2021

Saudi showjumpers riding high

Saudi showjumpers riding high
  • Elite riders saddle up for $34,600 National Guard Ministry cup at Jeddah Trio Ranch

JEDDAH: The Saudi National Guard Ministry’s showjumping cup competition kicked off on Thursday at the Jeddah Trio Ranch, with Abdullah Al-Sharbatly and Dalma Malhas leading a top-class equestrian lineup.

With SR130,000 ($34,600) in cash prizes, the three-day competition, held without spectators due to the coronavirus restrictions, has been organized by the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation (SAEF) in partnership with the Ministry of National Guard and the Diriyah Gate Development Authority.
The competition consists of nine rounds, with three rounds each day. About 130 horses were registered in the competition. The fences were set at 1.15m for the small grade where about 80 riders competed on the first day.
Almost 40 equestrians took part in the 1.20m-1.25m medium grade. Another 20 competitors battled in the 1.30m-1.35m grade on the first day of competition.
“We have seven competitions under the names of seven ministries. After good international and Olympic results, support has doubled for equestrian sports, particularly showjumping,” a member of the SAEF technical committee, Ali Al-Sahli, told Arab News.
One rider, Naif Al-Sudairi, said that equestrianism in Saudi Arabia is making rapid advances on many levels.
“With Saudi Vision 2030, we now have more tournaments in all regions of the country, and the competition has heated up,” he told Arab News. “This can motivate the riders to improve and show our best in the run-up to international competitions.”
He added that he is looking forward to representing Saudi Arabia in the global equestrian events.

First day
In the small round on the first day of the competition, Khaled Al-Hady came first with 20 points. His horse, Doberlina Van de Kapel, came second with 18 points. Mohammed Hassan Al-Hadi was ranked third with 16 points, while Princess Al-Anoud Al-Saud secured fourth place with 14 points, and Waleed Al-Ghamdi was fifth with 12 points. Faisal Al-Ouda and Abdul Aziz Al-Hamazani came sixth and seventh, respectively.
In the medium class, Mohammed Al-Malki topped the ranking with 30 points followed by Khalid Al-Mobty, who collected 28 points. Badr Al-Fard came third with 26 points, and Abdullah Al-Sheikh was fourth with 24 points. Ahmed Bakarman came fifth with 22 points.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The competition consists of nine rounds, with three rounds each day.

• The fences were set at 1.15m for the small grade where about 80 riders competed on the first day.

• Almost 40 equestrians took part in the 1.20m-1.25m medium grade.

• Another 20 competitors battled in the 1.30m-1.35m grade on the first day of competition.

Malhas, who secured an individual bronze at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, after completing the round in 38 seconds without a single penalty, came ninth with 14 points. She is also the first Saudi female equestrian to take part in the individual hurdles at the 2018 World Equestrian Championship held in the US city of Tryon.


In the big round, Al-Sharbatly, who won the individual silver medal at the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games, came first with 40 points, followed by Abed Sanosy with 38 points. Fahad Al-Ghamdi was third with 36 points, while Badr Al-Fard was fourth with 34 points, and Talal Al-Juaid came fifth with 32 points. Sultan Al-Qarza’e and Khaled Al-Mobty came sixth and seventh, respectively.

Riders’ journey
Muneer Al-Ayoubi, who has been riding for over 20 years, told Arab News that showjumping requires understanding between rider and horse.
“I have been participating in showjumping (activities) for more than two years. It is the most difficult type of horse-riding activities,” he said. “Unlike horse racing and endurance riding, contestants have to keep training their horses. The rider and the horse should appear as if they were one soul.”
Arwa Mutabagani, owner and managing director of Jeddah Trio Ranch, said that they have riders of different levels from all over Saudi Arabia.
Speaking about the preparation to host the competition, Mutabagani said: “The horses arrive a couple of days before the competition, so we have to be ready. On-site, we have 150 horses participating, so we have different locations to host all these numbers. We made the warm-up arena ready for the riders to prepare their horses for the show.”
An Italian equestrian expert was brought in to handle the timing and ensure there are no complaints, she said. Mutabagani said that she is training a number of female riders to become champions. Family support is essential in this type of sport, she added.
“To reach a top position, dedication, family and team support, and sacrifices are all elements that should go together. You also have to have a good instructor, a good horse, and you have to have the right competition that can help you move to higher levels,” she said.
She mentioned her daughter, Dalma Malhas, as an example, saying: “When she was competing, she was young and spent weekends at the shows and not with her peers. So, you have to sacrifice being a normal teenager to reach the top.”
Meanwhile, Mohrah Faisal, a female equestrian who took part in the small round, said that she is grateful to SAEF for supporting female riders. “We did not have such an opportunity in the past. Now I hope I can represent the Kingdom at the Olympics.”
She said that her family believed in her passion for equestrianism once they saw her succeeding in many local competitions.
Wafa Hasson, another Saudi female rider, said she competed in the UAE two years ago after SAEF gave women riders the green light, which helped them improve.
Female riders are still looking for opportunities to learn. “I want to go as far as I can. I don’t really have a limit, I just want to see what I can achieve and I will do my best to achieve it.”
Ghalia Al-Musa, another participant, said that she has been riding for 13 years, and her mother is still her biggest supporter.
“SAEF allowed female riders to compete along with male riders in 2019, and it was good news for all female riders. In the same year, SAEF selected the best female riders to represent Saudi Arabia in the Arab Women Sports Tournament in Sharjah, UAE. We came second as a team and I came fourth as an individual,” she told Arab News.
Al-Musa also hopes to represent Saudi Arabia in international events, including the Olympics.
Heavy rain in Jeddah on Friday forced the organizing committee of the National Guard showjumping cup to combine the second and third day of competition on Saturday (10 a.m. to 11 p.m.) when the competition will come  to an end.