‘End of an era’ as Chinese football’s star power fades

‘End of an era’ as Chinese football’s star power fades
Oscar
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Updated 07 January 2021

‘End of an era’ as Chinese football’s star power fades

‘End of an era’ as Chinese football’s star power fades
  • CSL club expenditure is about 10 times higher than South Korea’s K League

SHANGHAI: In January 2017 Brazil international Oscar moved from Chelsea to Shanghai SIPG for an Asian-record €60 million, prompting a warning from Arsene Wenger that Chinese clubs were distorting the global transfer market.

But four years later it is a very different story after the Chinese Football Association imposed a series of measures to cool extravagant spending in the Chinese Super League, markedly dimming its star power.

Six months after Oscar’s arrival the CFA slapped a 100 percent tax on incoming foreigners, with the levy going to developing Chinese youth players. Then last month the CFA said that overseas players cannot earn more than €3 million a year. Domestic players also saw their salaries capped.

“CSL club expenditure is about 10 times higher than South Korea’s K League and three times higher than Japan’s J-league,” said CFA President Chen Xuyuan.

“But our national team is lagging far behind. The bubbles not only affect the present of Chinese football, but also its future.”

All players must now have new contracts, according to the state news agency Xinhua, adding that teams can sign “supplemental agreements” with players whose existing deals were above the cap.

That means Oscar, the 29-year-old attacking midfielder, will continue to earn more than €20 million  a year for the time being. But the message is clear: The days of inflated transfer fees and salaries to lure star players from Europe are over.

Oscar’s fellow Brazilian and SIPG teammate Hulk, 34, a €55.8 million  purchase in 2016, left the club last month when his contract expired.

Italian forward Graziano Pelle was another high-profile exit this week, even if like Hulk his best days are behind him.

Tuesday’s Soccer News said their departures “heralded the end of the super-luxury foreign players era.” 

As well as Oscar, some of the big names who arrived in recent years remain in the CSL, notably former Barcelona midfielder Paulinho and ex-Manchester United star Marouane Fellaini.

But the pool is shrinking and the last major signing in the CSL was Marko Arnautovic from West Ham United in July 2019 for 25 million euros, again to Shanghai SIPG.

Gareth Bale came close to joining Jiangsu Suning in 2019 before Real Madrid pulled the plug and Wayne Rooney also once explored a move to China.

But ahead of the new season in the spring, and with the coronavirus pandemic lingering ominously, nobody is talking about players of that calibre moving to the CSL anymore.

Instead, teams are looking at loans, free transfers or signings under the 45 million yuan (€5.7 million) threshold that would trigger the 100 percent transfer tax.


England collapse to 112 all out in India pink-ball test

England collapse to 112 all out in India pink-ball test
Updated 25 February 2021

England collapse to 112 all out in India pink-ball test

England collapse to 112 all out in India pink-ball test
  • Patel, who recorded his second haul of five or more wickets in just his second test

AHMEDABAD, India: Spinner Axar Patel claimed six wickets as India skittled out England for 112 on day one of a crucial day-night third test in Ahmedabad on Wednesday.

Patel, who recorded his second haul of five or more wickets in just his second test, combined with Ravichandran Ashwin to end England’s innings in 48.4 overs in the world’s biggest cricket stadium.

India’s innings witnessed a power cut with most of the new LED lights at the revamped stadium going off for two minutes after which play resumed.

India reached five for no loss at dinner with Rohit Sharma, on five, and Shubman Gill at the crease.

Gill survived a scare when he was caught at second slip off fast bowler Stuart Broad but replays suggested that Ben Stokes had grassed the ball while taking the catch.

Earlier Zak Crawley top-scored with 53 after England elected to bat first. Captain Joe Root (17) Ben Foakes (12) and Jofra Archer (11) also got into double figures.

The England batting fell apart after fast bowler Ishant Sharma, playing his 100th test, struck first with the wicket of Dom Sibley for nought in the third over of the day.

Crawley put on 47 runs with Root for the third wicket to put up some resistence but Ashwin claimed the England captain with his off spin.

Root reviewed the call but replays showed the ball would have hit the top of leg stump and he left the field to the loud cheers of the home crowd.

England took tea at 81 for four and wickets kept falling in the second session.

Foakes stood guard for 58 balls before Patel bowled the wicketkeeper-batsman to wrap up the innings. Ashwin took three wickets.

England, looking to bounce back from a 317-run defeat, have brought back their pace duo of James Anderson and Archer in the team.

The four-match series is level at 1-1.


Diriyah circuit on track to create history under lights

Appointed in 2018 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Jerry Inzerillo is about to oversee his third Formula E event in Riyadh. (Supplied/File Photos)
Appointed in 2018 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Jerry Inzerillo is about to oversee his third Formula E event in Riyadh. (Supplied/File Photos)
Updated 24 February 2021

Diriyah circuit on track to create history under lights

Appointed in 2018 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Jerry Inzerillo is about to oversee his third Formula E event in Riyadh. (Supplied/File Photos)
  • E-Prix double-header launches 2020-21 Formula E season on Feb. 26-27

RIYADH: For a brief moment, the man who has worked tirelessly for over a year to ensure this weekend’s Diriyah E-Prix double-header goes ahead without a hitch relaxed and allowed himself a smile of satisfaction.

“We are unbelievably excited as you can imagine,” said Gerard Inzerillo, CEO of Diriyah Gate Development Authority. Or Jerry to his friends.

Appointed in 2018 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Inzerillo is about to oversee his third Formula E event in Riyadh, with the single-seater electric car series now given world championship status by the FIA governing body for the 2020-21 season.

He recalls an almost superhuman effort to organize the inaugural race in the 2018-19 campaign.

“We had a lot of work to do, and because of the unbelievable leadership of Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal and our wonderful colleagues at Formula E, we were able to pull off that race in 87 days.”

The three-day event saw post-racing concerts by the likes of Jason Derulo, Enrique Iglesias, Black Eyed Peas, Amr Diab, OneRepublic and David Guetta. The Kingdom had seen nothing like it before.

“We had 100,000 people, the people of Diriyah loved it,” said Inzerillo. “But it was not easy, it was disruptive and we had a lot of work to get done. It was the largest international sport event that the Kingdom had seen at the time.”

READ MORE

An interview with DGDA CEO Jerry Inzerillo on Diriyah’s Formula E and the nighttime races in the Kingdom, which will kick off the 2021 Formula E season. More here.

 

Then, for the 2019-20 season opening, Diriyah became the first circuit to host a double-header of E-Prix races. On Friday, the circuit will see another first with the hosting of the first-ever night races with new sustainable LED technology.

Beyond the obvious turmoil brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, one major disruption has proved the most challenging between the last race in late 2019 and this weekend’s event.

“We had to rip up the whole track,” Inzerillo said. “We put in hundreds of millions of dollars of Diriyah infrastructure. Water, power, sewerage, all of which we had to do because of this gigantic masterplan. But we were very time-constrained because we only had one year to get everything done. Thanks to a great development team and a great operations team, and certainly all the great work done by our colleagues at Formula E, we were able to compete everything in 11 months.”

Thousands of workers at every level worked diligently to make sure the circuit was completed, and construction had to adhere to the tightest regulations.

“Maybe they were being nice to me, but most of the drivers told me that their favorite track was Diriyah,” said Inzerillo. “Where it’s sensitive with the UNESCO World Heritage site is that the track had to be configured in such a way to minimize vibration. And the Formula E did it. As a matter of fact, because of the track and the way it was designed, it allowed us to put in all-new pedestrian walkways, so after the race is over, the community has got kilometers of sidewalks and kerbs and street lights.”

For Inzerillo, this is vital for the moment the Formula E extravaganza wraps up for another year. Maintaining Diriyah is a 365-day-a-year job for him.

“Now you see people jogging, on bicycles, families with baby carriages, 22,000 new trees,” he said. “It’s not just been exciting to have this beautiful backdrop to the UNESCO World Heritage site in camera view, but we also serve the community, and we’ve served his Royal Highness’ vision of doing things in an environmentally sustainable technologies and plantings. So it’s a win, win, win.”

Every aspect of the Diriyah circuit construction had to satisfy Formula E and Saudi Vision 2030 sustainability targets.

“We have no choice,” Inzerillo said, smiling. “The crown prince is extremely strict on the issues of environmental protection, sustainability, new technologies and quality of life. And his commitment and strictness is the same in the preservation of the birthplace of the Kingdom as it is in the Red Sea with all of the projects that are going on there, as it is with the futuristic city of NEOM. Some people can say, NEOM is going to be the city of the future, but the crown prince applies the same vision and the same commitment to a city that is 400 years old.”

Samer Issa-El-Khoury, managing partner at CBX, the promoter of the Diriyah E-Prix, said that it is no coincidence that Formula E ended up at Diriyah, as the Kingdom’s leaders wanted to combine the future of electric cars with the history of the site.

“When we started in 2018, we had extensive meetings with all the stakeholders related to this project — from the Ministry of Sport, the Saudi Arabian Motorsport Federation, the FIA and UNESCO,” he said.

Under discussion were Diriyah’s UNESCO heritage status, the FIA regulations that protect drivers, time constraints and broadcasting images of Diriyah in the most spectacular way possible.

READ MORE

With the Diriyah E-Prix only days away, Stoffel Vandoorne of Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team is hoping to start the 2020-21 Formula E season just as he ended the last; by winning. More here.

 

Issa-El-Khoury, who played a major part in designing the Diriyah circuit, said that great steps were taken to ensure the lighting lux level would be consistent across the whole track, both for the safety of drivers and to meet broadcasting needs.

Meanwhile, the drivers, many of whom count the Canadian engineer of Lebanese origin as a friend, are itching to hit the track under the lights.

“The drivers were super-excited,” he said. “They’ve tried this track during the day and they are very excited to try it out at night. Andre Lotterer (TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E team) yesterday posted on Instagram that Diriyah is one of his favorite tracks because of the setting, because of the challenges of the track, because it goes downhill and then it goes back uphill on a straight line. It will be a first for all drivers to drive on street circuit, at night, with LED lights.”

LED consumes 50 percent less energy than metal-halide lighting, and Issa-El-Khoury believes those little steps in conserving energy will lead to bigger ones down the line — and not just in Saudi Arabia.

“You might say that you’re lighting the track and still using energy, but today R&D and Formula E aspire to make changes one race at a time, one city at a time and to start introducing change to those cities,” he said. “They’ll move from the track to people’s homes.”

With the track all set for the action, you would not blame either man taking a night or two off to enjoy the action, though chances are they will be as consumed by their respective concerns as ever.

“The track is beautiful and it complements the UNESCO site,” Inzerillo said. “And, most important, my community, the people and neighbors who live in Diriyah, they see the race as a very positive thing because it delivers a lot of economic benefits. Every time the race has happened, their neighborhood and their quality of life has improved.”

This year there might not be any spectators in the stands, or post-race concerts, but the noise, and certainly the bright lights, will be there for all in Diriyah to see.

For Issa-El-Khoury, the track and nighttime conditions are a “winning combination” that will bring out the best in the drivers on Friday and Saturday.

“All the cars are almost the same,” he said. “Heroes will be made in Diriyah.”


India renames world’s largest cricket stadium after PM Modi

India renames world’s largest cricket stadium after PM Modi
Updated 24 February 2021

India renames world’s largest cricket stadium after PM Modi

India renames world’s largest cricket stadium after PM Modi
  • Modi has also been accused of centralising power in the world’s biggest democracy
  • “The people of Gujarat will not bear this insult to Sardar Patel,” said Hardik Patel, president of the opposition Congress party in the state

AHMEDABAD: India renamed the world’s largest cricket stadium after Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday, a move that drew immediate praise and criticism.
The name change to the Narendra Modi Stadium was unveiled at the 132,000-seat venue formerly known as Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad, in the western state of Gujarat, where India are playing England in the third match of a four-game test series.
A gifted orator and consummate populist, Modi is by far the most popular and recognizable politician in India, and won a second term in power with an increased majority for the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2019.
But Modi has also been accused of centralising power in the world’s biggest democracy.
“World’s largest stadium dedicated to the world’s largest personality!,” Priti Gandhi, a BJP spokeswoman, said in a tweet.
Others said the decision reflected a cult of personality surrounding Modi.
“The people of Gujarat will not bear this insult to Sardar Patel,” said Hardik Patel, president of the opposition Congress party in the state.
Patel was India’s first interior minister, long revered for his tough approach on national issues. Authorities have named the larger complex surrounding the stadium after him.
Dedicating sports stadiums to former prime ministers is common in India, but renaming such a high-profile venue for a sitting leader is rare.
Many of India’s public institutions and projects have been named after members of the Congress’ Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that governed India for decades and which Modi’s party long criticized as the dominance of one family.
“Both the BJP and Congress are busy perpetuating political branding,” Sanjay Jha, a former Congress official and political commentator, said.
Archit Khare, a 29-year-old student at the game, said: “I don’t know why it has been changed. Sardar Patel is more iconic. Sardar Patel was the iron man of India, it should have remained.”


Diriyah E-Prix the latest of Saudi Arabia’s motorsport sensations in 2021

Diriyah E-Prix the latest of Saudi Arabia’s motorsport sensations in 2021
Updated 24 February 2021

Diriyah E-Prix the latest of Saudi Arabia’s motorsport sensations in 2021

Diriyah E-Prix the latest of Saudi Arabia’s motorsport sensations in 2021
  • The night-time action on February 26-27 follows hot on the heels of the Dakar Rally, with the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix bringing Formula One to the Kingdom for the first time in December
  • Photographer Éric Vargiolu: This is the best place I’ve seen since the first Dakar. All these different places, incredible. Tomorrow, could be even more beautiful, but maybe that’s impossible

RIYADH: The launch of the 2020-21 Formula E season with the Diriyah E-Prix double this weekend is the second of three spectacular motorsport events in Saudi Arabia this year.

The night-time action on February 26-27 follows hot on the heels of the Dakar Rally in January, with the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix bringing Formula One to the Kingdom for the first time in December, establishing the country as a major racing hub in the Middle East.

Already, the setting of these events has left a mark on those who experienced them.

“This is the best place I’ve ever seen since the first Dakar. All these mixed, different places, incredible. Tomorrow, I think, could be even more beautiful, but maybe that’s impossible.”

Those were the words of French photographer Éric Vargiolu as he breathed in the vast expanse of desert the pilots would be venturing across midway through the opening week of the first Dakar rally in Saudi Arabia in January last year.

Dakar 2020 was the rally’s debut on Middle Eastern soil, and broke new ground for both its organizers, the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) and motorsports in Saudi Arabia.

A year on, the Kingdom is gearing up to host the new ABB FIA Formula E World Championship season this weekend – Riyadh’s third hosting of the event.

Organized by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF) in line with the ambitions of Vision 2030, the three events have made it to the Kingdom thanks to an almost universal passion for motorsports across Saudi Arabia, said SAMF chairman Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal.

“Saudis love racing, and as a nation Saudi Arabia has a very proud motorsports and racing heritage, from the desert rallies we’ve been famed for worldwide to our own drivers competing at the very top level,” Prince Khalid said. “It’s a passion for millions of Saudis, and the world respects that.”

“That has proven key to our ability to attract these global mega-events to Saudi — and for extended periods, too,” he added. “This is the third race in a 10-year agreement with Formula E. We also have 10 years of Dakar Saudi and now of Formula One, too, because international governing bodies buy into the love our people have for elite level racing, among many other sports.”

Prince Khalid highlighted that the weekend’s night races here on the streets of Diriyah are part of the country’s desire to continue innovating, always taking a fresh approach to such events.

“The ride is already well underway but if you haven’t already, then strap yourselves in, as the next 10 years and beyond promise to be the best that Saudi Arabian motorsports have ever seen.”

The Kingdom has a long and proud history of home-grown motorsport events, with the Saudi Desert Rally Championship growing year upon year, as well as a host of Baja rallies taking place annually.

However, the arrival of Formula E, Dakar Saudi and the Saudi Grand Prix have elevated Saudi Arabia’s status to the top-table of global motorsports.

And there is more to come in the Kingdom.

Extreme E – the new FIA-sanctioned international off-road racing series using electric SUVs – launches its maiden season with its first ever race in AlUla in April, where drivers will navigate their way through Saudi Arabia’s breathtaking landscapes, bringing a fourth world-class event to the Kingdom’s packed 2021 motorsport calendar.

Meanwhile, Saudi investment in motorsport continues with the development of the Kingdom’s dedicated Formula 1 track as part of the $8 billion Qiddiya project – a move that would take the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix from the streets of Jeddah to the outskirts of Riyadh in years to come.


Al-Shabab go five points clear in pivotal week for SPL

Al-Shabab go five points clear in pivotal week for SPL
Updated 24 February 2021

Al-Shabab go five points clear in pivotal week for SPL

Al-Shabab go five points clear in pivotal week for SPL
  • Al-Nassr claim Riyadh derby to leave defending champions Al-Hilal struggling in title race

It has not been the best of seasons for Al-Nassr and big-money signing Pity Martinez but they, and their fans, will never forget Tuesday evening when they threw a mighty spanner in the title dreams of rivals Al-Hilal in the Riyadh derby.

The real beneficiaries of the result are Al-Shabab, who are now five points clear of the losers at the top of the Saudi Pro League table with two thirds of the season gone. With 10 games remaining, there is still a long way to go but Al-Hilal can’t afford many more missteps.

Defending champions Al-Hilal started the weekend hoping to go top of the table but Martinez’s smart finish midway through the first half, after a lovely floated assist from Brazilian midfielder Petros, put paid to their ambitions. With leaders Al-Shabab recording a 3-0 win over third-placed Al-Ahli 24 hours earlier, things are looking good for the leaders.

It is the mark of champions that when they have a setback, they pick themselves up and start again. That is what Al-Hilal have shown in the past and what Al-Shabab did this week. After an impressive run of six wins and one draw from the previous seven matches, the leaders crashed to a shock 2-1 loss at home to Al-Fateh last Wednesday.

That defeat was especially surprising given the fact that Al-Shabab opened the scoring but still lost, with the decisive goal coming three minutes into stoppage time. Mitchell te Vrede’s last-gasp winner could, some feared, spark a slump. How would the team and Carlos Inarejos, an inexperienced 36-year-old coach in charge for not much more than a month, manage with a top of the table clash with Al-Ahli looming just a few days later?

The answer was emphatic. Monday saw a controlled and efficient performance from the leaders. While under pressure at times, they took an early lead through Ahmed Sharahili and looked fairly comfortable for the rest of the game, probing for opportunities to secure the three points. Sure enough, they came in the second half.

“We have players who are always ready to step up, whether they are starting the game or coming off the bench,” said Inarejos. “I made changes late in the game because I knew that my team would improve in the second half.”

The Spanish coach was delighted with the way his team bounced back. “We controlled the course of the match despite the pressure from Al-Ahli. The first goal gave us a little bit of a cushion and that was the key to winning.”

Al-Ahli’s star striker Omar Al-Somah was not happy with the performance of his team and in a post-match interview the Syrian admitted that the loss meant that the Jeddah club now had to focus on the AFC Champions League. Those sentiments are a little pessimistic with the team standing in third place, just six points behind Al-Shabab, but he was impressed with the victors. “Al-Shabab are playing good football and they deserved to win. They are a good team.”

The situation is looking encouraging for the leaders. On Sunday, Al-Shabab travel to Damac and will be confident of taking all three points from the team sitting next to bottom. Then come three clashes against top-half opposition, starting with Al-Qadisiya.

Perhaps the big test is next month’s trip to face Al-Ittihad. When the two teams last met in the semi-final of the Arab Club Championship in January, Al-Ittihad triumphed and cost Pedro Caixinho his job as Al-Shabab head coach, bringing Inarejos into the fray.

While Al-Shabab, champions in 2012, have moved up a gear under their new boss, the same can’t yet be said of Al-Hilal. The defending champions parted company with Razvan Lucescu — who also delivered the 2019 AFC Champions League — last week and replaced the Romanian with Brazilian Rogerio Micale. His first game was a 3-1 win over Al-Ettifaq but Al-Hilal’s legion of fans hate nothing more than losing to Al-Nassr and the South American was criticized for his substitutions that left his forwards without the necessary service to get the team back into the game.

“We made small mistakes and that cost us a goal,” said Al-Hilal defender Ali Al-Bulayhi. “We tried to change things in the second half but were not able to take our opportunities. We have to put this behind us and think about what comes next and the chance to make up for what happened tonight.”

The best chance may be on April 17 when Al-Hilal meet Al-Shabab. If the former are still in touching distance it will be a titanic tussle.

For Al-Shabab, the challenge now is staying focused amid rising expectations. “We are taking each game as it comes,” said Inarejos. “That is all we can do.”

Sharahili agrees. “It was important to bounce back and erase that negative feeling from last week’s defeat,” the goalscorer said. “But we have to keep working, winning and trying to expand our lead. This league is difficult and nothing has been decided yet.”