City star Foden on course to reach status of Mbappe, Haaland

The Manchester City team celebrate after scoring the 1-2 goal during their UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg football match with BVB Borussia Dortmund in Germany on April 14, 2021. (AFP / POOL / WOLFGANG RATTAY)
The Manchester City team celebrate after scoring the 1-2 goal during their UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg football match with BVB Borussia Dortmund in Germany on April 14, 2021. (AFP / POOL / WOLFGANG RATTAY)
Short Url
Updated 16 April 2021

City star Foden on course to reach status of Mbappe, Haaland

City star Foden on course to reach status of Mbappe, Haaland
  • Foden was widely expected to eventually fill the shoes of now-departed midfield playmaker David Silva at City

LONDON: Phil Foden had just finished his latest post-match chat with Erling Haaland when a message from the Manchester City forward’s Twitter account made its way to another of the world’s top soccer players.

“Are you ready,” read the post to Kylian Mbappe, alongside a handshake emoji.

Ignoring who actually sent the tweet — it has since been deleted, suggesting Foden might not have been behind the brazen calling-out of Mbappe — it is a sign of the lofty circles this outstanding English talent is currently mixing in.

Away from social media, Foden is letting his feet do the talking. With winning goals in both legs, the 20-year-old nicknamed the “Stockport Iniesta” — after a town near Manchester where he was born and the former Spain and Barcelona midfielder — was the difference-maker as City beat Haaland’s Borussia Dortmund to reach the Champions League semifinals for only the second time.

Next up: Mbappe’s Paris Saint-Germain, pitching together the only two players to have scored in both legs of a Champions League quarterfinal when under the age of 21. Mbappe did so also against Dortmund, when playing for Monaco in the 2016-17 season, and has gone on to become one of the world’s best players.

Foden appears to be on that path.

“We knew it from the beginning and how he grew up,” said City manager Pep Guardiola, who described Foden’s talent as “unique” after inviting the then-17-year-old player to train with City’s senior squad for the first time in 2016.

City are reaping the rewards of Guardiola’s careful nurturing of Foden over the last few years. Many criticized the Spanish coach’s reluctance to play Foden more — he had a total of 36 appearances in all competitions in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons combined — but Guardiola repeatedly said his time would come and that Foden still needed to learn his trade.

That time is now, in big matches in the Premier League and now on the grandest stage of all in club soccer: the Champions League.

He is sure, too, to play a big role for England at this summer’s European Championship, having seemingly established himself in the preferred front three of his national team.

Foden was widely expected to eventually fill the shoes of now-departed midfield playmaker David Silva at City — they have similar characteristics with their touch, technical qualities, low center of gravity and left-footedness — but it appears his future lies closer to goal, in a wide-forward role.

At least in the opinion of Guardiola, who shared a warm embrace with Foden after his 75th-minute goal that sealed City’s 2-1 win on Wednesday, and a 4-2 victory on aggregate.

Guardiola described Foden as “dynamic offensively” and someone who “always creates something” but, tellingly, added that his all-round game had matured.

“He is learning right now not to take just one touch. He is able to make more touches when making decisions,” said Guardiola, one of the deeper thinkers about the game.

“In the quarterfinal of the Champions League, he was the important player to go through.”

With Foden flourishing, he is somehow managing to cover the offseason departures of both Silva and Leroy Sane, a mercurial winger who City decided to sell to Bayern Munich.

Silva will forever hold a special place in the hearts of City fans — to many, he is the club’s greatest player. But Foden’s development along with the prolific scoring this season of Ilkay Gundogan, who has assumed Silva’s attacking-midfield role, has ensured Silva hasn’t really been missed.


Meet Mitt Queen Ann Hajjar, the boxing coach athletes and celebrities want to work with

Meet Mitt Queen Ann Hajjar, the boxing coach athletes and celebrities want to work with
Updated 47 sec ago

Meet Mitt Queen Ann Hajjar, the boxing coach athletes and celebrities want to work with

Meet Mitt Queen Ann Hajjar, the boxing coach athletes and celebrities want to work with
  • The first generation American of Iraqi parents shot to worldwide fame thanks to viral Instagram videos during the pandemic

Ann Hajjar has fast hands.

So fast she can keep up with boxers twice her size. Boxers who, over the last few years, have lined up to work with her.

Hajjar is the Mitt Queen, a coach at Bomber Squad Boxing Academy in her native San Diego. Thanks to an Instagram account (@mittqueen) that has almost 610,000 followers, she has become an online sensation.

She is in Dubai as the coach of Josh Bridges, who on Saturday night will fight on the undercard at the MTK Global boxing CoreSports Fight Night 3 at Sport Society, where the main event sees Hafthor Bjornsson, The Mountain from “Games of Thrones,” take on Devon Larratt in an all-Strongman battle.

Bridges is a CrossFit athlete and the 32-year-old Hajjar has overseen every step of his boxing journey.

But becoming a boxing coach happened to her by accident after she joined her brother, an MMA fighter, for training sessions when she was 20.

It turned out she had a gift few others could match.

“When I did take my first MMA class because of my brother, all our classes in San Diego had mitts included, a lot of gyms don’t have that,” Hajjar told Arab News. “And everyone always wanted to be my partner because I was good at holding the mitts, and in reality it’s not that easy to hold mitts. Eventually I became the one everybody wanted to partner up with, and then year and years went by and I just got better at it.”

Though she had been a trainer for almost a decade, it was only during the last two years that Hajjar’s profile skyrocketed, thanks to a video on Instagram.

“When the pandemic first hit in the US, I decided to post my first video of me holding mitts and just messing around, because I knew everybody was on their phones at the time looking at Instagram,” she said. “And then my first video went viral, about 100,000 views, and I kept posting and posting and posting until one of my videos hit over 18 million views.”

Hajjar is a first-generation American, born and raised in San Diego to parents from Baghdad. Her Instagram account proudly bears the Iraqi flag.

“The thing is, it’s not only me, but my fighters also are very quick, or very big, so seeing a female holding the mitts behind it is really what intrigued everyone to want to follow me and watch what I was doing because there’s not that many females who can hold for someone so quick or someone so huge, double my size,” she added.

Hajjar, aka the Mitt Queen, has become a boxing coach for athletes and celebrities in her native San Diego. (RBO)

“In reality, I have to thank Instagram, because it’s what really got me out there and everyone saw what I was doing.”

Soon celebrities started seeking her out, as did leading athletes in other sports. Her profile grew organically, she said.

“Honestly, it was one word after the other and they or their managers would contact me through Instagram,” said Hajjar. “And because boxing cardio is great for all athletes, a lot of them on their off season like to box. It helps them with their footwork in their sport.”

Is Hajjar ever tempted to swap the mitts for gloves and get in the ring?

“Honestly for me, at the age I’m at, the answer is no,” she said. “In the past I did think about it, I did spar all the time, but the older I’m getting I’m realizing coaching is the way for me, I love to teach, to watch people grow from the beginning."

The pride she gets is from seeing her fighters succeed, and from their appreciation of the role she plays in their preparation.

“There are moments for me that I can’t believe are true, like when Ryan Garcia calls me to hold mitts for him. Anderson Silva called me to tell me he won his fight,” Hajjar said. “These guys, I sat behind the TV set and watched them fight, and that now they are calling me is unreal to me.”

Hajjar was holding a training session at Real Boxing Only gym in Dubai’s Al-Quoz, but she has also had time to enjoy the sights, which were more familiar than she expected.

“It’s like Las Vegas for me, I feel like I’m at home, to be honest,” she said. “I went to the sand dunes and that was wild, I was scared out of my mind. I was in that car holding on for dear life. But culture and everything is very Americanized. Seeing everything in English and Arabic, I’m like ok, I know what I’m doing here. I feel very comfortable here.”

On Saturday night, Hajjar will be ringside at Sport Society cheering on Bridges when he takes on fellow American Jacob Heppner in a bout between two CrossFit athletes.

“What people don’t know is that Josh started with me from day one, when he threw his first punch and didn’t even know what a jab was,” she said. “To see all the pieces of the puzzle come together, that’s what I’m really excited about. And I want to prove to the world that, yes, I can start someone from day one, not knowing how to punch, and turn them into that fighter.”


Saudi Arabia to host world’s top handball teams at IHF 2021 Super Globe

Saudi Arabia to host world’s top handball teams at IHF 2021 Super Globe
Updated 18 September 2021

Saudi Arabia to host world’s top handball teams at IHF 2021 Super Globe

Saudi Arabia to host world’s top handball teams at IHF 2021 Super Globe
  • Tournament organized by Saudi Handball Federation will take place in Jeddah on Oct. 5-9

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Sports has announced that Jeddah will host the 2021 International Handball Federation Super Globe from Oct. 5 to 9.

It will be the second time in a row that the tournament, held in coordination with the Saudi Handball Federation and part of the Quality of Life Program, has been staged in the Kingdom.

Ten clubs from different countries will participate in the competition taking place at King Abdullah Sports City, with the Al-Noor and Al-Wehda teams representing the Kingdom.

They will be joined by Asian champions Al-Duhail of Qatar; European champions Aalborg of Denmark; Oceania champions the University of Sydney; San Francisco CalHeat, champions of North America and the Caribbean; Brazil’s Pineros, champions of South and Central America; African champions Zamalek of Egypt; reigning champions of the competition Barcelona; and German team Magdeburg, participating at the invitation of the IHF.

Saudi Minister of Sport and chairman of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, said: “We are happy once again to host the largest handball club championships, and with the participation of the continental champions for the second time in a row, which is an extension of the championships and events hosted by our country.”

Dammam hosted the previous edition of the tournament in 2019, after the Kingdom won the hosting rights for four consecutive editions from that year.


Riyadh Season announce Paris Saint-Germain’s participation in Riyadh Season Cup

Riyadh Season announce Paris Saint-Germain’s participation in Riyadh Season Cup
Updated 17 September 2021

Riyadh Season announce Paris Saint-Germain’s participation in Riyadh Season Cup

Riyadh Season announce Paris Saint-Germain’s participation in Riyadh Season Cup
  • Riyadh hosts one of the biggest global festivals featuring over 500 events across Saudi Arabia’s capital
  • The match will be held during the third week of January of 2022

RIYADH: Riyadh Season has announced that Paris Saint-Germain’s (PSG) will participate in the Riyadh Season Cup in January 2022.

A one-match tournament will feature PSG prestigious roster play the stars of Al Hilal SFC and Al Nassr FC, the region’s two biggest clubs as a part of a series of amazing events planned for Riyadh Season.

PSG will come to Riyadh during the most-awaited Riyadh Season, which attracted more than 10 million visitors in during its first edition in 2019.

The match will be one of the top and most exciting events of Riyadh Season and held during in the third week of January of 2022.

Paris Saint-Germain is one of the most glamorous football clubs in the world today with its splendid list of superstars. PSG is the first French football club ever to play in Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh Season returns this fall as one of the biggest global entertainment festivals spread across 5.4 millions sqm in the Saudi capital with 14 different zones featuring a diverse selection of different events and experiences from October 2021 to March 2022 attracting visitors from across the globe.


Guardiola defends his plea for ‘more fans’ at Man City game

Guardiola defends his plea for ‘more fans’ at Man City game
Updated 17 September 2021

Guardiola defends his plea for ‘more fans’ at Man City game

Guardiola defends his plea for ‘more fans’ at Man City game
  • A clash has broken out between City’s esteemed manager and a section of the team’s followers after Guardiola’s plea for “more people” to attend City’s Premier League home match against Southampton
  • The attendance against Leipzig was 38,062 and the Etihad’s capacity is about 55,000

MANCHESTER: For Pep Guardiola, it was a rallying cry ahead of what he expects to be a tough game.
For some Manchester City supporters, it was an ill-timed comment that questioned the loyalty of the club’s fan base.
A clash has broken out between City’s esteemed manager and a section of the team’s followers after Guardiola’s plea for “more people” to attend City’s Premier League home match against Southampton on Saturday — three days after a hard-fought 6-3 win over Leipzig in the Champions League at Etihad Stadium.
The attendance against Leipzig was 38,062. The Etihad’s capacity is about 55,000.
One of the people unhappy with Guardiola’s remarks was Kevin Parker, general secretary of City’s official supporters’ club, who accused the Spaniard of failing to understand the difficulties of attending games on a midweek evening and playing into the hands of opposition teams’ fans who often taunt City for not having capacity crowds at some matches.
“He’s absolutely the best coach in the world but, in the nicest possible way, I think maybe he should stick to that,” said Parker, who described Guardiola’s comments were “disappointing and uncalled for.”
Guardiola responded to Parker on Friday in a news conference ahead of the Southampton game, saying he would “definitely not” be apologizing for his comments and that there had been a “misunderstanding.”
“Don’t misunderstand or put words in my mouth that I didn’t say,” Guardiola said. “That’s what I don’t like. I never will be a problem for my fans. If I am a problem for my fans, I will step aside. Not a problem for me.”
Guardiola said he had seen his players look “exhausted” in the locker room after the end-to-end game against Leipzig and quickly realized they would need fans to get behind them against Southampton, given the quick turnaround of the games and Southampton’s pressing game and energetic style.
“When you play in the Champion League, it’s so demanding on your physicality, and mentally, when they (Southampton) have a long week to prepare the game,” Guardiola said. “So that’s why we need to be all together — the players, the supporters, everyone, to help us to do our best. I know exactly our fans will be there tomorrow to support, and hopefully Mr. Parker can come to watch us.
“Mr. Parker,” Guardiola added, should “review his comments.”
City has struggled to fill the Etihad for some home games in the Champions League, especially in the first one of each season’s group stage. It has led to some rivals fans using the nickname “the Emptyhad.”
There are some reasons given for the lower European attendances — some fans’ disaffection with the tournament organizer, UEFA, for what they perceive as unfair sanctions handed to, or affecting, City in the Champions League; City being involved in games in so many competitions that fans pick and choose matches; the pandemic affecting fans’ finances; a digital ticketing system that doesn’t allow fans to transfer tickets to others if they can’t attend a midweek game.
The fan bases of City’s main rivals in English soccer, including Manchester United and Liverpool, are far bigger globally.
“We are who we are. We are proud of who we are,” Guardiola said. “I know the history, I learned about the history of this club when it was in the lower division, and what it means to travel and follow the team. I respect it a lot.”
City has had near-capacity crowds for its first two home matches of the Premier League season — 5-0 wins over Norwich and Arsenal.


Juventus reports 210 million euros in losses amid pandemic

Juventus reports 210 million euros in losses amid pandemic
Updated 17 September 2021

Juventus reports 210 million euros in losses amid pandemic

Juventus reports 210 million euros in losses amid pandemic
  • Revenue from player registration rights (transfer market) dropped 129 million euros from 2019-20
  • Ticket sales fell more than 41 million euros from the year before

TURIN, Italy: Juventus reported a loss of 210 million euros ($250 million) for the 2020-21 financial year on Friday, attributed mainly to the pandemic’s effect on the transfer market and ticket sales.
Revenue from player registration rights (transfer market) dropped 129 million euros (more than $150 million) from 2019-20, while ticket sales fell more than 41 million euros ($48 million) from the year before.
While the drops were offset in part by a rise in TV rights income, overall losses were still more than twice as much as in 2019-20.
Meanwhile, Juventus said it was still clinging to the European Super League project promoted by club president Andrea Agnelli, despite the quick collapse of the plan unveiled in April when nine of the 12 teams involved withdrew after a public backlash.
“As at today, it is not possible to predict with certainty the outcome and future development of the Super League project, of the legitimacy of which Juventus remains confident,” the team said.
Juventus’ legal case with fellow Super League rebels Real Madrid and Barcelona challenging what they say is UEFA’s monopoly control of competitions is with the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. A deadline for submissions to the court is next month.