European soccer split as 12 clubs launch breakaway Super League

UEFA and English, Spanish and Italian football authorities announced on April 18, 2021, that any clubs who take part in a so-called European Super League would be banned from all other domestic and continental competitions. (AFP / Fabrice Coffrini)
UEFA and English, Spanish and Italian football authorities announced on April 18, 2021, that any clubs who take part in a so-called European Super League would be banned from all other domestic and continental competitions. (AFP / Fabrice Coffrini)
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Updated 02 May 2021

European soccer split as 12 clubs launch breakaway Super League

European soccer split as 12 clubs launch breakaway Super League
  • Real Madrid president Florentino Perez would be the founding chairman of the Super League
  • UEFA has threatened to bar from any competition clubs who join the breakaway league

LONDON: A group of 12 elite English, Spanish and Italian clubs dramatically split European soccer on Sunday by announcing the formation of a largely-closed Super League. They are leaving the existing UEFA-run Champions League structure despite warnings they could be kicked out of their domestic competitions and face legal action.
The seismic move to shake up the world’s biggest sport is partly engineered by the American owners of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United who also run US franchises in closed leagues — a model they are trying to replicate in Europe.
The power-play came after the rebel clubs reneged on a promise on Friday to back the plan by UEFA — European football’s governing body — to expand the Champions League beginning in 2024. The deal was designed to appease their wishes for more games, seemingly because they couldn’t control the sale of rights to the existing competition.
The Super League plan was first leaked in January but re-emerged this weekend.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez would be the founding chairman of the SL, which said it “intended to commence as soon as practicable” as a 20-team competition playing in midweek like the current Champions League and Europa League.
“We will help football at every level and take it to its rightful place in the world,” Perez said in a statement. “Football is the only global sport in the world with more than four billion fans and our responsibility as big clubs is to respond to their desires.”
No evidence was presented that supporters want a Super League. Fan groups across Europe last week criticized even the current Champions League expansion plan as a “power grab.”
Only 12 clubs have signed up for now — with none from France or Germany — but the SL hopes for three more as permanent members. Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are the other founding members, along with Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan. Five slots would be left open to be determined each year based on the previous season’s results.
UEFA warned clubs that joining the “cynical project” based on self-interest would see them banned from playing in any other competition — domestic, European or global. It said their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams.
The statement was issued jointly with the leagues and national governing bodies from England, Spain and Italy.
England has the most clubs with the six including Chelsea and Manchester City, who are due to contest a Champions League semifinals this month. Also included is Tottenham, which is outside of the Premier League’s top four to qualify for the Champions League next season,
“By bringing together the world’s greatest clubs and players to play each other throughout the season, the Super League will open a new chapter for European football, ensuring world-class competition and facilities, and increased financial support for the wider football pyramid,” said Joel Glazer, co-owner of Manchester United and SL vice chairman.

Another vice chairman of the new competition would be Andrea Agenlli who on Sunday night quit his role as chairman of the European Club Association, which was working with UEFA on enlarging the Champions League to 36 teams. Agenlli also resigned as a member of the executive committee of UEFA — rupturing his previously-close friendship with the governing body’s president, Aleksander Ceferin.

The UEFA leader has been determined not to grant more control of the sale of television and commercial rights to the clubs.
“We have come together at this critical moment,” Agnelli said, “enabling European competition to be transformed, putting the game we love on a sustainable footing for the long-term future, substantially increasing solidarity, and giving fans and amateur players a regular flow of headline fixtures.”
The rebel clubs are all members of the ECA which has a working agreement with UEFA, signed in 2019, which commits all its members to take part in and respect the Champions League and other European competitions through the 2023-24 season.
While FIFA issued a statement in January warning that players in a Super League could be banned from the World Cup, the world governing body has not denied that its president, Gianni Infantino, has been involved in the breakaway talks with officials, including Real Madrid’s Perez.
“FIFA can only express its disapproval to a ‘closed European breakaway league’ outside of the international football structures,” the world body said in a statement on Sunday while not answering questions about any role by Infantino.
The Premier League said the Super League would “undermine the appeal of the whole game” by going against the principles of open competition. There was even an intervention by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who warned that a Super League would be “very damaging.”
The Super League confirmed on Sunday that each of the 15 founding members would get a share of at least 3.5 billion euros ($4.2 billion) in initial infrastructure grants.
The AP previously reported that this money would be split among four tiers of clubs, with the top six each getting 350 million euros ($420 million). The competition would begin with two groups of 10 teams, with the top three from each group advancing to the quarterfinals. The teams finishing fourth and fifth would be involved in a playoff to complete the last-eight lineup. The knockout phase would still feature two-legged quarterfinals and semifinals before a single fixture final.
The previously-reported Super League proposal hoped to generate 4 billion euros ($4.86 billion) annually from broadcasters.
In comparison, UEFA said the total commercial revenue was 3.25 billion euros ($3.9 billion) for each of the past three seasons from selling the rights to the Champions League, Europa League and UEFA Super Cup.
For the 2021-24 sales cycle, UEFA is expected to sell around $14 billion in broadcast and sponsor deals for its club competitions, which includes the new third-tier Europa Conference League.
Those sales were completed worldwide on the legal commitment of top clubs to play according to the UEFA-ECA accord. Any breach of the cooperation deal would likely lead to legal threats and suits.
“We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening,” UEFA said of the Super League. “Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way.”

 


Yazeed Racing team without injured Michael Orr for Andalucia Rally

Yazeed Racing team without injured Michael Orr for Andalucia Rally
Updated 56 min 20 sec ago

Yazeed Racing team without injured Michael Orr for Andalucia Rally

Yazeed Racing team without injured Michael Orr for Andalucia Rally
  • Saudi star Yazeed Al-Rajhi returns fit from recent accident but Irish co-driver still recovering

DUBAI: Yazeed Racing team will be missing Irish co-driver Michael Orr at the Andalucia Rally in the opening round of the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.

Orr will not be fully fit to take part in the May 12 to 16 Spanish competition as he continues with physical therapy sessions following a crash in March.

Saudi rally driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Orr were involved in an accident in the second special stage of the Sharqiyah Baja event and both suffered minor neck injuries.

Orr said: “I’m really disappointed that I can’t participate in the Andalucia Rally. I was hoping to be ready to return quickly but my doctors have not given me the green light yet to jump into the car.

“I haven’t completely recovered, and I still have to complete my physiotherapy program. But I’m sure I will come back stronger than before.”

Al-Rajhi’s medical team gave him the go-ahead to return to racing after he made a complete recovery, and although Orr will miss the Spanish rally, he is expected to make Rally Kazakhstan in June.

The Yazeed Racing team pairing has achieved major results since participating in the World Rally Championship and several local and international events. The duo’s last win came at the Dubai International Baja two months ago.

“Yazeed and I made a fantastic start together this season when we won the Dubai International Baja, but unfortunately we had an accident in the Sharqiyah Baja.

“I am very happy that Yazeed has achieved a full recovery and that he will return to racing. I wish the team good luck and I’m sure they will fight to win the Andalucia Rally,” Orr added.

Al-Rajhi said: “I wish Michael a speedy recovery and return to the races as soon as possible. We were supposed to continue our journey together, but unfortunately he will not be able to participate with me in the Andalucia Rally because he is not ready to co-drive yet, but I expect him to return in the next rally.”


5 things to look out for ahead of potential title decider between Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab

5 things to look out for ahead of potential title decider between Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab
Updated 06 May 2021

5 things to look out for ahead of potential title decider between Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab

5 things to look out for ahead of potential title decider between Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab
  • Al-Hilal lead their Riyadh rival only on goal difference with five rounds of the Saudi Pro League left

LONDON: Friday sees the biggest match of the 2020-21 Saudi Pro League season so far.

With 25 games of the 30 played, the top two teams, level on points, meet when leaders Al-Hilal travel to the home of Riyadh rivals Al-Shabab.

Victory could prove decisive for either team though Al-Ittihad in third, two points behind and having played a game more, will be hoping for a draw.

Here are five things to look forward to ahead of the big clash. 

1. Al-Hilal’s new coach faces baptism of fire

There is no doubt that changing your coach in the days before a huge potential season-defining game is a gamble but that is what Al-Hilal have done.

Brazilian coach Rogerio Micale didn’t last long after failing to impress during his brief period, despite the team squeezing through the group stage of the AFC Champions League.

Coming in is Jose Morais, the former assistant to Jose Mourinho at Inter, Real Madrid, Porto and Chelsea.

The Portuguese boss knows about Al-Shabab as he led the team to the Super Cup back in 2015.

It is unlikely that such experience will help him on Friday as he has had little to no time to get to know his new players.

He was last seen winning the South Korean title last November with Jeonbuk Motors but there is more pressure in the Saudi Arabian capital than a provincial Korean city.

Al-Hilal fans will expect immediate success and starting a tenure with a big loss would be a major minus.

2. Which is better? Rest or rhythm

Al-Hilal last played in the Saudi Pro League on April 9, losing to another title rival in Al-Ittihad.

The next day, Al-Shabab were in action, winning 4-1 at Al-Batin.

In the four weeks since, Shabab have rested, leaving time for injuries to clear up and batteries to recharge.

In contrast, Al-Hilal have had six highly-charged competitive matches in the AFC Champions League.

With qualification to the second round uncertain to the final second of the final game, there was little opportunity to rest or rotate.

Not only that, but with a new coach coming in and keen to get to know his players, this week has been busier than expected too.

Al-Shabab will be fresh but have they lost their rhythm despite a friendly game with Al-Taawoun last Saturday?

Al-Hilal should have plenty of match sharpness but may run out of steam.

3. Injuries may play a part

It is not a surprise that Al-Hilal have lost a couple of key players due to injury.

Captain Salem Al-Dawsari was injured, returned briefly in the AFC Champions League and then quickly picked up a knock and the winger was out again.

Games coming thick and fast also run the risk of hamstring injuries.

That is what has reportedly happened to key center-back Jang Hyun-soo in training on Tuesday.

The South Korean does not make many headlines but he does not make many mistakes either.

His experience and cool head are appreciated by coaches as is his ability to play in midfield.

New coach Jose Morais has some thinking to do.

Meanwhile, Al Shabab are likely to be without captain Ahmed Sharahili in defense, a big loss for them too.

4. Argentina can make the difference

Asian football fans know that Al-Hilal’s French forward Bafetimbi Gomis is capable of contributing a goal even when he looks out of sorts.

Yet Al-Shabab have the Argentine duo of Ever Banega and Cristian Guanca in top form.

Banega is 32, but you don’t need pace when you sit behind the forward line, have the kind of close control that is rarely seen in football and have the skills to make things happen.

The former Inter and Sevilla star has excelled this season and if he can link up once again with the prolific Guanca — with 15 goals just three behind leading scorer Gomis — then Al-Shabab have what it takes to cause problems for the best defense in Saudi Arabia.

5. Don’t forget Al-Ittihad

Mohammed Noor knows a thing or two about Al-Ittihad lifting the league title, after all, the midfielder got his hands on the trophy seven times during an illustrious career at the club, the last of which came in 2009.

Noor said on social media this week that the 2021 title was going to the yellow and black side of Jeddah for the first time since then.

It is a bold claim with his former team two points behind with one game more played, Al-Ittihad need Friday’s clash to end in a draw to stay just three points off the pace.

A long shot then but possible with four games remaining.

The run-in looks relatively comfortable with three of those in the bottom half of the table and, like Shabab, Ittihad have been able to rest and regroup.

Whatever happens, fans of all clubs in Saudi Arabia should be tuning in and appreciative of what has been a fantastic title race.

These are never guaranteed and when they happen, should be appreciated.


Chelsea dominate Real Madrid to set up all-English Champions League final

Chelsea dominate Real Madrid to set up all-English Champions League final
Updated 06 May 2021

Chelsea dominate Real Madrid to set up all-English Champions League final

Chelsea dominate Real Madrid to set up all-English Champions League final

LONDON: Chelsea set up an all-English Champions League final against Manchester City as goals from Timo Werner and Mason Mount beat Real Madrid 2-0 in a dominant display on Wednesday to seal a 3-1 aggregate victory at Stamford Bridge.
If anything, the scoreline flattered Madrid as the 13-time European champions had no response to Chelsea's greater strength and speed.
The Blues should have ran out far more convincing winners as they toyed with the tired visitors in the second half.
However, Werner's cushioned header into an empty net on 28 minutes after Kai Havertz's initial effort came back off the crossbar and Mount's tap-in five minutes from time were enough to seal their place in Istanbul on May 29.
"To never lose the concentration, focus and positive energy on the pitch -- it was a huge performance and well deserved," said Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel, who has masterminded a huge turnaround in Chelsea's season since replacing the sacked Frank Lampard in January.
Backed by Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich, Chelsea's £220 million spending spree last summer has been rewarded with a first Champions League final since they lifted the trophy for the only time in 2012.
"We never lost the hunger, the desire to defend," added Tuchel. "In the second half we had even better structure to defend and it was a fantastic performance.
"We could have scored so much earlier and more to be safe, but it's no time for criticism now. It's a fantastic achievement and big congratulations to the team."
Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane welcomed back captain Sergio Ramos for the first time in six weeks, while Eden Hazard was handed a rare start in an injury-hit season on his return to Stamford Bridge.
But the Belgian was again a peripheral figure as Madrid's over-reliance on Karim Benzema to provide a goal threat was exposed.
"We needed to be better going forward," said Zidane. "We didn't have any clear chances. They made a number of them and that's football.
"We fought and tried but they deserved to win and go through."
Madrid's only serious threat came from a quick turn and shot from the edge of the box from Benzema that Edouard Mendy did brilliantly to turn behind midway through the first half.
Moments later they were behind as Werner scored just his fourth goal in his last 39 games.
N'Golo Kante and Havertz did the hard work as the French midfielder fed Havertz, whose audacious chip over Thibaut Courtois bounced invitingly off the crossbar for Werner to head into an empty net.
Chelsea have now kept 18 clean sheets in 24 games since the appointment of Tuchel turned their season around.
However, a failure to take their chances at the other end means they are still far from guaranteed a place in the Champions League next season.
That lack of a killer touch was exposed after the break as Havertz saw a free header come back off the bar before Mount blasted over with just Courtois to beat.
The former Chelsea 'keeper, who controversially forced a move back to Spain in the summer of 2018, kept his current employers in the tie as he then saved one-on-ones with Havertz and Kante, with the Blues' speed on the break too much for Madrid's ageing midfield to cope with.
Tuchel was growing increasingly frustrated with his side's inability to put the tie to bed, but could finally relax five minutes from time.
Substitute Christian Pulisic left Courtois on the floor and from his cut-back, Mount slid in to finish from close range.
Fired by Paris Saint-Germain on Christmas Eve after leading the French champions to their first ever final in this competition last season, Tuchel is headed back to the Champions League showpiece match for a second consecutive season, unlike his former club, who were beaten 4-1 on aggregate by City in the other semi-final.


Saudi superstar wrestler Mansoor signs with WWE RAW

The elevation to RAW, one of WWE’s most high-profile and popular brands, represents a huge milestone in the career of Mansoor. (WWE)
The elevation to RAW, one of WWE’s most high-profile and popular brands, represents a huge milestone in the career of Mansoor. (WWE)
Updated 05 May 2021

Saudi superstar wrestler Mansoor signs with WWE RAW

The elevation to RAW, one of WWE’s most high-profile and popular brands, represents a huge milestone in the career of Mansoor. (WWE)
  • Move will see wrestlers from Riyadh regularly take on WWE’s most experienced stars

RIYADH: Saudi superstar Mansoor has signed up to WWE’s (World Wrestling Entertainment) RAW brand in one of the biggest steps of his career.

The 25-year-old’s move was announced in a segment of this week’s show, with Mansoor going on to face Irishman Sheamus in his first official match as part of the RAW roster.

The elevation to RAW, one of WWE’s most high-profile and popular brands, represents a huge milestone in the career of Mansoor, who signed for world wrestling’s most famous organization in 2018 after impressing during a tryout event.

The highlight of his early WWE career was winning a 51-man Battle Royal during the Super ShowDown event in Jeddah in 2019, where he overcame some of WWE’s biggest stars in front of his friends and family who were in the crowd.

Mansoor also performed at two other live events in Saudi Arabia – Crown Jewel in 2019 and last year’s Super ShowDown – where he defeated Swiss wrestler Cesaro and American fighter Dolph Ziggler, respectively.

He has continued to catch the eye with a string of high-energy displays, performing consistently well on WWE shows such as 205 Live and Main Event and securing victories against the likes of Mexican, Angel Garza, and Drew Gulak from the US.

The move to RAW, a weekly show, will ensure Mansoor competes against some of WWE’s most experienced stars on a regular basis.

The RAW roster includes the likes of current WWE champion Bobby Lashley, from the US, Scotland’s Drew McIntyre, and Americans A.J. Styles, Braun Strowman, and Randy Orton.

What awaits Mansoor on RAW remains to be seen, but his journey promises to be an exciting one. For now, he will simply be delighted to have made the step up.


Al-Ahli’s new president promises fans a fresh start

Al-Ahli’s new president promises fans a fresh start
Updated 05 May 2021

Al-Ahli’s new president promises fans a fresh start

Al-Ahli’s new president promises fans a fresh start
  • Majed bin Ayed Al-Nefaie: We have many challenges ahead of us and we will surely achieve them
  • The Jeddah club is currently ninth in the Saudi Pro League table and last week exited the 2021 AFC Champions League at the group stage

JEDDAH: Al-Ahli’s newly elected president has promised fans a fresh start on and off the pitch after securing the position for a second time.

Majed bin Ayed Al-Nefaie, who was club president in 2018 for less than a year, convincingly beat Zyad Al-Yousef to the role. He also holds a golden membership on Al-Ahli’s general assembly.

Following his victory, Al-Nefaie said: “We have many challenges ahead of us and we will surely achieve them. Because of the desire of Al-Ahli fans who are close to myself, I am back.”

The election was called after former Al-Ahli president, Abdul-Ilah Muamina, and his board resigned in early April in the wake of a no-confidence vote by club members and angry fans over the team’s poor season and several humiliating defeats.

The Jeddah club is currently ninth in the Saudi Pro League table and last week exited the 2021 AFC Champions League at the group stage. Recent financial and administrative difficulties at the club led to the resignation of Muamina and the holding of a new election by the Ministry of Sports.

The returning president will hope to bring back stability to Al-Ahli on the pitch after such an inconsistent season and will also be seeking to reconnect with disgruntled supporters ahead of next season.

Fans took to social media to comment on Al-Nefaie’s election win, with many delighted at the news.

In a tweet, Abu Rayan, who calls himself The Royal Fan, said: “We trust Al-Nefaie and we hope he will return our team to its rightful position and lead the team to win more titles.”

Another supporter, Abdul Aziz Al-Aqeel, congratulated Al-Ahli fans and said that with such a strong president the club would soon be back among the titles.