Why not all football supporters in the Middle East are European Super League’s ‘fans of the future’

Why not all football supporters in the Middle East are European Super League’s ‘fans of the future’
The announcement has sparked anger around the globe. (AFP)
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Updated 20 April 2021

Why not all football supporters in the Middle East are European Super League’s ‘fans of the future’

Why not all football supporters in the Middle East are European Super League’s ‘fans of the future’
  • Outrage in football over proposed breakaway competition is not confined to match-going fans in Europe. Supporters tell their side of the story

DUBAI: The Sword of Damocles came crashing down. The Doomsday Clock struck midnight. And Twitter went into meltdown.

However you like your trite football metaphors served, there was little doubt the news that a European Super League is set to become a reality after years of less than veiled threats immediately relegated the pandemic, mass shootings and train crashes to minor news items.

Twelve founding clubs, plus three others to join. Five measly spots for qualifiers. A closed shop with no relegation or promotion. End of UEFA Champions League as we know it. Lots and lots of money. A full house in the ‘football is dead’ bingo.

The backlash was expected, immediate. ‘We’ll kick you out of all our competitions,’ UEFA, FIFA and their member Football Associations threatened. ‘We don’t need you and we don’t care,’ was presumably the reaction from the Bond villain-like club owners in their lairs.

The move will bring the 12 revolting clubs - Premier League’s “Big Six”, the two Milan clubs, Juventus, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid - in the region of $300 million for simply competing in the new competition. many believed it was a nuclear negotiating tactic with UEFA, while it’s been reported the owners are fully willing to wait out the bad PR and the anger of the supporters.

…Ah yes… the supporters, almost forgot about them.

The obvious conclusion to this development was that the owners of the world’s most iconic clubs don’t care about the fans that made their current play toys iconic in the first place.

Except that’s not quite accurate. They don’t care only about certain types of fans. So brazen is their contempt, they even gave them a name; “legacy fans.”

The truth is that, while so many fans voiced their fury on social media, Gary Neville brilliantly railed against the “joke” owners and Liverpool supporter groups demanded the removal of their banners from the Kop, millions are likely to shrug in apathy and fully embrace the new European Super League.

The European Super League is designed to cater for what its founders are calling “Fans of the future”.

This is where the waters get muddied. Exactly where is the line drawn between legacy fans and those of the future? Is it generational? Is it demographic?

There will be a temptation, as ever, to assume international audiences are the ones that will ensure the European Super League will always find an audience. For fans of the future some will read armchair fans. Purely in mathematical terms, that is true - match-going fans are a drop in the ocean compared to television audiences.

At the same time, it would be wrong to assume all - or even - most of the non-European supporters are so far removed that they will blindly welcome the idea.

Certainly, in the Middle East, and particularly in GCC countries, any attempt to neatly categorize fans will fail. However, it seems that everyone agrees that Super League, by taking on the US model of no relegation or promotion, will remove the element of jeopardy, of competitiveness from football.

Daniel Evans, a Dubai resident and life-long Tottenham supporter, feels let down by his club, who perhaps stand to gain more than other, recently more successful members of the cabal.

“I've supported the club for 27 years ever since the day my parents got in a fight and my mother bought me a Spurs shirt to annoy my Chelsea-supporting father,” he said.

“I've supported the club through the dire mid-table obscurity of the 90s and even a Champions League final. One trophy in 27 years of support never bothered me, the club meant more than winning. However, I will now be giving up my spot on the Spurs season ticket waiting list and don't intend to follow the club if the ESL goes ahead. I am not against the game needing to modernize and adapt but perhaps modernization like this just isn't for fans like me.”

“I know that football clubs are businesses who need to make profit to be able to compete but this should never be at the expense of fair competition,” Evans added.

“The ESL proposal, with its lack of relegation for founding clubs and hoarding of prize money, is completely anti-competition and allows the richest clubs in the games to solidify their positions, to the detriment of grass roots football.”

Tottenham’s legendary Double-winning captain Danny Blanchflower famously said: “The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”

Never have those words felt more anachronistic than over the last two days.

“Our club stands for more than this,” Evans said. “It stands for passion, exciting football, maybe not recently under Jose, but at least he’s gone now. Also, the club has always done great work with local non-footballing outreach projects but I also liked to think we did a good job within our wider footballing community.”

“The club has supported grass roots football, we’ve brought great English players through our youth academy, and we’ve never been a club who just go out and buy a team. Joining the ESL violates that, we’re abandoning the football community to fend for themselves whilst we go out and get even richer.”

Others feel that the issue is far from black and white, and that the traditional powers have long been getting away with abusing the game for years.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin called the plan a "spit in the face of football lovers”, and Zaid Al-Qaimi, a Liverpool supporter who lives in Abu Dhabi, says he’s amazed more people aren’t seeing through the victim act. And while acknowledging that the owners’ intentions are clearly driven by money, he believes the European Super League is no worse than the plans for a revamped Champions League that Ceferin is pushing.

“UEFA and FIFA are the ones killing the game, and have been diluting their products for years,” he said. “The Euros used to be brilliant with 16 teams, and then they made it 24. The next World Cup is 48 teams. The next Champions League revamp will have a hundred extra low-quality games.”

“The FIFA Club World Club Cup will be even worse with more clubs from all over the world. Let’s not forget the Nations League UEFA bought in. The Super League is the first new competition in years that actually increases quality.”

“The owners are doing it for money, but so have been UEFA and FIFA with more and more games,” Al-Qaimi added. “Yes, they need to solve the merit issue. But this is better than a 32 game Champions’ League group stage that will have endless meaningless games.”

Mohamed Shamseer, a Chelsea fan from Kerala, says he is well aware how much money has contributed to his own club’s success, but feels that heritage and any notion of competition are being eroded.

“We shouldn't allow businessmen to play games with people's passion. They are out to seek total control,” he said. “I know money has been heavily involved in football, but with the arrival of European Super League, it’s going to be only about money. Sporting merit will go down the drain if the founders’ clubs can’t get relegated. It’s also against one of the basic principles of any sport as there won't be any open competition.”

While Shamseer, who has lived in Dubai for 11 years, has never had the chance to visit Stamford Bridge, he does not consider himself less of supporter than match-going fans. The idea that being geographically distant from the club means you care less for the well-being of football is unfounded for him.

“As much as I love my club, I love the Premier League as well,” he said. “Whatever we are today, our rivals helped us get there. The European Super League will eventually kill the Premier League. The Big Six teams [if they stay] will field their academy kids to focus more on the big fat Super League. There wouldn't be another Leicester fairytale nor there wouldn't be any European dream left for the smaller clubs as well. It will take the charm out of everything. In simple words, football wouldn't be the same.

Dubai resident Neil Mitchel, founding chair of Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) is equally opposed to the European Super League plans, and would have been even had a much-speculated takeover turned his boyhood club into one of the richest in the world.

“As a lifelong Newcastle fan, a legacy fan as the new ESL would have us known, I have personally been through the highs and lows of supporting your team,” he said.

“I have been there through the Keegan ‘entertainers’ years. Seen us challenge for titles and get to finals only to suffer glorious defeats. I’ve seen us take on the best of Europe and win. Barcelona, Juventus, PSV and more have been taken down by my boys. I’ve also seen us relegated twice under the current ownership and the hard battle to regain our place in the top flight of England. In the game of football, it is simple. You are where you are based on sporting merit alone.”

Romance and competitiveness; without those two elements, football is just not the same.

“The league table does not lie. Each season is a level playing field,” Mitchel added. “Sporting merit is how the game should be settled. It should not be about how deep your pockets are. An ESL based on this is an insult to every fan who dreams. Every fan who longs to see their club rise on the basis of their effort alone. The ESL and their member clubs' collective greed will in my opinion be their undoing and its time the football family stood together and said enough is enough.”


Anti-Olympics campaign gains traction online in Japan

Anti-Olympics campaign gains traction online in Japan
Updated 07 May 2021

Anti-Olympics campaign gains traction online in Japan

Anti-Olympics campaign gains traction online in Japan
  • Opinion polls in Japan have found a majority of the public is opposed to the Games, which are due to open on July 23

TOKYO: An online petition calling for the Tokyo Olympics to be canceled has garnered almost 200,000 signatures in the past few days, as public concerns mount over holding the Games in a pandemic.
With less than three months to go before the start of the summer Olympics, already postponed for a year due to the coronavirus, questions still remain over how Tokyo can hold the global event and keep volunteers, athletes, officials and the Japanese public safe from COVID-19.
In two days since its launch, an online campaign https://www.change.org/p/cancel-the-tokyo-olympics-to-protect-our-lives-stoptokyoolympic called “Stop Tokyo Olympics” has gathered more than 187,000 signatures, nearing its 200,000 goal and underscoring public concerns over holding the massive sporting event in Japan’s capital.
Battling a fourth wave of the pandemic and struggling with a sluggish vaccination campaign, the Japanese government is seeking to extend states of emergency in Tokyo and three other areas until the end of May, the economy minister said on Friday.
Opinion polls in Japan have found a majority of the public is opposed to the Games, which are due to open on July 23.
“We strongly call for the prevention of spread of coronavirus and protection of lives and livelihood by using available resources to stop the Olympics,” Kenji Utsunomiya, the online petition organizer, wrote on his website. Utsunomiya is a lawyer who has run several times for Tokyo governor.
But, organizers have repeatedly said the Games will go ahead, unveiling detailed Covid-19 protocols for athletes and officials.
Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech SE said on Thursday they had agreed to donate their vaccine to help inoculate those participating in the Games.


Man City eye Premier League title in Champions League final curtain raiser

Man City eye Premier League title in Champions League final curtain raiser
Updated 07 May 2021

Man City eye Premier League title in Champions League final curtain raiser

Man City eye Premier League title in Champions League final curtain raiser
  • City can wrap up a fifth Premier League title in 10 years with victory
  • Chelsea’s transformation under Thomas Tuchel has taken them to a third Champions League final

LONDON: Manchester City and Chelsea will play off for the biggest prize in European club football later this month, but there is plenty on the line for both clubs when they meet in a prelude to the Champions League final on Saturday.
City can wrap up a fifth Premier League title in 10 years with victory, cementing their place as the dominant force in English football over the past decade since money began flowing in from Abu Dhabi to build a dynasty on the field.
Chelsea’s transformation under Thomas Tuchel has taken them to a third Champions League final since their own transformational takeover when Roman Abramovich bought the Blues in 2003.
However, the Blues are still paying for a slow start to the season under Frank Lampard with their place in next season’s Champions League far from guaranteed.
Tuchel’s men are fourth in the Premier League, three points clear of surprise top-four challengers West Ham.
But should City seal the title in style and lay down a marker for Istanbul, Tottenham and Liverpool are also not out of the running for the top four.
Chelsea ended City’s quest for a quadruple of trophies when they last met just three weeks ago in the FA Cup semifinals
However, that 1-0 win at Wembley was against a shadow City side as Pep Guardiola prioritized progressing in the Champions League.
A key to both clubs’ success has been their strength in depth and both managers could make several changes this weekend after the exertions of seeing off Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid in midweek.
A trip to City is only the start of a tough run in for Chelsea, who also face Arsenal and third-placed Leicester in their final four league games of the campaign, with another meeting against Leicester in the FA Cup final in between.
Gareth Bale gave Tottenham a taste of what they have been missing with the Wales forward on the bench for most of the campaign under Jose Mourinho, prior to the Portuguese coach’s sacking, as he scored his first Premier League hat-trick in a 4-0 demolition of already-relegated Sheffield United last weekend.
Victory for Spurs in Saturday’s early game at Leeds would take Ryan Mason’s men to within two points of Chelsea.
Liverpool are seven points off fourth, but have a game in hand after their clash at Manchester United was called off due to fan protests last weekend.
Last season’s title winners host struggling Southampton at Anfield on Saturday needing a win to keep their chances of Champions League football next season alive.
West Ham have arguably the easiest run in of the top-four contenders, which begins with the visit of Everton to the London Stadium on Sunday.
“It would be an incredible achievement,” said David Moyes, who succeeded in just keeping the Hammers up last season. “We’re not far away from the Champions League positions. We’ve got to keep believing.”
The battle to beat the drop is far less competitive and could be decided this weekend if Fulham and West Brom fail to win.
West Brom boss Sam Allardyce admitted his side need a “magic miracle and some fairy dust” to avoid the drop as they are 10 points adrift of safety with just 12 left to play for.
Allardyce has never previously been relegated from the Premier League in spells with Bolton, Newcastle, Blackburn, West Ham, Crystal Palace, Sunderland and Everton, but the great escape has been beyond him at the Baggies.
West Brom’s fate could be sealed at Arsenal on Sunday, while Fulham host Burnley on Monday.

Fixtures (all times GMT):
Friday: Leicester v Newcastle (1900)
Saturday: Leeds v Tottenham (1130), Sheffield United v Crystal Palace (1400), Manchester City v Chelsea (1630), Liverpool v Southampton (1915)
Sunday: Wolves v Brighton (1100), Aston Villa v Manchester United (1305), West Ham v Everton (1530), Arsenal v West Brom (1800)
Monday: Fulham v Burnley (1900)


Saudi wrestling favorite Mansoor convinces fellow WWE stars to pick a winner in SPL title race

Saudi wrestling superstar Mansoor has used his first appearance on the WWE RAW show to educate some of his fellow wrestlers about the Saudi Pro League. (WWE)
Saudi wrestling superstar Mansoor has used his first appearance on the WWE RAW show to educate some of his fellow wrestlers about the Saudi Pro League. (WWE)
Updated 06 May 2021

Saudi wrestling favorite Mansoor convinces fellow WWE stars to pick a winner in SPL title race

Saudi wrestling superstar Mansoor has used his first appearance on the WWE RAW show to educate some of his fellow wrestlers about the Saudi Pro League. (WWE)
  • Al-Hilal, Al-Shabab and Al-Ittihad are separated by only two points with five rounds of the Saudi league remaining

RIYADH: Having signed to WWE’s RAW brand earlier this week, Saudi superstar Mansoor has used his first appearance on the show to educate some of his fellow wrestlers about the Saudi Pro League as it enters its last five rounds.

With little between the three teams at the top of the table — Al-Hilal, Al-Shabab and Al-Ittihad  — it is all still to play for going into the final stages of the season.

Al-Hilal currently lead the table on goal diffrence from Al-Shabab, and the two will meet on Friday in a potential title-deciding clash, while Al-Ittihad are further two points behind.

Mansoor took the opportunity to assign each club to three of his football-loving colleagues, and here is out how it played out.

First, Mansoor talks Glasgow’s Rangers fan Drew McIntyre into backing Al-Ittihad’s quest for a late championship charge

 

Here, Mansoor sells Riyadh favorites and reigning champions Al-Hilal to Liverpool-supporting Seamus ahead of crucial SPL match-up against Al-Shabab

 

Mansoor convinces Angel Garza to support second-placed Al-Shabab as they make one last bid to win the Saudi Pro League

 


Yazeed Racing team without injured Michael Orr for Andalucia Rally

Yazeed Racing team without injured Michael Orr for Andalucia Rally
Updated 06 May 2021

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.