Al-Jazira’s winning recipe of sustainable success a lesson for other clubs in region

Al-Jazira’s winning recipe of sustainable success a lesson for other clubs in region
The Abu Dhabi side won the Arabian Gulf League with a policy of promoting young players instead of big-money signings. (Internet)
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Updated 13 May 2021

Al-Jazira’s winning recipe of sustainable success a lesson for other clubs in region

Al-Jazira’s winning recipe of sustainable success a lesson for other clubs in region
  • The Abu Dhabi side won the Arabian Gulf League with a policy of promoting young players instead of big-money signings

DUBAI: When Al-Jazira announced the signing of the UAE’s most high-profile player Omar Abdulrahman in August of 2019, all talk within the Arabian Gulf League fan bases was of the capital club spending their way to glory.

After all, Al-Jazira were unveiling a player who just three years earlier had been crowned Asia’s best and linked to European moves summer after summer. Lined up alongside him was another stellar signing, albeit less flashy; fellow UAE international midfielder Amer Abdulrahman.

The two would be joining a star-studded squad including the nation’s all-time top scorer Ali Mabkhout, Brazilian winger Kenno and South African international midfielder Thulani Serero.

The arrival of big-name signings was a familiar sight at a club that had over the previous 20 years been home to the likes of George Weah, Phillip Cocu, Mirko Vucinic and Ricardo Oliveira.

Twenty-one months, a global pandemic and a canceled season later, the title did indeed arrive to the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, but Al-Jazira’s path to glory could not have been any different to the expectations of two years earlier.

For starters, both Abdulrahmans have left the club. After failing to establish himself at Al-Jazira, Amer headed to Bani Yas, where he rediscovered his best form, becoming a key cog in a side that pushed his former employers until the last day of a two-horse title race. Omar fared slightly better at Al-Jazira, but a succession of injuries led to his contract termination and he went on to join Shabab Al-Ahli where he is yet to make an appearance in four months.

On the title-deciding night, it was another Omar who stole the headlines with a brace against Khorfakkan. The difference between the two Omars embodied the change of direction over the past 24 months, which culminated with a third league title for the Pride of Abu Dhabi. Omar Traore was scouted and recruited from Stade Malien aged 18. The little-known prospect from West Africa was registered under the “resident player” category, which allows Emirati clubs to register foreign players under the age of 20 outside the standard four-player quota applicable in domestic competitions.

Traore’s Man of the Match performance was just part of a bigger picture as Al-Jazira reaped the rewards of a strategy that saw them switch focus to youth and intelligent recruitment. Of the 11 players who started against Khorfakkan on Tuesday, four were under the age of 23. In fact, Al-Jazira were able to win the league with the youngest squad average age in the entire competition at just 25.2, including nine players under 23 in their squad.

Champions in 2010-11 and 2016-17, this latest Arabian Gulf League success will feel special for many Al-Jazira faithful, with six academy graduates at the core of it. Defenders Mohammed Al-Attas and Khalifa Al-Hammadi have played side by side since the age of 11 and both made their debuts as 17-year-olds. The pair became inseparable, earning their international call-ups and establishing themselves as mainstays for club and country before turning 24.

Then there is Abdullah Ramadan. Born in the UAE to Egyptian parents, the mercurial midfielder shone at every level. After being granted citizenship, he was called up to the national team and excelled for the UAE in the 2020 AFC U23 Championship as the young Whites reached the quarter-finals. That January in Thailand, it was a fellow Al-Jazira academy product who walked away with the Golden Boot; Zayed Al-Ameri has been hailed as the heir to Mabkhout’s throne as the club’s future goal machine.

This shift of direction and subsequent success at Al-Jazira was no coincidence. Sporting Director Mads Davidsen was recruited from Chinese side Shanghai SIPG last year. Earlier this season, he outlined the club’s vision.

“We have described our style of play as a club, that will never change. Even if the coach does change, the style of play, the football philosophy will never change. That is the core of our strategy,” said the Dane.

“A club-defined style of play, club-defined methodology, club-defined recruitment strategy. We look at recruitment differently. We look internally first where most people look externally. Every time you buy a player, it delays someone’s development.”

With the playing style clearly defined, Dutch tactician Marcel Keizer was brought back for a second spell at the club after winning a domestic double with Sporting Lisbon. The 52-year-old built on a legacy of Dutch success at the club, becoming the second Dutchman to win the league title at Al-Jazira after Ten Cate in 2016-17.

The margins might have been fine at the end, with Al-Jazira ending the season just three points ahead of their nearest chasers Bani Yas. But in proving their sustainable success philosophy can deliver results, the Pride of Abu Dhabi have shown other clubs the way forward in a region where short-termism and spending on star names is often perceived as the only sure way to success.


Kane struggles as England held 0-0 by Scotland at Euro 2020

Kane struggles as England held 0-0 by Scotland at Euro 2020
Updated 19 June 2021

Kane struggles as England held 0-0 by Scotland at Euro 2020

Kane struggles as England held 0-0 by Scotland at Euro 2020

LONDON: Not even with the Premier League’s top scorer could England find a way past Scotland.
Maybe Harry Kane was as much as the problem as the solution.
On his good days, Kane is one of the game’s ultimate goal threats for both Tottenham and England. But the sluggish striker never came close to scoring in the 0-0 draw between the two teams Friday at the European Championship.
The England captain barely even touched the ball, and yet coach Gareth Southgate persisted with him for 74 draining minutes at Wembley Stadium in his 60th game this season for his club and his country.
“It was a tough game,” Kane said. “Scotland defended really well, made great blocks at the right times when we did have chances.”
England defender John Stones had one of those chances when hit the post with a header in the 11th minute, and Mason Mount had another when his shot was deflected wide at the start of the second half.
Scotland’s best opportunity to get the winning goal came when forward Lyndon Dykes had a shot cleared off the line by defender Reece James in the 63rd.
“We have got to look at the whole performance, the use of the ball and review where we can be better,” Southgate said. “So it’s not just about one person. Scotland, I thought, marked him extremely well. With the back five there wasn’t a lot of space.”
There was a shot from Kane in the 59th, but it was tame and was blocked by the defense.
Kane looked as exhausted as England looked devoid of ideas against the dogged and well-marshalled Scots, who lost their Group D opener to the Czech Republic but still have a chance to advance to the round of 16.
“I thought we were unfairly criticized after the game on Monday,” Scotland coach Steve Clarke said. “We worked ever so hard when England had the ball but the great thing is we played when we had the ball and had some chances.”
The English will advance as group winners with a victory on Tuesday against the Czech Republic, which also has four points from two games. Scotland and Croatia, who also meet on Tuesday, have one point each.
The heatwave in London when England opened Euro 2020 by beating Croatia was replaced by a chilly downpour for the 115th meeting with Scotland — and a first 0-0 draw between the neighbors at Wembley.
What also changed from Sunday was the stadium speakers blaring out the Euro 2020 official song, “We Are the People,” to drown out the smattering of boos that again greeted players taking a knee in their anti-racism gesture before kickoff.
For the renewal of soccer’s oldest rivalry there was something of a throwback with Scotland playing two strikers: Dykes and Che Adams.
England’s only changes from the 1-0 win over Croatia were in defense with Kieran Trippier dropped and Kyle Walker not even making the bench. Southgate decided to bring back a specialist left back in Luke Shaw, with James on the right for the technical ability and to rotate the squad.
The back line allowed the opposition far more space, and Stephen O’Donnell found a way through to force a one-handed save from England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the 30th minute.
“At times we kept the ball superbly well and frustrated them,” Scotland captain Andrew Robertson said, “and on another night we could have come away with more.”
The pandemic-restricted crowd of 22,000, most of them England fans, roared when Jack Grealish was shown on the big screens on the England bench. The clamor was for an injection of his creativity.
Grealish came on for Phil Foden in 63rd, but Scotland wouldn’t buckle. And by the time Southgate made his second and final change — despite being able to make five — Marcus Rashford lacked the time to make an impact as Kane’s replacement.
“We needed a few more runs behind,” Southgate said. “I felt Marcus would give us that energy and had to try to get the win at that point.”
The goal never came, with England managing only one shot on target. No wonder the fourth-ranked team was booed off by its own fans after being held by a team 40 places lower in the FIFA rankings.
“I totally understand their reaction,” Southgate said. “We are expected to beat Scotland. They will be frustrated by that.”


Sweden beat Slovakia 1-0, close in on last 16 at Euro 2020

Sweden beat Slovakia 1-0, close in on last 16 at Euro 2020
Updated 19 June 2021

Sweden beat Slovakia 1-0, close in on last 16 at Euro 2020

Sweden beat Slovakia 1-0, close in on last 16 at Euro 2020
  • Sweden have four points in Group E, and that could be enough to advance to the round of 16

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia: It always felt like a set piece would settle a tough-to-watch European Championship match between Sweden and Slovakia, and Emil Forsberg duly delivered.

The Sweden midfielder converted a 77th-minute penalty Friday to give his team a 1-0 victory at Saint Petersburg Stadium, putting the Swedes on the brink of the knockout stage.

Slovakia goalkeeper Martin Dubravka brought down substitute Robin Quaison as the striker ran in on goal from Alexander Isak’s deft flick. Dubravka dived the correct way on Forsberg’s penalty but couldn’t keep it out.

Sweden have four points in Group E, and that could be enough to advance to the round of 16. Slovakia has three points after opening with a 2-1 victory over Poland.

There was only one shot on target in the first half and the referee blew the whistle for halftime without any stoppage time.

Sweden, perhaps having sized up Slovakia’s limited threat, exerted more pressure in the second half and left back Ludwig Augustinsson’s header forced Dubravka to make a flying, one-handed save.

Isak, Sweden’s most dangerous attacker, grew into the game. After heading just over, he embarked on a mazy dribble to the left and then back inside before his powerful shot was turned away by Dubravka.

The goalkeeper spoiled his performance by coming off his line too slowly to challenge Quaison, who went down under the slightest contact.

Forsberg, quiet up to the that point, made no mistake with the best chance of the match.

 

Scoring becomes key as Spain and Poland clash

Spain and Poland will have a common challenge when they meet Saturday at the European Championship.

Spain created chance after chance against Sweden but was still held to a 0-0 draw in their opening match at Euro 2020. Poland lost to Slovakia 2-1 as Robert Lewandowski was held scoreless in yet another lackluster performance at a major soccer tournament.

The focus on Spain at La Cartuja Stadium will be on Álvaro Morata, the striker singled out by fans and Spanish media for his misses against Sweden. He had also been ineffective in Spain’s warm-up match against Portugal, which also ended in a scoreless draw.

Spain coach Luis Enrique said Friday he will keep Morata in the team despite all the criticism.

“I’ll tell Álvaro to keep being himself, to keep contributing with what he contributes in attack and with what he contributes in defense,” Luis Enrique said in Madrid. “Tomorrow (Saturday) we start with Morata and 10 more.”

Luis Enrique’s other choices in attack include Dani Olmo and Ferran Torres, who started alongside Morata against Sweden, and Gerard Moreno, Mikel Oyarzabal, Adama Traoré and Pablo Sarabia.

“We have some players with a lot of quality in attack,” Sarabia said. “It’s up to our coach to decide who will play. I’ve been working hard every day to earn minutes, whether it’s as a starter or coming off the bench. I’m staying very motivated and keeping the desire to help the team reach our common goal, which is to win on Saturday.”

Spain got some good news on Friday with the return of captain Sergio Busquets, who rejoined the squad after a period of isolation following a positive test result for the coronavirus.

Luis Enrique said Busquets showed no symptoms of the virus while in isolation and was able to practice at home. He said the veteran midfielder, the only player left from Spain’s World Cup-winning squad in 2010, is in condition to play on Saturday.

“He was away but it was as if he had been here,” Luis Enrique said. “You can tell that he is our captain.”

Poland’s path to victory will likely have to go through Lewandowski, who hasn’t fared well with his national team at major tournaments despite undisputed success throughout his career at club level. He is coming off a record-breaking season with Bayern Munich, but again failed to impress with Poland in the opener against Slovakia. He has only two goals in 12 matches with the national team at either a World Cup or a European Championship.

“We spoke about (the) game against Slovakia. Every player said what he should have done better. We don’t want to come back to this,” Poland defender Jan Bednarek said. “The matter is closed. We won’t have a game like that again. I am sure about that.”


Neymar scores again to edge closer to Pele’s Brazil record

Neymar scores again to edge closer to Pele’s Brazil record
Updated 19 June 2021

Neymar scores again to edge closer to Pele’s Brazil record

Neymar scores again to edge closer to Pele’s Brazil record
  • Neymar reached the 68 goals mark in 107 games, nine behind Pele, who scored 77 goals in 92 games

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil: Neymar scored his 68th goal for Brazil in the 4-0 victory over Peru on Thursday and with it surpassed former Real Madrid and Internazionale striker Ronaldo as Brazil’s second top goalscorer behind Pele.

Neymar reached the 68 goals mark in 107 games after scoring the second in the Copa America clash in Rio de Janeiro.

He is now just nine behind Pele, who scored 77 goals in 92 games.

“It’s obviously a great honor for me to be part of the Brazil team’s history,” a tearful Neymar said.

“To be completely honest, my dream was always to play for Brazil, to wear this shirt. I never imagined I would reach these numbers.”

Goal tallies by Brazilian players are a source of debate among statisticians, with some counting only competitive goals and others including friendlies and unofficial matches.

FASTFACT

Goal tallies by Brazilian players are a source of debate among statisticians, with some counting only competitive goals and others including friendlies and unofficial matches.

Even the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) has produced contradictory numbers but after Thursday’s game it said Neymar had surpassed Ronaldo once Ronaldo’s unofficial goals were included.

FIFA said on Twitter that Neymar’s goal put him joint 20th on the list of all-time international scorers but it did not give a tally or say who was above him.

Pele, though, gave his backing to a player who like him began his career at Santos.

“Today, he took another step towards my goalscoring record for the (national team),” Pele wrote on Instagram. “And I’m rooting for him to get there, with the same joy I’ve had since I saw him play for the first time.”

Whatever the specifics of the count, the fact is that Neymar is on a rich run of international form, scoring four in his last four games and seven in his last five.

His superb performances come in spite of his continuing problems off the pitch.

He was accused of rape in May 2019 but later absolved and last month Nike said it had ended its commercial partnership with the player after he refused to cooperate in an investigation into sexual assault allegations levelled against him by a Nike employee.

“For me it’s very emotional, I’ve gone through a lot of things these last two years, difficult and complicated things, and these numbers are nothing compared to the happiness that I get from representing my country and my family,” Neymar said.

“Today we’re going through an unusual time, a very difficult time for the whole world, not just here, and to be an example to anyone, to make anyone happy is a tremendous pleasure.”


Schick scores, Czechs draw 1-1 with Croatia at Euro 2020

Schick scores, Czechs draw 1-1 with Croatia at Euro 2020
Updated 18 June 2021

Schick scores, Czechs draw 1-1 with Croatia at Euro 2020

Schick scores, Czechs draw 1-1 with Croatia at Euro 2020
  • Both teams have chance to advance to the round of 16 from their final Group D matches on Tuesday
  • Schick was awarded the penalty after being elbowed in the face by Croatia defender Dejan Lovren

GLASGOW: With blood still dripping from his nose, Czech Republic forward Patrik Schick stepped up to the penalty spot and scored his tournament-leading third goal.
Ivan Perišić then made sure to keep Croatia alive at the European Championship.
The two sides ended up drawing 1-1 on Friday, giving both teams a chance to advance to the round of 16 from their final Group D matches on Tuesday.
Schick was awarded the penalty after being elbowed in the face by Croatia defender Dejan Lovren while both challenged for the ball in the air. The referee awarded the spot kick after a video review and gave a yellow card to Lovren. The Croatians argued that it was accidental contact.
Schick wasn’t bothered by the blood or the arguments, slamming the ball into the left corner in the 37th minute.
But he said the knock left him “quite shaken.”
“I thought I was hit by an elbow, but was not sure about it,” Schick said. “It wasn’t a pleasant feeling.”
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalić, who had promised a much more attacking team after the loss to England, made a double substitution at the start of the second half.
It worked for a few moments anyway.
Andrej Kramarić won the ball in midfield and released Perišić, who skipped past right back Vladimír Coufal and volleyed past Czech Republic goalkeeper Tomáš Vaclík.
Coufal had stumbled, allowing Perišić a clear sight of goal.
“It’s a pity,” Coufal said. “I think that if I hadn’t slipped I would have blocked Perišić. I took the wrong boots for the second half.”
The Czech Republic now has four points in the group, while Croatia has one from its two matches after losing to England 1-0 on Sunday.
Croatia played better against the Czechs than they did against England, but the team still lacks the spark that took it to the 2018 World Cup final.
The Croats will next face Scotland on Tuesday at Hampden Park, needing a win. The Czechs will play England at Wembley Stadium.
“There is a bitter taste after this match, as we didn’t win,” Croatia captain Luka Modrić said. “We entered the match really disorganized, but then we looked better in the second half.
“We scored that goal and we could have scored even more, but unfortunately we didn’t win,” he said. “Now, we have to defeat Scotland to go through.”


‘Most beautiful race in world’ — Italy’s 1000 Miglia comes to the UAE

‘Most beautiful race in world’ — Italy’s 1000 Miglia comes to the UAE
Updated 18 June 2021

‘Most beautiful race in world’ — Italy’s 1000 Miglia comes to the UAE

‘Most beautiful race in world’ — Italy’s 1000 Miglia comes to the UAE
  • Vintage car race will form part of the UAE 50th anniversary celebrations

ROME: The 1000 Miglia, commonly known as “the most beautiful race in the world”, will come to the Middle East for the first time in December, as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the formation of the UAE.

For five days the supercars of the 1000 Miglia that usually drive round the memorable landscape and cities of Italy will be in the Emirates.

The announcement was made as the race arrived in Rome, welcomed in the Via Veneto by cheering crowds.

The race has been run every year in Italy since the 1920s, featuring a spectacular range of vintage cars. Conceived by Giovanni Canestrini, Franco Mazzotti, Aymo Maggi and Renzo Castagneto on Dec. 2, 1926 as a race on public roads, the 1000 Miglia takes place over a route of 1,600 kilometers (1000 miles) from Brescia to Rome and back. The first race began on March 26, 1927 and was won 21 hours, 4 minutes, and 48 seconds later by Ferdinando Minoja and Giuseppe Morandi in a Brescia-built OM 665 Superba.

Since 1977, the 1000 Miglia has become the most important race in the world for historic cars. (Supplied)

The event captured the imagination of the general public and car manufacturers alike. From 1927 to 1957, prestigious brands including Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Porsche, Jaguar and Mercedes vied for the glory of the 1000 Miglia, with legendary names such as Juan Manuel Fangio ,Tazio Nuvolari, Alberto Ascari and Stirling Moss behind the wheel.

Since 1977, the 1000 Miglia has become the most important race in the world for historic cars. The “Red Arrow,” as it is popularly known, remains faithful to the original route across Italy.

Today, competitors follow a route from one time control to another while the public follows the convoy along the route, enjoying the sight of a huge and diverse group of rare cars in action. The time controls are placed in areas of urban beauty or great cultural history, to give the local populations the chance to welcome race and see the cars close up.

“Uniqueness, experience, passion, excellence, tradition, innovation and luxury are the keywords of this fantastic event which will be held for the Emirates golden jubilee,” said Franco Gussalli Beretta, president of MilleMiglia, talking of the inaugural 1000 Miglia Experience UAE 2021 which will take place on Dec. 5-9.

The 1000 Miglia takes place over a route of 1,600 kilometers (1000 miles) from Brescia to Rome and back. (Supplied)

This invitation-only event is open to 100 owners of landmark automobiles, from legendary classics to supercars of the modern era. Over the course of five days, participants will cross all seven Emirates, driving their cars against the clock while enjoying the finest hospitality. Members of the public will have a rare opportunity to see these magnificent machines for real.

The race will form part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the UAE, which was formed on December 2, 1971.

“The staging of the 1000 Miglia Experience UAE 2021 represents yet another proud achievement for this young nation, which has accomplished global fame as a centre for both business excellence and exotic luxury travel. The central hub for the event will be located in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, while the race itself unfurling on a belt of tarmac across all seven Emirates of this nation”, says Gussalli Beretta.