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.


Charley Hull, Anne Van Dam, Catriona Matthew and Minjee Lee latest golfers confirmed for $1 million Aramco Team Series — London

Charley Hull, Anne Van Dam, Catriona Matthew and Minjee Lee latest golfers confirmed for $1 million Aramco Team Series — London
Updated 26 min 45 sec ago

Charley Hull, Anne Van Dam, Catriona Matthew and Minjee Lee latest golfers confirmed for $1 million Aramco Team Series — London

Charley Hull, Anne Van Dam, Catriona Matthew and Minjee Lee latest golfers confirmed for $1 million Aramco Team Series — London
  • European trio and Australian No.1 confirmed for next month’s three-day tournament at Centurion Club, the first of five Ladies European Tour (LET) events in 2021 sponsored by Aramco

London: European trio Charley Hull, Anne Van Dam and Catriona Matthew are the latest big names confirmed for next month’s $1 million Aramco Team Series — London, taking place July 8-10 at the Centurion Club, just two months ahead of this year’s Solheim Cup.

Both Hull and Van Dam played a key role in the European team, captained by Matthew, that snatched a pulsating one-point victory over the US at Gleneagles back in 2019.

US superstar Lexi Thompson was part of the travelling party, and with July’s event already scheduled to be her only English appearance of the year, she will be looking to lay down a marker against the trio who she will compete with just eight weeks later in Ohio.

In the unique format of the Aramco Team Series — London, which sees 36 team captains paired with two other professionals and one amateur, Thompson could even play alongside a European rival.

Former Women’s British Open champion, Georgia Hall, double-major winner, Anna Nordqvist, and 2021 Ladies European Tour (LET) Race to Costa del Sol champion, Emily Kristine Pedersen, have already confirmed participation in the event.

They will also be joined by Australia’s Minjee Lee, an eight-time champion across both the LET and LPGA, and Australia’s No.1 ranked golfer.

“It’s certainly shaping up to be quite the field, which is understandable, considering the exciting new format of the team tournament and what’s up for grabs,” Matthew said. “Being just a couple of months before the Solheim Cup adds a real bit of spice to the mix, especially with so many major-winners from both sides of the pond playing.

“As the Solheim Cup has proven, team golf is a format that really gets the heart racing and brings so much additional excitement,” she added. “Introducing four new Aramco Team Series events in four regions, I find a really fantastic initiative from the LET and I really am excited to see how it will propel women’s golf forward.”

World No.14 Lee said: “When this format of event was trialed in Saudi Arabia last year, you could really feel how positively the women who played in it responded to it. It was something completely different but a format of golf that offered so much excitement, both for teams and individual players, and that’s what you want to see as often as possible on tour.

“It’ll be really fun to play in and I can’t wait to get over to London and play as part of a team, something I love but almost never get to do.”

July’s London event is the first of five Aramco-sponsored events scheduled on the LET calendar for 2021.  They include the Aramco Team Series — Sotogrande (Aug. 5-7), the Aramco Team Series — New York (Oct. 14-16) and the Aramco Team Series — Jeddah (Nov. 10-12). The Jeddah event will take place just days after the Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by the Public Investment Fund, being held Nov. 4-7. 

Each Aramco Team Series tournament will see 36 teams of four compete to shoot the lowest combined score over three days of golf. All teams will feature three LET players paired through a unique draft system, in which captains choose one player and are randomly assigned another.

The fourth member of each team will be an amateur golfer — a position open to all golfers in the UK for the Aramco Team Series — London through the tournament’s world-first Team Up competition. Fans can apply by uploading a video or image to social media before June 25 using the hashtag #ATSTeamUp, showing they have what it takes to play in an actual LET event.


Hilal Al-Helwe strikes down Djibouti and sees Lebanon through to 2021 FIFA Arab Cup

Hilal Al-Helwe strikes down Djibouti and sees Lebanon through to 2021 FIFA Arab Cup
Updated 42 min 47 sec ago

Hilal Al-Helwe strikes down Djibouti and sees Lebanon through to 2021 FIFA Arab Cup

Hilal Al-Helwe strikes down Djibouti and sees Lebanon through to 2021 FIFA Arab Cup
  • The 1-0 win means Lebanon will join Algeria, Egypt and Sudan in Group D of the competition taking place in Qatar in November

DOHA: A stunning second-half volley from Hilal Al-Helwe saw Lebanon beat Djibouti 1-0 to earn a place at the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar later this year.

The Lebanese team will now join Algeria, Egypt and Sudan in Group D of the tournament taking place between Nov. 27 and Dec. 18.

Lebanon were the heavy favorites heading into the qualifier, with the Cedars, at 93, sitting 90 places above Djibouti (183) in the FIFA World Rankings.

Djibouti, however, proved to be a far more stubborn opponent than Lebanon had anticipated as they successfully defended many attacks thanks to fine performances by goalkeeper Innocent Mbonihankuye and his defenders.

While Mbonihankuye kept Lebanon mostly at bay, especially from a series of set-pieces, Djibouti produced one of the most significant changes of the first half when Mahamoud Doualeh ended an excellent passage of play with a shot on target only for it to be deflected by the Lebanese defense for a corner.

Lebanon improved immediately after the break, and it was Al-Helwe who produced the monument of the match for coach Jamal Taha’s team within the first minute of the restart, firmly volleying past Mbonihankuye and from Mohammed Haidar’s pass.

Djibouti could have squared the match on 56 minutes when Mahabeh Mahdi was played through on goal, but the advancing Lebanon keeper Mehdi Khalil saved to seal his country’s spot at the FIFA Arab Cup in November.


Young scores 48 points, Hawks beat Bucks 116-113 in Game 1

Young scores 48 points, Hawks beat Bucks 116-113 in Game 1
Updated 24 June 2021

Young scores 48 points, Hawks beat Bucks 116-113 in Game 1

Young scores 48 points, Hawks beat Bucks 116-113 in Game 1
  • The Hawks handed the Bucks their first home loss of the postseason
  • Game 2 is on Friday night in MilwaukeeAtlanta Hawks guard Trae Young puts up a shot against Jrue Holiday and Bobby Portis of the Milwaukee Bucks guard on June 23, 2021. (Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports)

MILWAUKEE: Trae Young scored 48 points, Clint Capela converted a go-ahead putback with 29.8 seconds left and the Atlanta Hawks beat the Milwaukee Bucks 116-113 on Wednesday night to open the Eastern Conference finals.
The Hawks improved to 6-2 in road playoff games this year and handed the Bucks their first home loss of the postseason.
“I felt we’ve built ourselves to be able to play on the road,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “I’ve told them that. They’re built for this.”
Game 2 is Friday night in Milwaukee.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 34 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists for the Bucks. Jrue Holiday added 33 points and 10 assists.
Young was two points off his career high.
“We keep fighting,” Young said. “It’s been fun playing with this group. We just keep fighting to the end, no matter what the score is. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to keep fighting.”
John Collins added 23 points and 15 rebounds for the Hawks. Capela had 12 points and 19 rebounds.
Khris Middleton missed a potential tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds. Although Middleton scored 15 points, he shot 6 of 23 and missed all nine of his 3-point attempts.
“Offensively, it didn’t seem like we moved very well,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
Antetokounmpo scored the first six points in a 9-0 run that turned a 98-96 deficit into a 105-98 advantage with 4:18 left. Holiday capped that spurt by sinking a 3-pointer after Antetokounmpo got the rebound on his own missed free throw.
But the Hawks scored the next five points, and the game went back and forth from there.
Middleton missed a pull-up jumper with about 43 seconds left with Milwaukee up 111-110. Young missed a driving layup attempt, but Capela grabbed his 19th rebound and scored to put the Hawks ahead for good.
After Milwaukee’s Pat Connaughton shot an air-ball on a 3-pointer, Young made two free throws with 17.3 seconds remaining. Antetokounmpo made a pair of free throws with 5.3 seconds left, but Young brought the lead back to three and closed the scoring by sinking two free throws of his own with 4.6 seconds remaining.

TIP-INS
Hawks: Bogdan Bogdanovic started but clearly was at less than full strength as he deals with a sore knee. He scored four points and shot 1 of 6. ... Cam Reddish was available to play for the first time in four months but didn’t play. Reddish hadn’t played since Feb. 21 due to a right Achilles injury. Hawks coach Nate McMillan had said before the game the Hawks would cautious with Reddish by keeping him behind Tony Snell and Solomon Hill in the rotation. “We haven’t had the opportunity for him to get in any five-on-five since he’s been off,” McMillan said. “He’s been playing the last week or so some two-on-two, three-on-three.” … Atlanta is the third team since 1984 to make the conference finals despite having a losing record at the All-Star break. The others were the 2012 Boston Celtics and the 1984 Phoenix Suns. The Hawks were 16-20 at the break.
Bucks: Bobby Portis came off the bench with 4 1/2minutes left in the first quarter and ended up with 11 points and eight rebounds. Portis hadn’t played a single minute in the last three games of the Nets series. ... Milwaukee fell to 11-3 in playoff games at Fiserv Forum. … This is the fifth time the Bucks and Hawks have faced off in the playoffs and their first postseason matchup since the Hawks won 4-3 in a 2010 opening-round series. They’ve split the four previous matchups.
 


AlUla joins Team BikeExchange as official partner ahead of Tour de France 2021

The partnership between AlUla and Team BikeExchange will look to promote cycling and healthy living in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied/AlUla)
The partnership between AlUla and Team BikeExchange will look to promote cycling and healthy living in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied/AlUla)
Updated 24 June 2021

AlUla joins Team BikeExchange as official partner ahead of Tour de France 2021

The partnership between AlUla and Team BikeExchange will look to promote cycling and healthy living in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied/AlUla)
  • Partnership will officially run from July 2021 to December 2023, will look to promote cycling in the Kingdom

ALULA: Saudi Arabia's Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) will be partners with GreenEDGE Cycling, also known as Team BikeExchange, ahead of the Tour de France 2021 which will start on Saturday and run until July 18.

The partnership will officially run from July 2021 to December 2023.

AlUla, a heritage and culture destination in north-west Saudi Arabia, has chosen to partner with GreenEDGE during the 2021 UCI Cycling World Tour for men and women in an effort to introduce the its desert landscapes to cycling and sport fans around the world as well as raising the profile of the sport in the Kingdom.

Philip Jones, Chief Management and Marketing Officer at RCU said he is excited to partner with a team that shares common goals such as sustaining eco-friendly environments and promoting health benefits through cycling. 

“AlUla is delighted to become an Official Partner of GreenEDGE Cycling and to be part of a sport which has 1.7 billion spectators around the globe,” he said. “Cycling is a premium sport and offers an invaluable opportunity to communicate the premium AlUla experience, our extraordinary heritage and culture as well as our efforts to future proof the destination for the enjoyment of future generations of visitors.

“As a developing tourism destination, AlUla is focused on safeguarding the natural and cultural landscape, sustaining eco-systems and wildlife and developing light-touch tourism experiences.,” he added. “We are excited to work with the passionate team at GreenEDGE Cycling in the coming years.”

AlUla, and Saudi Arabia as a whole, has increasingly emerged as favored tourist destination in recent years, and its connection to sport has already been established through several competitions and events that include running, motorsports such as Extreme E, and desert polo.

GreenEDGE Cycling Owner and Chairman Gerry Ryan has been a major investor in sport as a way to connect to his customers and sports fans globally, and was involved in the production of the documentary “All For One” in 2017 and the Amazon Prime Series “Eat. Race. Win.” in 2018.

“I am extremely delighted to announce this new partnership between GreenEDGE Cycling and AlUla, a luxury travel destination which we are honored to promote on our team assets,” said Ryan. “We haven’t been there yet physically, but in the last few weeks we have meet many people who are working to promote the region and we have seen so many breathless images and videos and I can’t wait for our first opportunity to visit AlUla and discover more about it. We will do our best to support their growth.”

Home to Hegra, the first UNESCO World Heritage site in the Kingdom, as well as the ancient Kingdom of Dadan, the open air library of rock inscriptions in Jabal Ikmah, and AlUla Old Town, AlUla’s history goes back more than 200,000 years. Today the region is a year-round destination for heritage, arts, nature and adventure. Cycling, through railway bike trails, functional road bike paths and scenic mountain biking is set to play a major part in AlUla’s “Journey Through Time” 15-year masterplan, launched in April 2021.

“For us it is very exciting to have such a prestigious and historical region coming onboard with GreenEdge Cycling,” Brent Copeland, General Manager, Team BikeExchange said. “We strongly feel cycling and Team BikeExchange in particular is the perfect brand to promote such a spectacular area. I look forward to visiting in person soon and working closely with the team at RCU to maximise the opportunities of our partnership.”

“The mutual respect and alignment of values is great for GreenEdge Cycling and it will be exciting to see how our partnership can help AlUla to grow awareness among the passionate cycling community as a luxury heritage destination,” he added. “We are here for a long term partnership and we will keep developing together.”


Saudi Arabia wins 4 medals at 2021 Arab Athletics Championship 

Saudi Arabia wins 4 medals at 2021 Arab Athletics Championship 
Updated 23 June 2021

Saudi Arabia wins 4 medals at 2021 Arab Athletics Championship 

Saudi Arabia wins 4 medals at 2021 Arab Athletics Championship 
  • The Kingdom’s track team claimed a first-place podium finish in the men’s 4x100-meter relay race at the Stade Olympique de Radès in Tunisia
  • Saudi Ambassador to Tunisia Abdulaziz bin Ali Al-Saqr was in attendance when the national team members from the short-distance relay were awarded their gold medals

Saudi Arabia’s athletes returned home from the 2021 Arab Athletics Championship with a medal haul that included two golds, a silver and a bronze, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

The Kingdom’s track team claimed a first-place podium finish in the men’s 4x100-meter relay race at the Stade Olympique de Radès in Tunisia.

Saudi Ambassador to Tunisia Abdulaziz bin Ali Al-Saqr was present when the national team members from the short-distance relay were awarded their gold medals.

More than 500 athletes from 14 countries competed in 44 events while Morocco won 31 medals, followed by Algeria (21), Egypt (19) and host Tunisia (16).