Riyad Mahrez thanks Middle East fans for support, dreams of Champions League glory with Man City

Riyad Mahrez thanks Middle East fans for support, dreams of Champions League glory with Man City
Riyad Mahrez could complete a historic treble with Manchester City in Saturday's Champions League Final against Chelsea. (Manchester City FC)
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Updated 26 May 2021

Riyad Mahrez thanks Middle East fans for support, dreams of Champions League glory with Man City

Riyad Mahrez thanks Middle East fans for support, dreams of Champions League glory with Man City
  • Algerian international has been one of Premier League champions’ standout performers, could complete historic treble against Chelsea on Saturday

RIYADH: Riyad Mahrez has thanked fans in the Middle East for their loyal support ahead of Manchester City’s first ever appearance in the Champions League final.

The Premier League and EFL (English Football League) Cup winners will be looking to secure a third trophy of the campaign when they face English rivals Chelsea in Portugal on Saturday.

Mahrez’s influence on the team has spiked this season, with the Algerian international scoring both goals in the semi-final second leg victory over Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). He is now expected to be a key figure in what will arguably be the biggest game in Manchester City’s history.

“I think the longer you are with a team the easier it is to settle into the way of playing, to know what is expected of you and how your teammates play too,” Mahrez said.

“That is really important. This season is my third year here and I know the manager, I know the players, I know the system better than ever. After that it’s just about working hard and performing, and I hope I’ve done that this season.

“It’s a huge moment for everyone in the team, something you dream of as a kid. We’ve obviously wanted to get to this stage for a long time and now we’re here, we want to make sure we lift the trophy.

“We’ve played really strong teams to get here, and those games weren’t easy. There were moments against Dortmund and PSG when people would have looked at us and said maybe they won’t make it. But we came together as a group and now we play maybe the biggest games of our club careers.

“It’s a dream for any player to play at this level and we’re looking to go out there and do what we can to win,” he added.

Having signed for Manchester City from Leicester – where he had won the Premier League title – in 2018, Mahrez, at 30, is one of City’s more experienced players.

He said: “It’s strange as a footballer. You come through the system as a young kid, you break into the team, you’re the young one in the squad and then all of a sudden, you’re one of the more experienced players. But I enjoy it.

“There’s a strong group of players here and the only difference I suppose is what we’ve all done on the way to joining Manchester City.”

Last month, Manchester City took part in a four-day English football social media boycott to protest against the sustained discriminatory abuse received online by players and others connected to the game.

“We all have experiences that we can share, difficult moments we found a way through and we try to do that across the squad. Obviously, it’s important to help the young guys as much as we can because they have so much talent and just need bits of advice here and there to help them along their own paths,” Mahrez added.

Social media can, however, be a useful tool for the modern footballer, and Mahrez said it had allowed him to stay connected to his huge global fanbase, particularly in the Middle East.

“I hope that my social media keeps all my fans feeling connected to what I’m doing here in England. I certainly feel the love from the guys who support me on there.

“These guys push you to be better and make you proud to play at the top level because every football fan dreams of what we get to do and that’s very special. I hope they feel part of my journey here and I’m just so grateful for all their support.

“Ramadan is obviously an important time for me like it is for so many people. Eid is also incredibly special. Both were good this year and I hope that was the same for everyone,” he added.

The 2020/21 season has been a hugely successful one for City – and Mahrez – so far and could get significantly better on Saturday as Pep Guardiola’s men chase the biggest prize of them all.

Mahrez said: “I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who supports the club. It’s been a strange season where we’ve not been able to see the fans and have them with us at games, but we know that everyone is watching and cheering us on from home.

“In the difficult moments out on the pitch, that idea can really push you on to achieve, so everyone is so important to this success.

“We have already won the League Cup and the Premier League for our fans and the final will be special, so everyone should enjoy it and hopefully we can win the trophy for everyone out there who loves City.”

Why Steve Bruce built narrative that left Newcastle United fans exasperated with his club management

Why Steve Bruce built narrative that left Newcastle United fans exasperated with his club management
Updated 15 sec ago

Why Steve Bruce built narrative that left Newcastle United fans exasperated with his club management

Why Steve Bruce built narrative that left Newcastle United fans exasperated with his club management
  • Divisive coach departed St. James’ Park with club sat 19th in table, winless in 8 Premier League games, having division’s worst defensive record

NEWCASTLE: Thirteen days. Having waited 27 months for new beginnings at Newcastle United, manager Steve Bruce hung onto his job for less than two weeks of the Saudi-financed era at St. James’ Park.

The club’s new owners — the Saudi Public Investment Fund, RB Sports and Media, and PCP Capital Partners — have confirmed Bruce as the first major casualty of a fresh era of hope on Tyneside.

It was a decision roundly welcomed, even celebrated by the Newcastle faithful. Not quite as vociferously as the takeover itself, of course.

Bruce, who took charge of his 1,000th professional game as a manager last Sunday, is one of the most experienced coaches in the history of English football but has proven a divisive figure at United.

Why? Arab News spoke to prominent Newcastle United fan Alex Hurst, a True Faith fanzine podcast host, organizer of the pre-takeover 1892 Pledge supporter fighting fund scheme to buy a percentage of the club, and board member of the Newcastle United Supporters Trust, to find out.

He said: “Bruce is very much seen as a Mike Ashley (Newcastle United’s former owner) apologist. He’s built this picture, a narrative that he’s never been wanted or accepted at Newcastle United — but that’s just not true. People did not think it was a positive move replacing (former Newcastle manager) Rafa Benitez with Bruce, but no one wanted him to fail.

“He should have seen this as an opportunity to manage this great football club but instead he painted a picture of it being the impossible job. And it proved to be that way for him, but that has nothing to do with fan criticism or expectation. Bruce built this view of himself — that he was unpopular — and he let it fester,” he added.

For Bruce, the facts do not lie.

United sit 19th in the table, with no wins from eight Premier League games, and have the worst defensive record in the division with 19 goals conceded.

The former Manchester United skipper, who managed Sheffield Wednesday prior to working at hometown club Newcastle, left the Magpies with a win percentage of just 27.4 percent in the top flight.

The low point of his spell came last season when he oversaw a run of just two wins in 21 matches between December and February, but somehow held onto his job.

“Newcastle were a team with one of the best defensive records when he took over — now they are the worst,” Hurst said.

“The style of football is worse. Players have regressed, no one has improved. He talked fans down, players down. He then talked opposition players up at every opportunity.

“On a number of occasions Bruce had the chance to use his time at Newcastle as an opportunity. Each time he failed. In the summer of 2020, the FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester City, a chance of a first semi-final since 2005, it was a surrender at home, and yet he smiled ear to ear after the game,” he added.

Hurst highlighted the Carabao Cup quarter-final loss against Brentford last year as a huge, missed opportunity when Bruce played a weakened team against an also weakened Championship side.

He said: “But the thing that sticks with me from Bruce’s time is when he called criticism from fans ‘mass hysteria.’ He seemed to conflate criticism with abuse. Genuine criticism from fans was labelled abuse as he didn’t seem big enough to take it.

“Bruce could not rise above any of this, and it defined his time as head coach.”

Meanwhile, the club have confirmed assistant boss Graeme Jones, who acted as one of Gareth Southgate’s coaches for England’s run to the Euro 2020 final in the summer, will face the media on Friday ahead of Newcastle’s trip to Crystal Palace the following day.

Jones was a surprise appointment to the Newcastle coaching setup in February, as the club’s hierarchy attempted to kick-start an ultimately successful fight against relegation.

However, it is not expected that Jones will remain in the role for too long, as United’s football recruitment working group continues to press on with plans to appoint Bruce’s successor.

Paulo Fonseca is the bookmakers’ favorite for the job, and Arab News understands the Portuguese coach has been in negotiations with Newcastle chiefs since before the confirmation of Bruce’s departure.

Swiss former Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre is another understood to have been spoken to, as is Eddie Howe, formerly of AFC Bournemouth. Howe has been a regular visitor to northeastern England in recent months and is understood to have been on Tyneside this week.

Howe turned down the chance to manage Scottish Premiership giants Glasgow Celtic last summer, despite weeks of negotiations with the Hoops’ chiefs.

Belgium boss Roberto Martinez is also thought to be a candidate, while Glasgow Rangers’ Steven Gerrard, and former Chelsea manager Frank Lampard, are reportedly liked by key figures within the new United hierarchy.

Newcastle are also keen to appoint a sporting director, with Luis Campos and Ralf Rangnick believed to be under consideration. Netherlands and Arsenal hero Marc Overmars is another name in the frame.

The end of the road for Bobby Lashley and Goldberg at the WWE Crown Jewel

The end of the road for Bobby Lashley and Goldberg at the WWE Crown Jewel
Updated 21 October 2021

The end of the road for Bobby Lashley and Goldberg at the WWE Crown Jewel

The end of the road for Bobby Lashley and Goldberg at the WWE Crown Jewel
  • The rivalry between Goldberg and Bobby Lashley has been brewing ever since they first met at SummerSlam

RIYADH/JEDDAH: Bill Goldberg will be looking for revenge when he goes head to head with Bobby Lashley in a “No Holds Barred” match headlining WWE Crown Jewel at Mohammed Abdo Arena in Riyadh on Thursday night.

Fueled by the images of his son unable to escape the clutches of Bobby Lashley at SummerSlam in August, passionate fans are flocking in to see the spectacle that is Goldberg who is on a mission of redemption, to finally settle the score and end his personal rivalry with Lashley. 

Earlier this year at SummerSlam, Lashley defeated Goldberg to retain the WWE Championship but the animosity between the two wrestlers spilled over post match when Lashley attacked Goldberg’s son, who had come to the aid of his defeated father.

Coming into the match in Riyadh, Goldberg revealed on the CarCast podcast that he is not 100 percent fit to compete as he is still recovering from a knee injury, but on Thursday morning he told Arab News that this will not stop him going after his rival in the ring.

“I’m at peace, because in a matter of hours I’m gonna get my hands around the throat of some guy who dared to touch my son. It’s a pretty simple equation,” Goldberg said. "If somebody goes after you family, they need to pay.”

Goldberg is accustomed to the atmosphere at the Crown Jewel, and this is his fourth visit to the Kingdom. After the disruptions of the pandemic saw many WWE events take place behind closed doors, he is delighted to be back performing in front of a live audience. 

“The feeling of the people, period, end of story,” he said. “It’s hard to go out and perform if nobody's watching in person, you don’t have the direct connection with the fan, you don’t have the immediate gratification of listening to them cheer or boo.”

“It’s like doing a match in your closet,” Goldberg added.

The success of Crown Jewel means it is now one of WWE’s marquee events and with this comes high expectations.

The rivalry between Goldberg and Bobby Lashley has been brewing ever since they first met at SummerSlam, and the unfinished business between the two looks set to be settled in front of a packed crowd in Riyadh.

Why the increasing dominance of T20 format looks set to shape cricket’s future

Why the increasing dominance of T20 format looks set to shape cricket’s future
Updated 21 October 2021

Why the increasing dominance of T20 format looks set to shape cricket’s future

Why the increasing dominance of T20 format looks set to shape cricket’s future
  • The economics of world cricket have become highly skewed thanks largely to the phenomenal success of T20 in India

The Indian Premier League concluded on Oct.15 without any apparent major hitches caused by the coronavirus disease or mental health issues.

The T20 World Cup opened on schedule, rather romantically, with Papua New Guinea appearing for the first time only to be soundly beaten by Oman.

England announced their squad to tour Australia, only to be condemned by parts of the press as unimaginative, not good enough and likely to be trounced, a view shared gloatingly down-under.

Unimaginative was also the verdict passed on the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB)’s decision to restore its domestic four-day County Championship to a two divisional structure, comprising teams in the positions in which they ended the 2019 season.

Taken together, these outcomes provide the impression that normality has been restored to the world of cricket. However, dig a little deeper and some shifting plates may be discerned under the landscape. The most obvious one is the influence of the T20 format.

Whilst the IPL is its glittering epitome, the delayed return of the scheduled 2020 World Cup, hard on the heels of the IPL, will extend T20’s exposure for longer than normal. It will also supply a benchmark for its progress since the 2016 World Cup in terms of skills and tactics. Prior to the pandemic, nine countries/regions held International Cricket Council recognized T20 competitions, and three more are planned to start in 2022. Since 2016, both the Pakistan Super League and the Big Bash in Australia have grown in quality and appeal. 

Apart from the format, these tournaments share two common features — the ability to attract money and, partly because of this, the ability to attract players from a wide range of countries, based upon a bidding system that values each player according to perceived ability. The rewards are now staggering.

The total prize money for the T20 World Cup is $5.6 million. There will be $1.6 million for the winning team and $0.8 million for the runners-up. The losing semi-finalists will receive $0.4 million each, with the balance of $2.4 million being shared between group stage winners and those who are knocked out along the way.

In the 2021 IPL, the winners received around $2.65 million, the runners-up $1.69 million, and the third and fourth placed teams $1.16 million. On top of this, the players receive salaries with the top five being in a range of $2-2.4 million in 2021. The stark conclusion is that the top players in the IPL earn more than the winning team in the T20 World Cup, and that the financial reward for winning the IPL is greater than for winning the T20 World Cup. Taken together, the rewards on offer are a bonanza.

Contrast these riches, for example, to the financial state of English cricket. The ECB’s income is generated via broadcast rights deals, sponsorship from commercial partners, ICC distributions, ticket sales and sundry income. In the year ending Jan. 31, 2021, it reported an income of $290 million and a pandemic-induced loss of $22.6 million, which dramatically reversed the previous year’s profit of $9.1 million, causing a sharp fall in its cash reserves to $3.1 million.

As a non-profit-making organization, the ECB distributes its income in pursuit of its mission to manage and develop every form of cricket for men and women, boys and girls, from the playground to the Test arena. Almost 44 percent of the income goes directly to cricket organizations, including the 18 first-class counties. Fourteen percent is spent in supporting each of four areas — the running and growth of cricket from the grassroots up; running the England Men’s, Women’s and Disability teams; central activities, such as marketing and, in the current cycle, its new competition, The Hundred, which has been explored in previous columns. 

Professional cricket is organized through the County Championship structure. The counties have the responsibility for developing talent, ultimately producing cricketers who can perform at the highest level across the various formats.

A review of the finances of the 18 counties would show that, for most, there is a heavy dependency on the ECB distribution for survival. There is also a clear divergence between the financial health of those counties who host international matches and those who do not. The structure of county cricket and its dependence on central funds to maintain its current state has attracted much criticism, particularly in terms of the way in which the counties use the money to develop both the game and alternative income sources within their boundaries.

How enviously must English cricket cast its eyes at the wealthy, independent Board of Control of Cricket in India. Although it, too, has suffered a loss of income because of the pandemic, the completion of the IPL will ensure a recovery to previous levels and beyond. In 2019–2020, the BCCI’s annual income is thought to have been some $535 million. Almost two-thirds of this comes from the IPL, a quarter from bilateral cricket with other nations and 10 percent from its annual share of ICC revenues, which are derived from the ICC’s own media and sponsorship income streams. In 2022, two more franchises will be added to make a 10 team IPL tournament, creating further wealth.

The economics of world cricket have become highly skewed and look set to become even more so. This is largely because of the phenomenal success of T20 in cricket-mad India that has generated previously unseen revenue. This has allowed India’s cricketing ambitions to become more expansionary and has encouraged copycat tournaments to emerge.

In turn, the lure of high rewards and the attraction of the format in emerging countries that have a dearth of either facilities, resources or time, such as Papua New Guinea, is leading T20 to assume an increasingly prominent position in cricket’s landscape. This powerful position, coupled with the financial clout of India, can only lead, surely, to further changes in the way that the game is structured and financed.

Favorites Al-Hilal must beware of Pohang Steelers in AFC Champions League final as both clubs seek record 4th title

Favorites Al-Hilal must beware of Pohang Steelers in AFC Champions League final as both clubs seek record 4th title
Updated 21 October 2021

Favorites Al-Hilal must beware of Pohang Steelers in AFC Champions League final as both clubs seek record 4th title

Favorites Al-Hilal must beware of Pohang Steelers in AFC Champions League final as both clubs seek record 4th title
  • South Korean team will be underdogs against Saudi champions after shock semi-final defeat of compatriots Ulsan Horang-i

RIYADH: It is destiny. Al-Hilal, the star-studded Saudi Arabian powerhouse, will meet Pohang Steelers, the South Korean team with no stars, in the final of the AFC Champions League on Nov. 23.

Of all the hundreds of clubs around the world’s biggest continent and the 40 that started out in the tournament at the start of this year, only two teams have been champions of Asia three times — these two.

Twenty-three years after they met in a bad-tempered Asian Club Championship semi-final, with Pohang Steelers running out 1-0 winners in Hong Kong, their paths will cross again. Once they both reached their respective semi-finals on the opposite ends of Asia, a new showdown seemed certain.

What is guaranteed is that one of them will be able to put a fourth star on their shirts and officially become Asia’s most successful club ever.

While Al-Hilal’s 2-1 win over Al-Nassr on Tuesday was somewhat expected, Pohang’s penalty shootout triumph, after a 1-1 draw, the following day over fellow K League team Ulsan Horang-i was not and, on paper, the Saudi Arabian team will be strong favorites next month.

This is partly because of home advantage with the final held in Riyadh when there will be just a smattering of South Korean fans at Mrsool Stadium.

The other reason is that Pohang are not as good as the South Korean team Al-Hilal could have faced. Ulsan are defending Asian champions and are currently on top of the K League as it heads into the final stretch of the season.

They cannot match Al-Hilal in terms of stars but there are well-respected Korean talents in the Ulsan side such as Lee Chung-yong, who spent years in the English Premier League with Bolton Wanderers and Crystal Palace, Yoon Bitgaram, another experienced former international, as well as young talents including Lee Dong-gyeong and Won Du-jae. The 2018 World Cup goalkeeping hero Jo Hyeon-woo is there too as is talented Georgian midfielder Valeri Qazaishvili.

Pohang Steelers, on the other hand, do not have any South Korean internationals apart from defender Kang Sang-woo who has 18 minutes of national team experience that came against Sri Lanka in June.

The team, owned by steel giant POSCO, is largely made up of experienced veterans, along with young players, with this season’s top scorer, on 15 goals in all competitions, being 33-year-old Lee Sang-hyub.

The foreign contingent is a physically powerful one. There is Australian defender Alex Grant, who headed home the last-minute equalizer against Ulsan that took the semi-final into extra time and ultimately into a victorious penalty shootout. Borys Tashchy is a 1.92-meter-tall forward with some experience in Germany, and Colombian Manuel Palacios also plays in attack.

Pohang’s problem this season has been goals. In 2020, they finished third in the league, without being in the title race, but this time around they are struggling in lower mid-table and currently have a negative goal difference. Losing the 2020 Young Player of the Year Song Min-kyu in July was a blow as was the departure of Stanislav Iljutcenko. Pohang have long struggled to keep hold of their best players.

Al-Hilal fans will look at that and then look at the 12-team K League table and see Pohang in the bottom half, in seventh, a full 22 points behind Ulsan and breathe a sigh of relief at avoiding the league leaders and current continental champions. Not just that, but the Pohang team lacks Asian experience as this is a first appearance in five years.

It does not mean that the final is going to be a walkover. Had Ulsan been in the final, they may well have been distracted by a tight title race. Pohang can focus on the Champions League final and nothing else. And this is a team that has a habit of confounding the critics in Asia.

Cerezo Osaka of Japan were the first to be eliminated in the knockout round but most expected that Nagoya Grampus would end Pohang’s run at the quarter-final stage. Instead, the Koreans ran out 3-0 winners and then went on to defeat Ulsan, though were a goal down and struggling until Ulsan captain Won Du-jae was shown a straight red card for a rash tackle.

It leaves Pohang as the underdog, a no-pressure position they will be happy to occupy in Riyadh. They did, after all, defeat Al-Ittihad in the AFC Champions League final in Tokyo in 2009 and South Korean teams believe they can go anywhere in Asia and win, with a collective 12 club championships equal to the tally won by Japan and Saudi Arabia, in second and third, combined.

Al-Hilal will be happy that they are not facing Ulsan Horang-i, defending champion and South Korea’s best team, but should not get too carried away. Pohang will be a tough nut to crack, have nothing to lose, and this team with no stars wants a fourth star on their shirt.

Sri Lanka beats Ireland to advance in T20 World Cup

Sri Lanka beats Ireland to advance in T20 World Cup
Updated 21 October 2021

Sri Lanka beats Ireland to advance in T20 World Cup

Sri Lanka beats Ireland to advance in T20 World Cup
  • Ireland was bowled out for 101 all out with nine balls to spare

ABU DHABI: Sri Lanka advanced to the Super 12 stage of the T20 World Cup by beating Ireland by 70 runs on Wednesday, led by allrounder Wanindu Hasaranga’s 71 off 47 balls.
The win meant the Netherlands was eliminated from Group A after Namibia had earlier defeated the Dutch team by six wickets.
Sri Lanka slipped to 8-3 inside the first 10 deliveries before Hasaranga and opener Pathum Nissanka (61) wiped out Ireland hopes and carried the former champion to a daunting 171-7.
Ireland was bowled out for 101 all out with nine balls to spare despite Sri Lanka dropping a couple of easy catches. Only captain Andy Balbirnie (41) and Curtis Campher (24) reached double figures as Ireland crumbled against Sri Lankan pace and spin.
“Of course it was a concern at 8 for 3, but they put on an awesome partnership,” captain Dasun Shanaka said while praising Hasaranga and Nissanka’s century stand. “Have to look at top-order batting, but other areas are okay, though fielding has been poor as well.”
Hasaranga, promoted in the batting order at No. 5, smashed 10 fours and a six and raised a 123-run stand as Sri Lanka recovered from a top order collapse as it did against Namibia in the first game.
Fast bowler Josh Little (4-23) had clean bowled Dinesh Chandimal (6) and Avishka Fernando in the second over after Kusal Perera was caught low in the covers by Gareth Delany in Paul Stirling’s first over.
Hasaranga was finally caught at point off Mark Adair’s (2-35) slower delivery in the 16th over before Little grabbed two more wickets that included the wicket of Nissanka, who was caught behind.
The winner of Ireland vs. Namibia on Friday will join Sri Lanka in advancing to the Super 12 stage.
David Wiese’s unbeaten 60 off 40 balls helped Namibia beat the Netherlands by six wickets.
Wiese struck five sixes and four boundaries as Namibia reached 166-4 with an over to spare.
The Netherlands had earlier scored 164-4 with opening batsman Max O’Dowd getting 70 off 56 balls. Scott Edwards added 21 off 11 balls.
Wiese qualified to play for Namibia because his father was born in the country. It is Wiese’s second World Cup after representing South Africa five years ago in the T20 World Cup.
“It (feels) is awesome, to be honest,” Wiese said. “Means a lot to me, in a World Cup on international stage is special and to put in a big performance for Namibia, I’m glad to get this opportunity to play international cricket.”
The experience of Wiese came in handy for Namibia as he dominated a 93-run partnership with captain Gerhard Erasmus, who made 32.
Netherlands skipper Piter Seelaar (1-8) used seven bowlers, but Wiese and Erasmus played aggressively in the latter half of the run-chase to register Namibia’s maiden victory.
Seelaar bowled only two overs, not using his quota of four overs.
The Netherlands, which lost its first match against Ireland by seven wickets, did well early after being put into bat against Namibia. O’Dowd and Colin Ackermann featured in an 82-run stand.
“Namibia bowled well but not entirely great and we were worse,” Seelaar said. “If Ireland beats Sri Lanka then there’s a hope, otherwise we go back with a performance that hasn’t been good enough.”