From MK Dons to Al-Ittihad via Sharjah; how Igor Coronado became the most expensive signing in Gulf football history

The Brazilian prepares to set the Saudi Pro League alight as he completes a $12m move from Sharjah to Jeddah giants. (Supplied)
The Brazilian prepares to set the Saudi Pro League alight as he completes a $12m move from Sharjah to Jeddah giants. (Supplied)
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Updated 07 July 2021

From MK Dons to Al-Ittihad via Sharjah; how Igor Coronado became the most expensive signing in Gulf football history

The Brazilian prepares to set the Saudi Pro League alight as he completes a $12m move from Sharjah to Jeddah giants. (Supplied)
  • The Brazilian prepares to set the Saudi Pro League alight as he completes $12 million move from Sharjah to the Jeddah giants

RIYADH: “It is a strange situation, but I really do not have a home team that I support,” Igor Coronado told the official Arabian Gulf League YouTube channel, shortly after leading Sharjah to UAE championship glory for the first time in 23 years.

His answer, delivered in perfect English with an accent that is hard to pinpoint, was another sign of the mixed upbringing of this diminutive playmaker, who this week broke the record for the most expensive transfer between GCC clubs: a $12 million move to Saudi Pro League side Al-Ittihad from Sharjah.

Born in the southern Brazilian city of Londrina in Parana state, Coronado’s journey to Middle Eastern football began in Buckinghamshire, England, where his parents had moved in pursuit of work opportunities. He joined MK Dons Academy at the age of 15. After three years in the youth ranks, alongside the likes of Dele Alli, the club decided he was not good enough to make the leap to the first team and released him at the end of the 2010-11 season, when he was 18.

Rather than return to Brazil or give up his football dreams, Coronado carved his own path. He joined Banbury United, who played in the seventh tier of English football, before swapping Oxfordshire for Malta in November 2012, signing for Premier League side Floriana in an effort to make it in a top division.

At one of the most successful clubs on the Mediterranean island, Coronado’s talents finally exploded as he scored for fun, earning him a move to Italian side Trapani in August 2015.

“Coming into a new league, you always want to show your quality. I scored in my first game with Trapani and that goal removed a lot of pressure from my shoulders; it remains a moment in my career I cannot forget,” Coronado said of the first of his 20 strikes in Serie B; a league he would go on to dominate for the next two seasons, before once again moving on.

At Stadio Renzo Barbera on Sep. 9, 2017, Coronado collected the ball on the right flank, 30 yards from goal. At first glance, it looked like he was set to take on his marker as he took a few short steps forward. Instead, he rifled the ball straight into the roof of the net, leaving the Empoli goalkeeper helpless.

Two years on from his debut appearance in the Italian second division, the talented boy from Parana was now Palermo’s talisman, filling shoes once worn by the likes of Fabrizio Miccoli and Javier Pastore. That strike against Empoli was followed by eight more in a record-breaking season, during which he lit up the division as Palermo narrowly missed out on promotion, losing the play-off final to Frosinone.

Coronado had hit the big time, however, and the suitors came knocking. English side Watford made him an offer but, as always, the magician was master of his own destiny. A $5 million deal was agreed with Sharjah and in 2018 he headed to the UAE on a mission.

The job at hand: Help to revive a fallen giant. Despite having five league titles to their name, it had been more than two decades since Sharjah were last crowned champions. Since then, there had relegation, promotion and many a season spent languishing in mid-table mediocrity for the side from “the smiling emirate.”

The previous season the side had finished sixth, after former captain Abdulaziz Al-Anbari took over as manager mid-season, replacing sacked Jose Peseiro in a desperate attempt to rescue a flailing campaign.

It took only 15 minutes for Coronado to register his first assist for the Emirati side. A sliced pass into the box set up Ryan Mendes to fire home the opener against Al-Dhafra.

Two further assists and a goal followed, as a 4-0 thrashing got what was destined to be an unforgettable 2018-19 Arabian Gulf League season underway for Sharjah and Coronado.

If that start was impressive, Coronado’s second game of the season was when his legend was born. Thirteen minutes into his home debut he picked up the ball at the halfway line, leaving Al-Nasr pair Tareq Ahmed and Mahmoud Khamis chasing shadows, before sprinting toward the box. He ran rings around a defender and then rounded the goalkeeper, who was left with no option but to bring him down. The fans were still applauding in awe as he stepped up and converted from the spot. Coronado was involved in four of the goals as Sharjah ran out 6-3 winners.

The moments of magic were too numerous to count during the 2018-19 season, as Sharjah completed a campaign for the ages. A single 3-2 reversal at Al-Wasl, three games from the end of the season, denied the side the “invincibles” tag. In the very next game, against Al Wahda, another man-of-the-match display from Coronado, including a brace, sealed the league title.

The then 26-year-old had accomplished his mission impossible. He picked up two player of the month awards along the way and was on the podium at the end of the season to receive the Golden Ball for the best foreign player in the country. Eight years after being released by MK Dons, Coronado had won his first silverware and was a name to be reckoned with.

Sharjah’s return to AFC Champions League football for the first time in 15 years was secured and Coronado was the club’s standout performer in the 2020 competition. They missed out on the round of 16 on goal difference.

A season canceled due to the pandemic, preceded by a campaign interrupted by injuries, take nothing away from the quality of a player who had already written his name in UAE football folklore.

As had been the case previously in England, Malta and Italy, Coronado decided it was time to move on to pastures new, and Sharjah was left with no choice but to accept a $12 million bid from Saudi side Al-Ittihad. The fact that his former employers staunchly resisted an offer that was more than double what they paid for him three years earlier speaks volumes about the status he had acquired at Sharjah Stadium.

The new challenge for the Brazilian is to help restore the glory days for the two-time Asian champions, who are back in contention after a spell of a substantial drop in standards. But if Coronado’s story so far has taught us anything, it is that he is a man who is always up for a challenge.


‘It feels like a sporting revolution’: Saudi Karate Federation president hails KSA progress

Dr Musharraf Al-Shehri, President of the Saudi Karate Federation with Olympic silver medalist Tarek Hamdi. (Supplied)
Dr Musharraf Al-Shehri, President of the Saudi Karate Federation with Olympic silver medalist Tarek Hamdi. (Supplied)
Updated 14 sec ago

‘It feels like a sporting revolution’: Saudi Karate Federation president hails KSA progress

Dr Musharraf Al-Shehri, President of the Saudi Karate Federation with Olympic silver medalist Tarek Hamdi. (Supplied)
  • Dr. Musharraf Al-Shehri says Tarek Hamdi’s Tokyo success was ‘pivotal moment’ for sport

 

JEDDAH: Tarek Hamdi’s heroic silver medal at Tokyo 2020 and the third place finish by the Saudi women’s karate team in the kata competition of the International Karate1 Premier League tournament held in Cairo recently have ushered in a new era of achievement and progress in the sport, the president of the Saudi Karate Federation has said.

Dr. Musharraf Al-Shehri told Arab News that the high-profile performances of Hamdi at the Olympics in particular “brought attention” to karate in the Kingdom and will help spur further development of the sport.

“The medal sent out a message,” Al-Shehri said. “And the message is ‘yes we can — we can compete on the biggest stage.’”

Hamdi and the successful women’s team will prove a source of inspiration for aspiring athletes to take interest in karate and other sports, he added.

“We are very happy to see Saudi Arabia gaining such a reputation in karate,” said Al-Shehri. “This confirms that we are on the right path in the the sport as per the vision engineered to develop it, enabling the Kingdom’s champions to produce honorable results.”

Al-Shehri started his career as a karateka and won the Saudi Championship seven times. He has also represented the Kingdom’s national team in many regional and international tournaments as a player, referee, and was chairman of the West Asian Karate Referees Committee, member of the Asian and Arab Referees Committee, advisor to the Athletic Federation of Saudi Universities.

“Today is one of the most important moments in Saudi karate history,” he said. It is a “game-changing moment” that will open sport up to more people than ever before, “creating new heroes and fueling future success,” he added.

“It feels like a sporting revolution and the start of something new. We want the people of Saudi Arabia to feel this change, share it, celebrate it, connect to our athletes and support them on their inspirational journeys.”

However, Al-Shehri said that the transformation is a result of the hard work of all previous federations, and not just the current one.

“We are continuing what the previous administrations started, but for us as a new management, we hope to bring the level of karate sports to the highest level,” he added.

“What Tarek achieved left a true imprint of Saudi karate and put the name of the Kingdom on the highest platforms in the world.”

He added that the rise in standards is down to the policies of the Saudi Karate Federation and its successful plans to develop the sport, as well as the full support of the authorities responsible for Saudi sports. The federation is now hoping to compete for more medals at the 2021 World Karate Championships to be held in Dubai from Nov. 16-21.

Al-Shehri thanked everyone who has worked with him during his tenure as president, including administrators, players, coaches, referees, members and colleagues of former members of the board.

He also praised the unequivocal support of Saudi Minister of Sports Prince Abdulaziz Al-Faisal, and hailed the government’s decision to include the martial art in school sporting curricula.

“I see that the future of karate is great in the Kingdom, especially in light of the great support of the generous leadership of all sports,” he added.

Speaking to Arab News at the Second Kingdom Open Championship for girls aged under 15 in Jeddah, Al-Shehri lauded the performance of the Saudi women’s team in Cairo.

“Though it was the first participation for the women’s team at the international level, the team managed to achieve a bronze medal in Cairo,” he said. “This is very promising for the future of the Saudi female team.”

With the rising popularity of karate as a sport, Al-Shehri expects participation to surpass 100,000 people at all levels as more local competitions are established.

“In fact, I think that the number is small compared to the size of the Kingdom, and I hope that the game will spread more and we will see more heroes like Tarek Hamdi, and that the competition will be high,” he said.


Saudi International and Asian Tour announce historic golf partnership

Saudi International and Asian Tour announce historic golf partnership
Updated 20 September 2021

Saudi International and Asian Tour announce historic golf partnership

Saudi International and Asian Tour announce historic golf partnership
  • New 10-year deal will see the Asian Tour sanction the championship from 2022, with an increased prize fund

SINGAPORE: The 2022 Saudi International presented by SoftBank Investment Advisers will mark the start of an historic chapter in golf, as the event becomes sanctioned by the Asian Tour as part of a new 10-year partnership.

The tournament, which will take place at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club near Jeddah from Feb. 3 to 6, 2022, will also feature an increased purse of $5 million, up from $3.5 million. The Asian Tour partnership is aiming to elevate the event in significant emerging markets around the world.

In 2021, the Saudi International presented one of the strongest fields in world golf, joining an elite group behind only the Majors and a small number of professional championships in the ranking points offered to competitors.

“Today marks a significant development for our flagship golf event and our vision to strengthen the depth of world-class golf events, both in the GCC and also on the international stage,” said Majed Al-Sorour, CEO of Golf Saudi and the Saudi Golf Federation.

“The importance and potential of Asia’s role in world golf is undeniable, not least due to its position as a global economic powerhouse,” he said, adding: “This partnership will unlock many opportunities for players, sponsors and fans of the game. Most importantly, we are eager to help build a more inclusive game for all eligible professional golfers that spans borders and cultures by fostering collaboration with major tours and see this as an exciting first step on that journey.”

The deal with the Asian Tour, the official body for golf in Asia and a full member of the International Federation of PGA Tours, will introduce new commercial prospects and enable more professional golfers to qualify and compete for life-changing opportunities.

“This is an outstanding development for the Asian Tour that will create significant benefits for our membership, key stakeholders, and fans alike,” said Cho Minn Thant, commissioner and CEO of the Asian Tour.

“The Saudi International presented by SoftBank Investment Advisers is a world-class tournament which has become truly global. We are thrilled that it will be the showcase event of the Asian Tour’s season, spearheading our expansion into new frontiers.”

While the Saudi International presented by SoftBank Investment Advisers will mark the start of a revamped 2022 schedule, the Asian Tour is also in the process of finalizing plans to complete its combined 2020-2021 schedule, which will be announced in due course.


Saudi Arabia to hold 2021 Youth World Cup for weightlifting in October

Saudi Arabia to hold 2021 Youth World Cup for weightlifting in October
Updated 20 September 2021

Saudi Arabia to hold 2021 Youth World Cup for weightlifting in October

Saudi Arabia to hold 2021 Youth World Cup for weightlifting in October
  • More than 320 athletes to take part in the competition, to be held in the Kingdom for the first time

The Saudi Weightlifting Federation will host the 2021 IWF Youth World Cup in Jeddah from Oct. 3-12.

More than 320 male and female U-17 weightlifters from 45 countries are expected to take part in the competition, which is being held in the Kingdom for the first time.

“Hosting the tournament for the first time in Saudi Arabia, despite the circumstances the world is going through as a result of the pandemic, (shows) the unlimited support that the sports sector enjoys from our leadership toward achieving the goals of Vision 2030 and contributing to the growth of the domestic product in Saudi Arabia,” said Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, sports minister and president of the Saudi Olympic Committee.

The Saudi team’s weightlifters have claimed four medals in previous tournaments, with Ali Al-Othman winning two gold and a silver at the 2019 IWF Youth World Cup in Las Vegas  while Ali Majeed took bronze in the IWF Online Youth World Cup in Peru last year.


Golf fans set to return to 2021 DP World Tour Championships in Dubai

Golf fans set to return to 2021 DP World Tour Championships in Dubai
Updated 20 September 2021

Golf fans set to return to 2021 DP World Tour Championships in Dubai

Golf fans set to return to 2021 DP World Tour Championships in Dubai
  • European Tour’s season-ending tournament will take place at Jumeirah Golf Estates from Nov. 18-21

DUBAI: Spectators are set to return to the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, where the world’s best golfers will battle it out to be crowned European No.1 at the fourth Rolex Series event of the 2021 season.

The 13th edition of the DP World Tour Championship will take place from Nov. 18-21 at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai.

“It’s great to see the return of major sporting events into Dubai’s social calendars,” Tom Phillips, European tour head of Middle East, said.

“The UAE has become synonymous with hosting world-class events and now, while celebrating the country’s 50th anniversary, we hope to set a new example of how to do so safely for all to enjoy.”

The 50 highest-ranked players on the Race to Dubai rankings will take on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates — designed by two-time Open champion Greg Norman — competing for a share of the $9 million prize pot. 

Free tickets to watch the golf, along with other hospitality options for the event, are now on sale.

As part of the ultimate fan experience, spectators can enjoy access to the 16th green hospitality lounge, with views of the course as well as access to the Jumeirah Golf Estates clubhouse and the preferential viewing platform on the 18th green.

The 18th fan experience will offer spectators access to the preferential viewing platform on the 18th green and to the clubhouse.

The DP World Tour Championship will again host the European Disabled Golfers Association Dubai final from Nov. 19-20, with eight of the leading players already having qualified to battle it out on the Earth Course in their bid to become champion.

It will be the first time the DP World Tour Championship will have fans attending since the 2019 edition after last year’s tournament, which was won by England’s Matt Fitzpatrick, was played behind closed doors due to pandemic restrictions.

The European Tour will work closely with the Dubai government and Dubai Sports Council on precautionary measures to ensure player and spectator safety.


Mano Menezes pays heavy price for Al-Nassr’s poor start to Saudi Pro League season

Mano Menezes pays heavy price for Al-Nassr’s poor start to Saudi Pro League season
Updated 20 September 2021

Mano Menezes pays heavy price for Al-Nassr’s poor start to Saudi Pro League season

Mano Menezes pays heavy price for Al-Nassr’s poor start to Saudi Pro League season
  • Coach fired as criticism mounts despite Riyadh club’s progress to AFC Champions League final eight

Al-Nassr coach Mano Menezes has been fired just five days after leading the team into the quarterfinals of the AFC Champions League.

The dismissal, which ends the 62-year-old’s five months in charge, does not come as a surprise. Fair or not, it had been coming.

Saturday’s 3-1 loss at home to Al-Ittihad meant that Al-Nassr had collected six points from the first four games of the season, leaving the Riyadh giants six points behind the leaders, although with a game in hand.

“Mano Menezes is not Al-Nassr’s coach anymore,” Menezes posted on his social media accounts. “The club has decided to interrupt the contract. Mr. Menezes and his crew would like to thank Al-Nassr supporters and players for the time they spent together and also the Saudi people for the kind reception. We’ve learned a lot during this period.”

Menezes’ time in Saudi Arabia began well. His first act in April was to steer Al-Nassr to top spot in a tough Champions League group, finishing above the lauded Al-Sadd and Xavi Hernandez, the coach of the Qatari team who is tipped to be heading back to Barcelona before too long.

Al-Nassr recruited well in the summer, adding the Brazilian Talisca and striker Vincent Aboubakar — though Menezes seemed unsure at times just how to use the Cameroonian — and there was an expectation of a title challenge.

Defeat to Al-Faisaly in the second game put the pressure on, but there was a vote of confidence from the board. Despite that there were still noises coming out of the club that all was not quite well.

Menezes had come in for plenty of criticism from the media and former players in recent weeks. The play was seen as predictable, with a lack of creativity coming from midfield despite the arrival of the talented Talisca.

Performances were disjointed and with big characters such as Morocco’s Abderrazak Hamdallah in the team, there were concerns about whether Menezes was strong enough to keep everyone in line and the team happy.

All knew, rightly or wrongly, that an exit from the Champions League last Monday would spell the end of the Brazilian’s time in Riyadh, but Al-Nassr defeated Tractor of Iran 1-0. The victory, coming against an understrength opposition, failed to convince the critics, but at least the club were in the last eight with a favorable draw against Al-Wahda of the UAE.

The loss to Al-Ittihad was the end, however. The Tigers played with more intensity and discipline, and deserved the 3-1 win. It did not go unnoticed at Al-Nassr that their opponents, and SPL leaders, had moved quickly earlier this season to change their coach and had won all four games since doing so.

With just four games of the season gone, it seems a knee-jerk reaction but, like their counterparts in Jeddah, Al-Nassr’s board felt it was best to act quickly while there is still time for a new man to come in and mount a title challenge.

It now remains to be seen who that new man will be. The team’s next three league games are all very winnable, coming against opponents who are in the bottom four. Nine points will put Al-Nassr in the midst of a title race.

The  names already in the hat will be familiar to fans of Al-Hilal. Cosmin Olaroiu was last seen winning the Chinese Super League title with Jiangsu FC before the team folded earlier this year. The Romanian led Al-Hilal to the league title in 2008 and had a brief spell in charge of the Saudi national team.

Also mentioned is Jose Morais, the Portuguese boss who came to Riyadh toward the end of last season to deliver the title.

That will be the job of the new man at Al-Nassr.