Olympic fallout: Are young Saudi footballers being hampered by SPL’s 7-foreigner rule?

Olympic fallout: Are young Saudi footballers being hampered by SPL’s 7-foreigner rule?
Few Saudi strikers can hope to have the impact that likes of Bafetimbi Gomis, center, and other overseas players have had in the Saudi Professional League. (AFP file photo)
Short Url
Updated 03 August 2021

Olympic fallout: Are young Saudi footballers being hampered by SPL’s 7-foreigner rule?

Olympic fallout: Are young Saudi footballers being hampered by SPL’s 7-foreigner rule?
  • Clubs in Kingdom continue to count on overseas players for goals, with negative consequences on Saudi U-23 team at Tokyo 2020

RIYADH: Now the Olympics football tournament is over, attention has quickly turned to the start of the new Saudi Professional League (SPL) season next week.

Take a quick look at the headlines and social media and there is not much being said about what happened in Japan as the young Falcons lost all three games at Tokyo 2020. But there are the usual significant number of reports and rumors as to which foreign stars are heading to the league. The two are connected, however.

There is no doubt that there are some top-class foreign players in Saudi Arabia who bring a lot to their clubs and the league. Stars such as French striker Bafetimbi Gomis and Syrian sharpshooter Omar Al-Somah light up the league on and off the pitch.

Looking ahead to the new season there will be speculation about whether Al-Hilal will make it three in a row or if Al-Ahli will return to the running, but there is one certainty: The top scorer next season will not be Saudi Arabian.

Saudi Arabia’s league is unusual in Asia in that it does not limit the number of foreign players to four in the way many do, with each club allowed to sign and field seven overseas footballers.

And it is no surprise that attackers from around the world are in demand. After all, scoring goals is the hardest thing in football to do, so why would clubs and coaches not look to import solutions?

Gomis, a powerful, skillful striker, fiery yet with ice-cool composure in the area, is one of the best center-forwards in Asia. He was the top scorer in the 2019 AFC Champions League as Al-Hilal picked up a third continental championship. Others played their part but the former French international made the difference at crucial times. The likes of Abderrazzak Hamdallah of Morocco and Cristian Guanca of Argentina were other stars last season.

It is not just the title-chasing clubs that have goal scorers from abroad. Swede Carlos Strandberg scored 16 goals, more than a third of Abha’s total in the SPL, and those strikes played a major part in the club staying up by a point.

In short, in Saudi Arabia, all the teams look to foreigners for goals. This can help the local defenders gain some vital experience in facing a variety of strikers from all over the world. For young center-backs there can be few better learning curves available than one which features clashes against the physical Gomis, the artful Guanca, and the single-minded Strandberg.

This attacking talent can flourish anywhere in the world and if any defender can learn to hold their own against them then they have nothing to fear and plenty to look forward to.

But what about the local strikers? There are consequences for this love of international attackers. Increasingly the home-grown forwards are getting fewer chances to develop. Just look at the goalscoring charts for last season; none of the top 10 were from Saudi Arabia. The highest-ranked was Hassan Al-Amri at No. 12 and seven of his 12 goals for Al-Qadisiyah came from the spot. In contrast, six of the most prolific 10 players in Japan were locals.

This is obviously a worry. If teams look overseas for striking talent, then there are fewer opportunities for locals.

At the Olympics, many hopes were placed on the shoulders of Abdullah Al-Hamdan who made headlines when signing for Al-Hilal from Al-Shabab in January. It was hoped that the 21-year-old was the answer to the search for the next Sami Al-Jaber. Yet the forward struggled to get into games in Japan, looked off the pace, and was easy for defenders to handle. That should not be a surprise given that he has been a bit-part player for Al-Hilal, playing a full league game just once since joining the club.

If he cannot get a run of games then he is unlikely to be able to make the difference against defenders from the Ivory Coast, Germany, and Brazil.

And if it was not tough enough for the player last season, Al-Hilal have added Moussa Marega from Porto. The 30-year-old Malian marksman scored plenty in Portugal and is likely to slot straight into the starting line-up when the new season kicks off.

So, what is a promising young striker such as Al-Hamdan to do? If he does not get much playing time, then he has to move but the same issues exist in other clubs in Saudi Arabia. Moving overseas may be the answer but is not an easy one, especially when Saudi strikers have little reputation internationally, partly due to the fact that they are squeezed out of their starting elevens at home.

Nobody could blame a coach for pushing a talented young player in Riyadh or Jeddah toward midfield or the wings. It is a vicious circle. While foreigners dominate the scoring charts, the demand for them will continue to rise. This reduces the chances for the locals; if they are not playing, they are not scoring, and so clubs continue to look overseas.

There is no easy answer or quick fix but reducing the number of imports from seven to four would be a step in the right direction.


Saudi football legend Sami Al-Jaber joins Adidas as brand ambassador

Saudi football legend Sami Al-Jaber joins Adidas as brand ambassador
Updated 17 sec ago

Saudi football legend Sami Al-Jaber joins Adidas as brand ambassador

Saudi football legend Sami Al-Jaber joins Adidas as brand ambassador
  • The former national captain joins Salman Al-Faraj for the “Impossible is Nothing” campaign

Saudi Arabian football legend Sami Al-Jaber has been announced as an ambassador for Adidas, becoming the latest addition to the growing list of local players from the Kingdom to have signed with the brand, including current Saudi national football team captain Salman Al-Faraj.

The announcement came as the nation celebrated its 91st National Day.

This partnership is part of the brand’s “Impossible Is Nothing” campaign and looks to empower and celebrate athletes and iconic sportspeople in the region, as well as ensure that regional and local sports communities are well represented and supported.

“It’s a feeling of immense pride and excitement to be joining the Adidas family,” Al-Jaber said. “Adidas’ brand attitude ‘Impossible Is Nothing’ is a message that really resonates with me both at a personal and professional level. Special thanks to Adidas for the continuous support to develop and engage local and regional communities through sport. Seeing possibilities in sport is key to achieving our purpose of changing lives.”

Al-Jaber is one of Saudi Arabia’s and the Middle East football’s greatest players, having scored 173 goals in 376 appearances for Al-Hilal, and 43 times in 163 matches for the national team. He also competed in four FIFA World Cups and scored three goals, more than any other Arab footballer.


Delhi Capitals back on top of IPL with 33-run win against Rajasthan Royals

Delhi Capitals back on top of IPL with 33-run win against Rajasthan Royals
Updated 23 min 8 sec ago

Delhi Capitals back on top of IPL with 33-run win against Rajasthan Royals

Delhi Capitals back on top of IPL with 33-run win against Rajasthan Royals
  • Delhi has 16 points from 10 games, two points more than second-placed Chennai Super Kings

ABU DHABI: Delhi Capitals returned to the top of the Indian Premier League with a 33-run victory over Rajasthan Royals on Saturday.
Delhi scored 154-6 after being asked to bat, its innings propelled by Shreyas Iyer’s 32-ball 43, captain Rishabh Pant’s run-a-ball 24 and Shimron Hetmyer’s 28 runs off 16 deliveries.
Rajasthan could only reach 121-6 in reply after collapsing to 6-2 in the second over and 48-4 in the 11th. Rajasthan captain Sanju Samson restored stability to the innings with a 53-ball 70 not out.
“I thought the total was chasable but we lost too many wickets and weren’t able to get any momentum,” Samson said.
Anrich Nortje returned figures of 2-18 from four overs.
Delhi has 16 points from 10 games, two points more than second-placed Chennai Super Kings which has played a game less. Rajasthan has eight points from nine games.
In the second game on Saturday, Punjab Kings beat last-placed Sunrisers Hyderabad by five runs at Sharjah Cricket Stadium.
Punjab moved to fifth place in the eight-team IPL after being put into bat and scoring 125-7, before containing Hyderabad to 120-7 in 20 overs.
Jason Holder was the biggest threat to Punjab, taking 3-19 with the ball and scoring 47 not out off 29 deliveries with the bat, including five sixes. But it wasn’t enough.
Hyderabad is out of playoff contention following its eighth defeat in nine games.


Overmatched All European ‘need a couple miracles’ to keep Ryder Cup

Overmatched All European ‘need a couple miracles’ to keep Ryder Cup
Updated 22 min 42 sec ago

Overmatched All European ‘need a couple miracles’ to keep Ryder Cup

Overmatched All European ‘need a couple miracles’ to keep Ryder Cup
  • The Europeans trail captain Steve Stricker’s young and hungry US squad 11-5

He can’t clone Jon Rahm. He can’t make any last-minute substitutions. He can’t sneak up and cut the laces on the Americans’ golf shoes or super-glue the head covers to their drivers.
All European captain Padraig Harrington can do at this point is post the lineup card, recite a few lines from Winston Churchill’s “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech, wave his guys on their way Sunday morning and then pray. A lot.
Harrington knocked that first task off his to-do list late Saturday, predictably front-loading his lineup in a desperate bid to gain momentum and then somehow sustain it through the dozen singles matches. The Europeans trail captain Steve Stricker’s young and hungry US squad 11-5, and no team has ever come back from a deficit of more than four points.
Worse, after losing seven of the last nine cups, the Americans are out for revenge.
“They have run the score up on us before,” said Tony Finau. “And if we have the opportunity, we are going to run it up on them tomorrow.”
Avoiding embarrassment is a reasonable goal. Englishman Ian Poulter, hardly exaggerating Europe’s chances for a comeback, put it this way: “We need a couple of miracles.”
What the Europeans really need is a dozen players like Rahm, the steely eyed Spaniard who currently sits atop the world rankings. He has won all three of his team matches alongside countryman Sergio Garcia and tied the fourth, practically carrying England’s Tyrrell Hatton on his back.
“The team is playing good,” said Rahm, being more gracious than candid. Half of Europe’s squad has failed to contribute so much as a half-point. “Just putts not dropping in and a couple things here and there that just could happen that haven’t happened. I’d like to believe that things even out.
“Golf is a very complicated and ironic and sarcastic game sometimes,” Rahm added a moment later, “and teams can be capable of some great things, like the US has done so far the last two days. It could be our chance.”
Momentum is everything on the final day of the Ryder Cup. Anyone who has watched the scoreboard change colors like the temperature gauge in an overheating car knows how quickly a cushion can become a hot seat. Think of how fast the Europeans, holding a 10-6 lead, slid down the drain just ahead of American Justin Leonard’s putt at Brookline in 1999. Or the way the Europeans similarly turned the tables in 2012, erasing that same deficit for an improbable win at Medinah.
“I think we learned a lot of lessons from 2012,” said Stricker, who played on that team and lost his singles match to Martin Kaymer. “Probably the thing I can say is that we didn’t do a good job then putting our lineup out on Sunday. ... That was definitely one of the things that we were talking about up there tonight.
“So you know,” he said finally. “it’s hard to say if you got it right or not.”
With eight players ranked among the top 10 in the world and only one outside the top 20 — Scottie Scheffler, at No. 21 — Stricker’s job was picking through an embarrassment of riches.
Xander Schauffle, who went 3-0, leads off against also-winless Rory McIlroy. World No. 2-ranked Dustin Johnson, the squad’s oldest player and the only golfer on either side to go 4-0 through the team matches, will get to sleep in and plays in the sixth match against winless Paul Casey. Daniel Berger, one of six American rookies, wound up in the 12th spot against Matt Fitzpatrick, yet another European without a point.
Except for McIlroy, Harrington lined up all of his winless players in slots 6-12. Rahm plays the third match against Scottie Scheffler, and Garcia goes off fourth against long-hitting Bryson DeChambeau.
“These things can be done,” said Harrington, who played in the 1999 match at Brookline. “It is more of an individual game tomorrow and our job is getting them to focus on winning their point. That’s the biggest thing they can do to help the team.”


Saudi and expat runners mark national day with 91 mins 91.91 secs of racing in Jeddah

Saudi and expat runners mark national day with 91 mins 91.91 secs of racing in Jeddah
Updated 1 min 36 sec ago

Saudi and expat runners mark national day with 91 mins 91.91 secs of racing in Jeddah

Saudi and expat runners mark national day with 91 mins 91.91 secs of racing in Jeddah
  • Event was part of the Mazda 91st Saudi National Day series in Jeddah and Riyadh

JEDDAH: Over 300 runners of all backgrounds and abilities have taken part in the the Mazda 91st Saudi National Day series on the hills of of Usfan, Jeddah, in a race that lasted 91 mins and 91.91 secs.

Sponsors Under Armor marked the Kingdom’s national day with races in Jeddah and the capital on the same day to celebrate the country’s achievements over the past 91 years.

The events were in support of the national goal of encouraging people to lead a healthy and more active lifestyle.

Before the start of the Jeddah Run Series event, runners received a message from Saudi Olympic rower Husein Alireza from London.

“I wish you all the best luck in the race. It is a tough one, but it is a great preparation for Hijaz 50 race which will take place on Dec. 3, 2021,” he said. “I should be with you, so run all the time, walk if you have to, crawl if you must, but don’t give up. It is you against yourself up there, but the most important thing is just enjoy it. Good luck.”

Athletes aged from 18-60 ran through the area’s 9.1 km scenic trails for a duration of 91 mins, 91 secs, with Katie Philcox of the UK winning the women’s race, having covered 11.38 km in that time, and Johan Engelbrecht of South Africa coming first in the men’s competition with 16.27 km.

Hejaz Ultra, a trail-running and hiking group in Saudi Arabia, partnered with Under Armor to organize the event.

Commenting on the race and the Inspire Series, Nesreen Samir Ghonaim, the Saudi Chairlady of Hejaz Ultra, said: “We are proud to be part of the Mazda 91st Saudi National Day series run and to see Saudi Arabia’s growing fitness community come out for the day.”

Meanwhile, Fabrice Laborie, a French national who has been living in Saudi Arabia for 20 years and founded Hejaz Ultra in 2016, told Arab News that the race is a key family and corporate community event with a fantastic vibe and energy.

“This is a special day for Saudi Arabia and we decided to celebrate it with fellow athletes from Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Britain, India, the Philippines, Pakistan, Sudan, Nigeria, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Morocco and many others.” he said.

“Due to coronavirus procedures, we only registered around 305 runners this year in addition to a large number of virtual runners who were home or walking somewhere in the city.”

“We are proud to be part of the Under Armor series and to see Saudi Arabia’s growing fitness community come out for the day,” he added.

Laborie also expressed his admiration for the Saudi government’s aim to promote physical and social well-being and a healthier lifestyle by providing programs that encourage widespread and regular participation in sports and athletic activities.

Final results

Female runners:

1st Katie Philcox (UK) 11.38 km; 2nd Nujud Alharbi (Saudi Arabia) 10.10 km; 3rd Red Alvarez (Philippines) 9.88 km.

Male runners:

1st Johan Engelbrecht (South Africa) 16.27 km; 2nd Abubakr Gafar (Sudan) 16.20 km; 3rd Abdelrhim Ghad (Palestine) 16.17 km


Ten-man Dortmund crash without Haaland on Rose’s Gladbach return

Ten-man Dortmund crash without Haaland on Rose’s Gladbach return
Updated 25 September 2021

Ten-man Dortmund crash without Haaland on Rose’s Gladbach return

Ten-man Dortmund crash without Haaland on Rose’s Gladbach return
  • "We really missed Erling and Marco today, but we needed a bit more toughness and determination," admitted Dortmund defender Mats Hummels
  • Wolfsburg lost 3-1 at Hoffenheim, falling to third and losing second place on goal difference to Bayer Leverkusen

BERLIN: Defending champions Bayern Munich will finish the weekend three points clear at the top of the Bundesliga table after close rivals Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg both suffered away defeats on Saturday.
Without injured star striker Erling Braut Haaland and club captain Marco Reus, Dortmund had midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud sent off for two first-half yellow cards as their 1-0 defeat at Borussia Moenchengladbach left them fourth in the table.
“Of course, we really missed Erling and Marco today, but we needed a bit more toughness and determination,” admitted Dortmund defender Mats Hummels as the visitors played a man down for 50 minutes.
Earlier, Wolfsburg lost 3-1 at Hoffenheim, falling to third and losing second place on goal difference to Bayer Leverkusen, whose 18-year-old Germany international Florian Wirtz sealed a 1-0 win over Mainz to become the youngest player to reach the milestone of 10 Bundesliga goals.
Having lost both Haaland and Reus to injuries in training on Friday, the visitors struggled in front of goal as Moenchengladbach fans whistled Dortmund coach Marco Rose on his return to Borussia Park, where he was in charge for two years before quitting to join their Bundesliga rivals.
The match was decided shortly before half-time when Swiss midfielder Denis Zakaria beat England midfielder Jude Bellingham to the ball and fired the hosts ahead with the game’s first clear chance.
Emotions were running high and referee Denis Aytekin dished out eight yellow cards, two of which were shown to Dahoud.
He was booked early for fouling Gladbach captain Lars Stindl, and then sent off on 40 minutes for a late tackle on US defender Joe Scally.
Dortmund squandered the chance to grab a late equalizer when Belgium winger Thorgan Hazard headed over in added time.
Haaland and Reus face a race against time to be fit for Tuesday’s Champions League game at home to Sporting Lisbon while Saturday’s win hauled Gladbach up from the relegation places to 11th.
Wolfsburg took the lead in Sinsheim when winger Ridle Baku fired in a stunning long-range shot from the left flank, but Andrej Kramaric, Christoph Baumgartner and Pavel Kaderabek scored three unanswered goals for Hoffenheim.
“It’s a shame we didn’t take the points, but Hoffenheim were very efficient — better than us in that regards,” said Wolfsburg head coach Mark van Bommel after his first league defeat in charge.
RB Leipzig picked up a much-needed confidence boost before Tuesday’s home Champions League game against Brugge with a 6-0 thrashing of Hertha Berlin.
Three defeats in their opening five league games, as well as a 6-3 thrashing at Manchester City in Europe, had piled pressure on Leipzig coach Jesse Marsch.
The American reacted by switching Denmark forward Yussuf Poulsen up front for struggling new striker Andre Silva.
Poulsen linked up with French winger Christopher Nkunku to cause havoc in the Hertha defense.
Nkunku was outstanding with two goals and two assists, while Poulsen, Nordi Mukiele, Emil Forsberg and Amadou Haidara also got on the scoresheet.
Union Berlin are unbeaten in their last 20 home league games after a 1-0 win against Bielefeld in the capital.
Substitute striker Kevin Behrens came off the bench to claim his first Bundesliga goal in only his fourth game for Union.
However, the win was overshadowed by injury to Union defender Timo Baumgartl, who was knocked out during a first-half collision and taken to hospital, where it was confirmed he suffered concussion.
“Timo Baumgartl is doing well. Under the circumstances, that’s the most pleasing news,” said Union coach Urs Fischer.