Why Al-Ahli fans should cherish the beauty and madness Gjanni Alioski will bring to Saudi Professional League

Why Al-Ahli fans should cherish the beauty and madness Gjanni Alioski will bring to Saudi Professional League
North Macedonia's defender Ezgjan Alioski and Netherland's defender Jurrien Timber vie for the ball during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group C football match. (File/AFP)
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Updated 09 August 2021

Why Al-Ahli fans should cherish the beauty and madness Gjanni Alioski will bring to Saudi Professional League

Why Al-Ahli fans should cherish the beauty and madness Gjanni Alioski will bring to Saudi Professional League
  • The North Macedonian capture from Premier League Leeds United will bring energy, exuberance and a whole lot of entertainment to fans of the Jeddah club

DUBAI: If Ezgjian “Gjanni” Alioski’s four seasons at Leeds United could be distilled into a single moment, the 56th minute of the fixture against Fulham on June 27, 2020 probably serves as well as any.

It was the Yorkshire club’s first home game following the enforced Covid break and, having lost against Cardiff City on the league’s resumption a week earlier, second-placed Leeds were hoping to reignite their promotion charge and end their 16-year Premier League exile.

With Leeds leading 1-0 but struggling to convince in an empty, echoing Elland Road, Mateusz Klich released Jack Harrison down the right wing. After a healthy gallop forward, his scuffed cross wrong-footed defenders Joe Bryan and Tim Ream and, almost apologetically, arrived at the feet of Alioski two yards to the left of the penalty spot.

He took a steadying touch and then drilled a low shot into the bottom right-hand corner; 2-0. Sensing the eerie abnormality of the stadium’s silence, he sprinted towards the Kop and started blowing kisses and waving to the cardboard cutout fans that had been placed in the stands to replicate a full house.

It was a typically Alioski sequence: the athleticism of the scamper into the box, the accuracy of the low, left-foot finish, the absurdity of the celebration – and all of it moments after collecting a yellow card for a wild scythe on Denis Odoi. He had, it should also be mentioned, only been on the pitch 10 minutes.

That is the Alioski Saudi football fans should be willing to embrace when he makes his bow in the SPL.

An effervescent, erratic and unpredictable left-sided player who would harry, press, interchange, track back and bomb forward whenever he was on the pitch and joke, play-act, mug, amuse and bemuse whenever he wasn’t, especially if there was a camera present.

In fact, few players in the club’s history have combined the sublime and the ridiculous quite so instantaneously. “Maddest human I’ve ever met,” was Luke Ayling’s summary of his teammate’s unique qualities.

It would be wrong, however, to dismiss the North Macedonian’s contribution to Leeds United’s renaissance as comic relief. Signed in 2017 as one of director of football Victor Orta’s first batch of recruits, the result of a Moneyball-style trawl of Europe’s smaller leagues, second tiers and reserve squads, Alioski was picked up from FC Lugano on the back of a 16-goal, 14-assist season in the Swiss Super League. He would go on to make 170 appearances at Elland Road, scoring 21 times – including a goal of the season against Nottingham Forest in just his fifth outing for the club – and was a near ever-present during the promotion-winning 2019-20 season, when Leeds finished 10 points clear at the top of the table, and again when they secured a creditable 9th place on their return to the Premier League.

Most importantly, perhaps, was the fact that, despite being signed as a winger, he ended up solving the club’s perennial left-back issues, stepping in when specialist recruits Laurens De Bock and Barry Douglas failed to replicate the form displayed at Brugge and Wolves respectively.

Indeed, there’s an argument to suggest that Alioski embodied the Bielsa revolution as well as anyone at Leeds. The tactical shift introduced when head coach Marcelo Bielsa took over the club in the summer of 2018 is built around constant movement, instant transitions between defence and attack and, when the ball is lost, relentless pressing to get it back – and the higher up the pitch the better. Requiring almost inhuman levels of fitness, excellent close control and the versatility to adapt to a number of different roles, Alioski provided the ideal raw material for Bielsa’s system. His stamina was such that Bielsa would often overload the right-hand side of the pitch knowing the entire left flank could be covered by one player.

“The club has changed me a lot and I have improved,” he told the club’s website in 2019. “I have learned to play new positions, improved on my defending and I now have the ability to run more. I’m also more professional and more disciplined, I have learnt a lot from Marcelo and I try to learn new things everyday.”

After four years in West Yorkshire, though, he couldn’t be tempted to extend his stay. It was clear Leeds were looking to recruit a new first-choice left back for their second Premier League campaign and, at 29 and with a financial future to secure, Alioski chose to become a free agent. Al-Ahli moved in to offer the practicing Muslim a lucrative two-year deal to play in Saudi Arabia.

So, what exactly is the Saudi club getting? The footballing answer would be an experienced, versatile international with a great engine who is equally comfortable at left back or left-midfield. But that’s half the story. He’s also a one-man content generator, an irrepressible dressing room personality who, with the benefit of six languages, ensured every member of the squad was welcomed and valued.

Club captain Liam Cooper probably summed it up best. Alioski was both “a lunatic” and “a beautiful human.” It’s not a bad legacy to leave behind.


Slick Man City blow away Brighton

Slick Man City blow away Brighton
Updated 8 sec ago

Slick Man City blow away Brighton

Slick Man City blow away Brighton
BRIGHTON, United Kingdom: Pep Guardiola lauded Brighton for playing like a “top-four” side despite being on the end of a 4-1 thrashing from his Manchester City side on Saturday.
The English champions had the points sealed by half-time as Ilkay Gundogan tapped into an empty net on 13 minutes before Phil Foden finished off two fine team moves.
Alexis Mac Allister’s penalty pulled a goal back for Brighton, before Riyad Mahrez put the seal on a slick City display.
Brighton remain in fourth after an impressive start to the season and Guardiola believes the Seagulls deserve to be in that exalted position in the table.
“It’s really good because I knew which team we face today,” said Guardiola after City moved up to second in the table, two points behind leaders Chelsea.
“They are aggressive and when they have the ball they know what they have to do. They have all the mechanisms of a big team.
“They have courage. I admire them for that. They play like a top-four or five team.”
Guardiola made just two changes to the side that smashed Club Brugge 5-1 in the Champions League in midweek as Gundogan and Gabriel Jesus replaced Kevin De Bruyne and Mahrez.
And Brighton were on the same end of a similar hiding.
Joao Cancelo forced a smart save from Robert Sanchez and Lewis Dunk cleared an effort from Jesus off the line early on.
But Brighton did not help themselves with some disastrous defending for the opening goal as Sanchez dropped the ball under minimal pressure from Jesus.
The Brazilian hooked the ball back across goal and Gundogan turned into an unguarded net.
Bernardo Silva’s scintillating form has made the Portugal midfielder almost undroppable despite the wealth of midfield talent on offer to Guardiola.
Silva was the instigator for the second goal as his defense splitting pass played Jack Grealish in behind and he unselfishly squared for his England teammate Foden to force the ball in.
There was plenty of fortune about Foden’s second as he got in the way of Jesus’ shot and got enough of a deflection to bamboozle Sanchez, who let the ball through his grasp.
Brighton made a far better contest of the second-half as City conserved their energy amid a run of seven games in 22 days.
“It was a good lesson,” added Guardiola. “For 30 minutes they were better than us.”
Graham Potter’s men got their reward with a consolation nine minutes from time when Ederson wiped out Enock Mwepu as he rushed from his goal and Mac Allister slotted home from the penalty spot.
“We suffered a bit in the first half but the second half response was fantastic,” said Potter.
“Of course it’s disappointing to lose. We have to say Manchester City were better but our performance was something to be proud of.”
City still had the final say as Foden rounded off a superb performance by picking out Mahrez to smash the visitors’ fourth high past Sanchez.

Newcastle manager Jones confident form will turn around after Palace point

Newcastle United caretaker Graeme Jones shakes hands with Miguel Almiron after the Premier League match at Selhurst Park. (Reuters/Action Images)
Newcastle United caretaker Graeme Jones shakes hands with Miguel Almiron after the Premier League match at Selhurst Park. (Reuters/Action Images)
Updated 23 October 2021

Newcastle manager Jones confident form will turn around after Palace point

Newcastle United caretaker Graeme Jones shakes hands with Miguel Almiron after the Premier League match at Selhurst Park. (Reuters/Action Images)
  • Jones in charge of his first game since stepping in to replace Steve Bruce
  • Saw Magpies claim a 1-1 draw at Selhurst Park

LONDON: Newcastle United interim manager Graeme Jones believes his players have provided themselves a base on which to build a Premier League revival.

Jones, taking his first game since stepping in to replace Steve Bruce this week, saw United claim a 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace, despite conceding 75 percent possession in the Premier League encounter.

Jones, though, knows that Rome was not built in a day and thinks United showed enough in the 90 minutes against a lower top flight rival to prove they are up for the fight to remain in the Premier League.

“We came here to win. That was the intention. So, the next best thing is a point,” said Jones, whose side remains 19th in the table with just four points from nine games. “Off the ball I was pleased with the organization and the standard. We limited Palace to one chance in the first half. In the second half they had two. It is a base, a start.

"I would like us to be better on the ball. But we know it doesn't come overnight - it takes time. We need to tighten up a little bit, not concede as many goals. We have to improve. We have to be better. But I have got to give the lads credit. As I have said, loads of work to do. But at least it is somewhere to start.”

Newcastle-born Jones is a fan as well as a coach of his boyhood club.

He was on the terraces when club legends like Kevin Keegan and Alan Shearer were scoring goals for the Magpies.

And, despite seeing goals from legends of days gone by at United, Jones believes the one he witnessed from Callum Wilson on Saturday - an acrobatic overhead kick - was one of the best ever.

Jones said: “It is right up there. With Cal, he is a unique striker. In training he is a good finisher, he works and is a fantastic professional. On a matchday, there is a stimulation, something comes out of him where he has the mentality to perform for Newcastle United. He is the best matchday professional I have worked with. To pull that out of the hat certainly helped us.”

As well as top scorer Wilson's strike, the team's mentality has also pleased Jones.

“You have to respect a point in the Premier League. We needed to start with that base. We needed defensive solidity to give Callum and Allan (Saint-Maximin) a chance. Every game will be treated on its merits - I can't tell you the shape against Chelsea next week. One thing I can't change is the mentality. Everyone fought for each other - that was pleasing.”


Wait for Premier League win goes on for Newcastle after Crystal Palace draw

Crystal Palace's Conor Gallagher, left, and Newcastle's Isaac Hayden battles for the ball during the English Premier League match at Selhurst Park. (AP)
Crystal Palace's Conor Gallagher, left, and Newcastle's Isaac Hayden battles for the ball during the English Premier League match at Selhurst Park. (AP)
Updated 23 October 2021

Wait for Premier League win goes on for Newcastle after Crystal Palace draw

Crystal Palace's Conor Gallagher, left, and Newcastle's Isaac Hayden battles for the ball during the English Premier League match at Selhurst Park. (AP)
  • A new Steve Bruce-less era was heralded on Tyneside, after the head coach was this week shown the St. James’ Park exit door

LONDON: Nine and counting. Newcastle United remain winless from their opening nine Premier League games of the season — however, their Crystal Palace draw definitely feels like a point gained, rather than two dropped.

Christian Benteke opened the scoring for the Eagles, before some Callum Wilson acrobatics ensured the Magpies traveled back north from the capital with a point to show for their efforts.

A new Steve Bruce-less era was heralded on Tyneside, after the head coach was this week shown the St. James’ Park exit door — but again, like last week against Spurs, there was little difference from what had gone before.

Graeme Jones stepped into the dugout for this one, and will do so for the next seven days until United decide on their new manager. United were clearly more organized, yet a whole lot more tentative.

Where gaps at the back were cavernous under Bruce, things appeared a whole lot more solid without him.

United, however, did have to ride their luck.

In a half of football devoid of real opportunities, only two of merit were created. One was wasted by the usually clinical Wilson and another saw Benteke strike Karl Darlow’s post.

United were bright early doors, with a little more defensive shape, which so easily escaped them in the opening game of the Magpies’ Saudi-financed era.

And Wilson went within an inch of setting Newcastle on their way, but could only find the side netting when presented with a chance on a tight angle from just three yards.

Benteke, a threat in the air all day for United’s beefed-up backline, fired a shot across the bows as he beat both Javier Manquillo and Emil Krafth to a floated cross to hit the foot of the post.

Bizarrely, the highlight of the opening half came from an off the field action as United released a statement making a U-turn on their previous decision to encourage fans not to wear Saudi-inspired dress.

It seems the new owners are now in favor of it. The statement read: “Those who wish to support the club by wearing appropriate culturally inspired clothing should feel free to do so as they see fit. We are inclusive to all.

“To reiterate what we said previously, neither the club nor its new owners were offended by attire worn, and appreciate the overt statements of support and acceptance by our great fans.”

Saudi flags and traditional dress were clearly visible across the 2,800-strong away support in south London.

After the break it was one-way traffic — and for United, a backs to the wall job.

Benteke made sure the Eagles’ dominance was rewarded when he nodded home a Tyrick Mitchell cross for 1-0. It was no less than the hosts deserved.

The Belgium international almost put Palace out of sight moments later as United’s resolve began to falter. Another header, this time off the top of the bar.

Against the run of play, however, the Magpies unexpectedly leveled as Wilson redeemed his earlier miss by producing a second-half moment of magic. His overhead kick from a United corner lit up the traveling support as the present Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi, PCP directors, punched the air in the directors’ box.

Jones’ United continued to ride their luck. Goalscorer Benteke continued his profligacy in front of goal.

A Palace through ball broke the United defensive line and Benteke, with the whole goal to aim at, skewed wide.

Benteke did have the ball in the net again with three minutes left to play and looked to have won it for the Eagles. However, the VAR gods shone down on United as referee Darren England ruled the goal out for an obvious pull of the shirt by Marc Guehi on Clark.

Cue chants of “how much are they paying you?” — Clearly aimed at the man in the middle, England, and United’s new cash-rich owners.

Jealousy and hypocrisy reign supreme in English football when it comes to Newcastle United, of that there is no doubt, now.

But while the green-eyed monster dominates fan perception when it comes to the club’s owners, it does not ring true when it comes to their “on-pitch” product. That will likely have to wait until January and the transfer window.


Bayern wins again without coach Julian Nagelsmann

Bayern wins again without coach Julian Nagelsmann
Updated 23 October 2021

Bayern wins again without coach Julian Nagelsmann

Bayern wins again without coach Julian Nagelsmann
  • Serge Gnabry and Robert Lewandowski were among the scorers as Bayern stayed a point clear of Dortmund at the top of the table
  • The coach has been directing Bayern remotely since he tested positive ahead of a Champions League game at Benfica on Wednesday

MUNICH: Coach Julian Nagelsmann again sent instructions remotely after testing positive for the coronavirus as Bayern Munich beat Hoffenheim 4-0 in the Bundesliga on Saturday.
Borussia Dortmund made do without injured striker Erling Haaland to overcome Arminia Bielefeld 3-1.
Serge Gnabry and Robert Lewandowski were among the scorers as Bayern stayed a point clear of Dortmund at the top of the table in what would have been a routine win if not for Nagelsmann’s absence.
The coach has been directing Bayern remotely since he tested positive ahead of a Champions League game at Benfica on Wednesday which Bayern won 4-0. Assistant Dino Toppmöller deputizes on the touchline and said Nagelsmann is closely involved with the tactics.
Bayern started with intent against Hoffenheim, Lewandowski scuffing a shot wide in the second minute when one-on-one with the goalkeeper, before Gnabry had a goal disallowed over a prior foul by Jamal Musiala.
Gnabry was first to score for Bayern, taking advantage of Hoffenheim’s narrow defensive formation to overlap on the right side of the penalty area in the 16th. Lewandowski added the second on the half-hour on a counterattack. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Kingsley Coman scored late on.
NO HAALAND, NO PROBLEM
A hip muscle injury for Haaland could rule out the Norwegian for weeks and make Dortmund’s bid to dethrone Bayern even harder. Haaland’s teammates appeared not to be affected as they showed off their skills in a 3-1 win over Bielefeld.
Emre Can put Dortmund ahead from the penalty spot after a clumsy tackle, before center back Mats Hummels made a statement with a volley from the edge of the area to make it 2-0. England midfielder Jude Bellingham had his moment in the spotlight in the 72nd, beating three Bielefeld players on his way to scoring a fine solo goal.
LEIPZIG HITS 4
Leipzig took some of the pressure off its American coach, Jesse Marsch, with a 4-1 win over promoted Greuther Fürth. But it wasn’t as simple as the score might indicate.
Fürth had the lead at halftime thanks to Branimir Hrgota scoring from a penalty given for Leipzig’s Nordi Mukiele jumping onto an opponent in an aerial duel. Yussuf Poulsen scored for Leipzig immediately after the break, before goals from Emil Forsberg, Dominik Szoboszlai and Hugo Novoa.
It was a welcome win for Leipzig, whose Champions League campaign is already all but over after a 3-2 loss to Paris Saint-Germain meant Marsch’s team started the group stage with three defeats.
Freiburg stays in a surprise third place after keeping its record as the league’s only unbeaten team in a 2-0 win over Wolfsburg.
Wolfsburg, which started the season brightly under new coach Mark van Bommel, is now on an eight-game winless run in all competitions.


Chelsea hit Norwich for seven

Chelsea hit Norwich for seven
Updated 23 October 2021

Chelsea hit Norwich for seven

Chelsea hit Norwich for seven
  • Mason Mount scored a hat-trick for the Blues at Stamford Bridge
  • Mount had not scored since May and Tuchel welcomed his return to scoring form with Lukaku and Werner expected to be out for some time

LONDON: Chelsea opened up a four-point lead at the top of the Premier League with a 7-0 demolition of Norwich on Saturday.
Mason Mount scored a hat-trick for the Blues at Stamford Bridge as the European champions coped easily without first-choice strikers Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner.
Mount started the rout after just eight minutes and finished it with two more in the closing stages after Ben Gibson had been sent-off for the visitors.
Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James and Ben Chilwell were also on target for Thomas Tuchel’s men, while Max Aarons’ own goal summed up a sorry day for the Canaries.
He had not scored since May and Tuchel welcomed his return to scoring form with Lukaku and Werner expected to be out for some time.
“No matter how satisfied the coach is, the offensive guys need goals to be fully happy,” said Tuchel.
“He waited too long, so it was good that he got some goals. I agree he looked fresh again today.”
Manchester City can close the gap at the top to two points and leapfrog Liverpool into second when they face Brighton later on Saturday.
Claudio Ranieri got his first win as Watford manager as the Hornets twice came from behind to stun Everton 5-2 at Goodison Park.
Josh King failed to score as an Everton player last season, but hit a hat-trick to help move Watford six points clear of the relegation zone.
Juraj Kucka and Emmanuel Dennis were also on target for the visitors, who scored four times in the final 12 minutes.
Leeds needed a stoppage-time penalty to earn a 1-1 draw at home to Wolves.
South Korean international Hwang Hee-chan opened the scoring at Elland Road.
Wolves were set to move up to fifth until Joe Gelhardt was fouled inside the area in the 94th minute and Rodrigo slotted home the penalty.
Burnley remain in the bottom three, but Maxwel Cornet is proving himself a shrewd signing for Sean Dyche’s men as the Ivorian scored twice in a 2-2 draw at Southampton.
Saints turned the game around after Cornet opened the scoring to take the lead with goals from Tino Livramento and Armando Broja.
The former Lyon winger then salvaged a point for the Clarets with a thumping finish on the volley from outside the area.