Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr have most valuable squads in AFC Champions League

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr have most valuable squads in AFC Champions League
Al-Hilal have the most expensive assets of all, worth a collective $71.76 million. (Twitter: @Alhilal_EN)
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Updated 21 September 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr have most valuable squads in AFC Champions League

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr have most valuable squads in AFC Champions League
  • The 2019 winners’ players are worth $71.76m, while Riyadh neighbors Al-Nassr’s are valued at $71.33m

It is no surprise that Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr, the latter despite their managerial change last week, are two of the favorites to lift the AFC Champions League trophy on Nov. 23 — and not just because the final will be held in their home city of Riyadh.

If you follow the money, these rivals should be there or thereabouts. Of the eight teams left in Asia’s premier club competition, the two Saudi Arabian representatives have the most valuable squads. That is according to Transfermarkt, the website used around the world to track and rank such things.

Al-Hilal have the most expensive assets of all, worth a collective $71.76 million, just slightly more than Al-Nassr’s $71.33 million.

The 2019 Asian champions, who defeated Esteghlal 2-0 in the round of 16 of the AFC Champions League last week, have two players whose worth can be measured only by using eight figures. Moussa Marega, who arrived this year from FC Porto, has a value of $11.74 million, but the player worth the most is, unsurprisingly, Matheus Pereira at $17.60 million.

The Riyadh giants beat a number of clubs from the English Premier League and elsewhere to sign the Brazilian from West Bromwich Albion in August. The playmaker showed his worth against Esteghlal with a fine assist for the opening goal. His pass was converted by Bafetimbi Gomis, whose relatively low valuation of $1.88 million is influenced by his 36 years and short contract. The highest-rated local player in the squad is the talismanic Salem Al-Dawsari at $3.76 million. Next is central midfielder Mohammed Kanno at $3.05 million.

Al-Nassr have plenty of gems of their own after a busy 12 months or so in the transfer market. Injury-hit Argentine Pity Martinez has a $14.08 million valuation, which is not that much below the $17.60 million or so the nine-time Saudi champions paid out for the playmaker in 2020. This is something of a surprise given his inactivity in recent months. The club has so far had better luck with its more recent additions, with Talisca valued at $11.74 million, the same as Cameroonian striker Vincent Aboubakar. The highest-rated Saudi player is the excellent full-back Sultan Al-Ghanam at $3.17 million, $821,500 above midfielder Abdulfattah Asiri.

In terms of the AFC Champions League, none of the other six clubs can boast such expensive assets. Persepolis have reached two of the last three finals, but the Tehran giants have only one player worth seven figures. Mehdi Torabi headed the only goal against Istiklol of Tajikistan in the last minute of their second-round match and that can only add to his current valuation of $1.17 million. There is still talent in the squad, however. If Jalal Hosseini was a little younger than 39, then the center-back, who has made more than 100 appearances for Iran, would be worth his weight in gold.

Al-Wahda complete the West Asian quartet after their penalty shootout win in the all-UAE clash with Sharjah. According to Transfermarkt, Sharjah’s squad is valued at $36.44 million — almost three times more than Al-Wahda’s. If so, then coach Henk ten Cate has done well to take the Abu Dhabi club so far. Their two most valuable assets are Joao Pedro of Brazil and Syrian striker Omar Khribin, worth $3.52 million and $2.11 million, respectively. Again, if Ismail Matar was 28 instead of 38 then the winger would be one of the hottest and most expensive properties in Asian football. One also wonders how much more than $176,000 20-year-old midfielder Abdullah Hamad will be worth in the years to come.

Should Al-Nassr or Al-Hilal make it all the way to the final, then they will meet East Asian opposition and there is a good chance that the team will be from South Korea. The third most-valuable squad left in the competition belongs to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors at an estimated $25.56 million. The two-time Asian champions have the usual sprinkling of foreign players, with Russian striker Stanislav Iljutcenko worth $2.35 million and Gambian winger Modou Barrow just $352,000 less. There are also plenty of local players worth $1 million or more, signifying the strength in depth that Jeonbuk possess. There are current or former Korean internationals such as attackers Song Min-kyu, Han Kyo-won and Lee Seung-ki. At the back, former FC Augsburg center-back Hong Jeong-ho marshals the defense.

Jeonbuk’s rivals for the Korean title and defending Asian champions Ulsan Hyundai have players with valuations that reflect the talent at the club. There are no huge stars, with Georgian midfielder Valeri Qazaishvili the highest valued at $1.88 million. There are two local players who are worth almost as much, with talented midfielder Yoon Bit-garam and goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo, who starred for Korea at the 2018 World Cup, valued at $1.76 million. Then there are young players such as Lee Dong-jun and Lee Dong-gyeong, who seem a little undervalued.

Pohang Steelers are one of two teams, along with Al-Hilal, with three Asian club championships under their belt. Despite having 39 players in their squad — one of the biggest in the entire 40-team tournament — the Steelers’ entire roster is worth only $12.65 million, about a sixth of those of Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr. No player is estimated to be worth even $1 million. Left-back Kang Sang-woo is the highest valued at $997,500.

Japan has one club left compared to Korea’s three. Nagoya Grampus’ most expensive player, for any club looking to buy, is Jakub Swierczok. The Polish striker scored a hat-trick in a 4-2 win over Daegu FC last week. There are some other talented strikers at the club, such as Yoichiro Kakitani and Mu Kanazaki, but they are valued lower as they are the wrong side of 30. The most expensive domestic player is 25-year-old center-back Shinnosuke Nakatani.

Fans in Saudi Arabia will get a chance to check out some of these talents in the coming weeks, allowing them to judge just how accurate such valuations are and whether they will increase or decrease.


Fight, passion and magnificent support — but still no three points for Newcastle

Fight, passion and magnificent support — but still no three points for Newcastle
Updated 53 min 40 sec ago

Fight, passion and magnificent support — but still no three points for Newcastle

Fight, passion and magnificent support — but still no three points for Newcastle
  • A 1-1 draw against fellow relegation battlers Norwich had plenty of positives for Eddie Howe’s 10 men, but still fell short of the desperately needed win

NEWCASTLE: The unmentionable, what neither the fans nor the new owners dare think about, gets ever nearer for Newcastle United.

And, this time, it feels more self-inflicted than ever.

Eddie Howe’s black and white army — urged on continuously by a vociferous crowd from minute one to minute 90 (+6) at St. James’ Park — showed fight and commitment. Pain, passion, bodies on the line.

They had it all. They even scored, went into the lead — and had a VAR decision go in their favor.

Three points, though? That remains as elusive as ever.

And while they can explain away yet another two points dropped on home turf against a newly promoted struggler, mainly due to Ciaran Clark’s still inexplicable decision-making in his ninth-minute sending off, facts do not lie. This was yet another two points dropped. Yet another game ticked off without a win. Yet another opportunity gone begging.

Howe, in his assessment of the game-altering red, said: “It wasn’t the ideal start to the game, that’s for sure.

“I think that was a really difficult moment so early in the match to be down to 10 men,” he said. “In the cold light of day, I think Ciaran would have taken a different decision, but in that moment (it was) probably an impulse has just made him stop the striker.

“These things happen in the game. My immediate reaction was to not focus on that, it was to figure out very quickly what we had to do and try to find a solution to the problem,” Howe said. “Last thing I wanted to do was take Ryan Fraser off the pitch, but I felt I needed to do that for the team. Fede (Federico Fernandez) came on and I thought he was absolutely magnificent.

“Apologies to Ryan but Fede came in and made a big difference.”

Sadly, stepping into reality for a second here, Newcastle’s opportunities will soon run out. The “R” word has never been so glaringly in focus on Tyneside as it appears this year. Things didn’t get this bad in 2009, nor in 2016, the only two times the Magpies have been relegated from the English Premier League.

Never has a team, in Premier League history, risen from a 14-game winless start to the season to remain in the division a year later. United and Howe will have to write their own little piece of history this campaign if they are to break that record, which has stood for nearly 30 years.

Callum Wilson, United’s newly appointed captain, looked to have lifted the gloom on Tyneside — which now stretches to 15 games in all competitions — with his 61st-minute penalty, awarded after a handball was picked out by VAR. However, a Teemu Pukki volley, with about 12 minutes remaining, punctured what was building into a crescendo at SJP.

That goal, excellently taken by the flying Finn, was everything Irishman Clark deserved, but not one of the teammates he left out there, who to a man ran themselves into the ground for the cause.

Joelinton, Javier Manquillo and Jonjo Shelvey, so often criticized by fans, left their heart and soul out on the park. Fernandez, whose year has been massively impacted by a bout of COVID-19, was imperious.

“I thought the players responded magnificently. They gave everything, I can’t fault any of them for the effort and commitment they’ve given in the match,” said Howe.

“It was hugely disappointing we couldn’t get over the line and win the game, but I think we saw a really positive sign in terms of resilience and collective spirit, which we’re going to need for what lies ahead.”

Barrel loads of positives, yet only one more point on the board. Two less than was needed. Howe’s words, not mine.

The gap at the bottom of the table remains six points, but a late, late Leeds United win against Crystal Palace was another moment that felt like a nail in the coffin.

It now feels like a win against Burnley on Saturday or bust for Newcastle United’s season.

What remains in the afterlife for the Magpies is not set in stone. But their day of reckoning is upon them, it feels. And anything short of three points against the traditionally tough, physical, Sean Dyche-driven Clarets, who sit one place and two points better off than Newcastle ahead of their trip to Wolves on Wednesday night, would surely see a wave of realization sweep the banks of the Tyne, if it hasn’t already. Although a point would feel like an emotional stay of execution in many ways.

Relegation is the word no one wants to utter, but it is staring everyone square in the face.

The releasing of the Mike Ashley shackles, the arrival of the Public Investment Fund and Amanda Staveley with their belief, their understanding and their riches, the binning of the old regime’s neglectful, apologist Steve Bruce and the coming of a manager, Howe, with fresh ideas, impetus and vigor. It was all meant to see change. It was all meant to see a lift. None of it has. Improvement, yes. Three points, no.

And so United flounder. Their worst start in history and then some. Gone are the bounds of Mr. Sports Direct, but the remnants born of his derelict near-15 years in charge live on. This is PIF’s world we now live in, but it too is counting the cost of Ashley’s painful decade and a half. No amount of riches can seemingly save United now, not with January still a long month away.


Gerrard hopes Grealish gets warm welcome on Villa return

Gerrard hopes Grealish gets warm welcome on Villa return
Updated 30 November 2021

Gerrard hopes Grealish gets warm welcome on Villa return

Gerrard hopes Grealish gets warm welcome on Villa return
  • Grealish moved for a Premier League record £100 million in August
  • "Jack very much deserves a warm welcome and I have no doubt he'll get that," said Gerrard

LONDON: Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard said on Tuesday Jack Grealish has earned the right to a warm reception when he returns to Villa Park for the first time as a Manchester City player this week.
Grealish moved for a Premier League record £100 million ($133 million) in August after making over 200 appearances for his boyhood club since making his debut aged 18.
The England international has been sidelined in recent weeks, but returned to training on Monday and could feature against his former club.
“Jack very much deserves a warm welcome and I have no doubt he’ll get that,” said Gerrard, who has made a perfect start to his Premier League coaching career with two wins from two games.
“This is his club and it will be when his career is over, because he was here as a little boy and he has come through the academy.
“The club have benefited a lot from what Jack has given and we very much wish him well moving forward for the remainder of his career. Obviously not for 90 minutes tomorrow,” he added before Wednesday’s fixture.
Back-to-back wins over Brighton and Crystal Palace have propelled Villa seven points clear of the relegation zone.
However, Gerrard is well aware of the step up in class his side face when the champions come calling.
“The two wins have helped in terms of the feel-good factor around the place,” said the former Liverpool captain.
“But we’re aware that a real good side is coming into town and this will be a big acid test for us.”


Rory McIlroy eyes 3rd Dubai Desert Classic in 2022

Rory McIlroy eyes 3rd Dubai Desert Classic in 2022
Updated 30 November 2021

Rory McIlroy eyes 3rd Dubai Desert Classic in 2022

Rory McIlroy eyes 3rd Dubai Desert Classic in 2022
  • 4-time Major winner last took part in tournament at Emirates Golf Club in 2018

DUBAI: Four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy will return to Emirates Golf Club in January aiming to win his third Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic title.

The Northern Irishman will be looking to add to his impressive record in Dubai at what will be the second Rolex Series event of the 2022 DP World Tour season.

The 32-year-old will be back at the event for the first time since 2018 when he came close to adding to the titles he won in 2009 and 2015, finishing just one shot behind winner Li Haotong. McIlroy has an enviable record over the Majlis course with a further six top-10 finishes in 11 previous appearances.

And he has enjoyed many other memorable moments in Dubai throughout his illustrious career, winning the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in 2012 and 2015 and topping the season-long DP World Rankings three times – in 2012, 2014, and 2015.

McIlroy adds further star power to a strong field at the 2022 Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic, which will include world No. 2 and newly crowned DP World Rankings winner Collin Morikawa, fellow Major winner and 2017 Dubai Desert Classic winner Sergio Garcia, and defending champion Paul Casey.

It will also be the first year that the Dubai Desert Classic has been elevated to Rolex Series status, becoming part of the DP World Tour’s premium series of events, and also the first time it has been sponsored by logistics technology provider Slync.io.

The 2022 Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic will be the second of back-to-back Rolex Series events in the region, following the season opener in Abu Dhabi in January, and it will form part of the traditional Desert Swing.

McIlroy said: “I’m looking forward to getting back to Emirates Golf Club for the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic in 2022.

“I have so many wonderful memories from playing in Dubai over the years, and particularly over the Majlis course, where I’ve been able to win twice. I look forward to coming back to Dubai and aiming to get my hands on that incredible trophy again.”

Chris Kirchner, chairman and chief executive officer of Slync.io, said: “As a fan of golf, it’s important that we bring a field that other fans will enjoy. Rory is one of my favorite players and I’m thrilled to have him as part of the inaugural title partnership for Slync.io.”

Simon Corkill, Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic executive tournament director, said: “The addition of Rory McIlroy to an already strong field emphasizes the pedigree of the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic.

“As one of the most talented golfers in the world he brings plenty of energy and excitement to the tournament. We look forward to seeing Rory battle it out with Collin Morikawa, Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey and others in a truly world-class field at this year’s event.”

The tournament’s organizers have also confirmed that entry to the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic will be free to all.

Corkill added: “With the UAE set to celebrate its Golden Jubilee, we are delighted to announce that entry will be free for all golf fans over the four days of the tournament.

“This decision was made in recognition of this special moment in the UAE’s history, while also giving something back to sports fans following the challenges that have been faced in 2020 and 2021.

“What better way to celebrate than through a truly global sporting event on our doorstep which everyone can enjoy?”

Celebrating its 33rd edition in 2022, the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic has been won by some of golf’s greatest names, including Major champions Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Fred Couples, Jose Maria Olazabal, Mark O’Meara, Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson, McIlroy, Danny Willett, Garcia, and Bryson DeChambeau.

The winner’s circle over the past 32 years has also featured Ryder Cup stars Mark James, the inaugural champion in 1989, Eamonn Darcy, Colin Montgomerie, David Howell, Thomas Bjorn, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, and Stephen Gallacher.


Formula E and FIA introduce ‘Gen3’ car to push racing boundaries

Formula E and FIA introduce ‘Gen3’ car to push racing boundaries
Updated 30 November 2021

Formula E and FIA introduce ‘Gen3’ car to push racing boundaries

Formula E and FIA introduce ‘Gen3’ car to push racing boundaries
  • New car to debut in Season 9 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship
  • It will be the electric series’ fastest, lightest and most powerful racing car yet

VALENCIA: Formula E and the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile have shared a first look at the third-generation all-electric racing car that will race in Season 9 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship.

The car was presented under top-security conditions to an exclusive group of Formula E manufacturers, teams, drivers and partners in Valencia, Spain, where pre-season testing is underway for Season 8 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, which begins in January.

“The new Gen3 Formula E single-seater is a car created at the intersection of high performance, efficiency and sustainability,” said Jean Todt, FIA president. “The work accomplished by the FIA’s teams together with Formula E, since the launch of the discipline eight seasons ago, tirelessly seek to drive innovation and further the development of sustainable mobility. I have no doubt that this new single-seater will elevate Formula E to the next level.”

While Formula E manufacturers are set to take delivery of Gen3 cars in spring 2022 following further intensive development testing on and off the track, the briefing in Valencia disclosed a series of design, performance, and sustainability innovations in the Gen3 car, among them being the world’s most efficient racing car with at least 40 percent of the energy used within a race being produced by regenerative braking.

Lighter and smaller than the Gen2, the new car will also to enable faster, more agile wheel-to-wheel racing.

“In designing the Gen3 car, we set out to demonstrate that high performance, efficiency and sustainability can co-exist without compromise,” said Formula E CEO Jamie Reigle, adding: “Together with the FIA, we have built the world’s most efficient and sustainable high performance race car.

“The Gen3 is our fastest, lightest, most powerful and efficient racing car yet.”

Reigle said: “It is a creature designed for its habitat: Racing on city streets in wheel-to-wheel combat. We look forward to witnessing it inspire and excite the next generation of motorsport fans in cities around the world from Season 9 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship.”

The Gen3 is the first formula car aligned to “Life Cycle Thinking” with a clear path towards second life and end of life for all tyres, broken parts and battery cells.

This innovation means that the car will be net-zero on carbon emissions, maintaining the championship’s status as the first sport to be certified as net-zero carbon since inception.

All carbon fibre broken parts will be recycled by an innovative process from the aviation and aerospace industry into new fibres reusable for other applications.

A pioneering process will deliver 26 percent sustainable materials into the composition of tyres.

The Gen3 is powered by highly efficient electric motors that can convert over 90 percent of the electrical energy into mechanical energy, a jump up from 40 percent in Gen2 cars.


Emirati boxing duo mark the country’s 50th National Day ahead of high-profile bouts at Coca Cola Arena in Dubai

Emirati boxing duo mark the country’s 50th National Day ahead of high-profile bouts at Coca Cola Arena in Dubai
Updated 30 November 2021

Emirati boxing duo mark the country’s 50th National Day ahead of high-profile bouts at Coca Cola Arena in Dubai

Emirati boxing duo mark the country’s 50th National Day ahead of high-profile bouts at Coca Cola Arena in Dubai
  • Fahad Al-Bloushi and Sultan Al-Nuaimi spoke of their pride at the UAE’s achievements as they prepare for Probellum: Revolution on Dec. 11

Emirati boxers Fahad Al-Bloushi and Sultan Al-Nuaimi, who will be competing at Probellum: Revolution in Dubai on Saturday, Dec. 11, have spoken about the sense of pride they feel when representing their nation on the global stage.

To mark the country’s 50th National Day on Dec. 2, Al-Bloushi and Al-Nuaimi visited the UAE flags at Kite Beach, where they paid tribute to the country on its special anniversary and looked ahead to fighting in front of a home crowd at the Coca-Cola Arena.

Al-Bloushi, 25, represented the UAE at the 2018 Asian Games, before going on to make his professional debut a year later.

The Emirati believes this is a fantastic time for UAE boxing, and he is looking forward to showcasing his talents at next week’s big event, in which he faces Ghana’s Kamarudeen Boyefio.

“I’m really ecstatic to be involved in the show because for a while it’s been a dream of mine to fight at the Coca-Cola Arena,” said Al-Bloushi. “I can remember driving past the venue and thinking about how much I’d love to be involved in a match there so to know I’m doing it next week is surreal.

“My training camp has been going well, I’ve had some great sparring partners and my team has been brilliant in terms of helping me push forward. I have no doubt it’s going to be a great night,” he said. “Boxing in the UAE is becoming the next big thing. Dubai has everything in terms of facilities, so it’s amazing for us to be involved in the sport right now.”

For Al-Nuaimi, a two-time national champion at amateur level, the bout against India’s Sahil Rahman represents a major opportunity for him to shine on a big stage.

“I’m really excited about performing at the Coca-Cola Arena, one of the best venues in the Middle East,” he said. “In terms of boxing, this is the biggest event in the UAE’s history, and many of my friends and family have already bought tickets, so it’s going to be great.

“Carrying the UAE flag and being a part of this country is all I want, it really means a lot to me.”

Those patriotic sentiments are echoed by Al-Bloushi, who explained what the 50th National Day means, both on an individual and collective level.

“I feel really proud to be from the UAE, especially when you consider everything we, as a country, have achieved over the past 50 years in terms of inclusion and achieving the impossible,” he said. “To be able to represent this country is a wonderful feeling.

“Watching someone carry your flag as you walk to the ring makes you realise that you’re not just representing yourself, you’re representing the whole country, and it’s always very special.”