Fans hail new beginning for Newcastle United and Saudi Arabia

A picture shows the exterior of Newcastle United football club's stadium St James' Park in Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England on October 8, 2021. (Photo by Oli Scarff / AFP)
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A picture shows the exterior of Newcastle United football club's stadium St James' Park in Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England on October 8, 2021. (Photo by Oli Scarff / AFP)
A pedestrian passes a Newcastle United football club-themed mural in Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England on October 8, 2021. (Photo by Oli Scarff / AFP)
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A pedestrian passes a Newcastle United football club-themed mural in Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England on October 8, 2021. (Photo by Oli Scarff / AFP)
A Newcastle United football club supporter stands with a flag above the club logo at their stadium St James' Park in Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England on Oct. 8, 2021. (Photo by Oli Scarff / AFP)
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A Newcastle United football club supporter stands with a flag above the club logo at their stadium St James' Park in Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England on Oct. 8, 2021. (Photo by Oli Scarff / AFP)
Newcastle United supporters celebrate the sale of the club to a Saudi-led consortium, outside the club's stadium at St James' Park in Newcastle upon Tyne on Oct. 8, 2021. Photo by Oli Scarff / AFP)
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Newcastle United supporters celebrate the sale of the club to a Saudi-led consortium, outside the club's stadium at St James' Park in Newcastle upon Tyne on Oct. 8, 2021. Photo by Oli Scarff / AFP)
Public Investment Fund (PIF) governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan. (Photo by Fayez Nureldine / AFP)
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Public Investment Fund (PIF) governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan. (Photo by Fayez Nureldine / AFP)
Newcastle United's new director Amanda Staveley (R) and husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi (L) talk to the media on Oct. 8, 2021, after the sale of the football club. (Photo by Oli Scarff / AFP)
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Newcastle United's new director Amanda Staveley (R) and husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi (L) talk to the media on Oct. 8, 2021, after the sale of the football club. (Photo by Oli Scarff / AFP)
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Updated 11 October 2021

Fans hail new beginning for Newcastle United and Saudi Arabia

Fans hail new beginning for Newcastle United and Saudi Arabia
  • Supporters dreaming of better days again with new owners having a clear vision for the club
  • The $410 million Saudi-backed takeover of the club was delayed by 18 months

DUBAI: Everything was ready. Those party hats. The chips and dip. The cans. And then, nothing. The party had to be called off.

But 18 months on, the biggest celebration the city of Newcastle has seen in years is into its fifth day and shows no signs of slowing down.

Mike Ashley’s 14-year reign at Newcastle United is over after Saudi’s sovereign wealth fund PIF, Amanda Staveley’s PCP and the Reuben brothers completed the much-delayed $410 million takeover of the club.

The party was back on, and to say the Geordie fans have been keeping the neighbours up would be an understatement.




Newcastle United supporters celebrate the sale of the club to a Saudi-led consortium, outside the club's stadium at St James' Park in Newcastle upon Tyne on Oct. 8, 2021. Photo by Oli Scarff / AFP)

“We’ve got our club back,” supporters, waving Saudi flags, sang outside St James’ Park. “We can dare to hope again,” Alan Shearer, arguably Newcastle’s greatest player, posted on Twitter.

Halfway across the world, supporters in the Middle East are also excited for the club.

Radio and podcast presenter Peter Redding, a long-time Newcastle season ticket holder now based in Dubai, sums up the feelings of many.

“After witnessing the exciting and exhilarating times under Kevin Keegan, most Newcastle fans and myself felt helpless watching over the last 14 years under Mike Ashley’s reign,” he said. “Newcastle United is the pivotal regime of a city both, physically and mentally, it’s all anybody ever talks about.”

 

 

“To be under exciting new owners who share that passion with a clear vision is more than exhilarating,” he added. “Firstly they have given us our club back, and judging by the party scenes in the city after the announcement, this is just the beginning for Newcastle and Saudi Arabia.”

Joe Morrison lived a life most Newcastle fans could only dream off from 2001 to 2005. For three years under Sir Bobby Robson, and then two under Graeme Souness, he was the club’s Head of Media.

From mingling with the coaches and players to watching training sessions and matches, he was always close to the action.

Now a renowned television presenter in the Middle East and Asia, he looks back on that happy time wistfully.




A pedestrian passes a Newcastle United football club-themed mural in Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England on October 8, 2021. (Photo by Oli Scarff / AFP)

“We were in the Champions League when I was there, and we’ve never been back since,” Morrison said. “That just goes to show you how far the club had fallen. Even before Bobby Robson we were in Europe and when you have that regular diet it’s a real loss when it’s suddenly taken away.”

Those happy days could soon be back.

“It was the last time the club had a glow about it,” he said. “After Sir Bobby, that glow faded away, the lustre was gone.”

In 2005, Morrison moved to the Middle East, eventually becoming the presenter of ART’s coverage of Premier League football, and has since seen the proliferation of football culture in this part of the world. One thing however remains constant.

“How do you get the world’s best players playing for your team? You’ve got to have big bucks, it’s as simple as that.” 

For Morrison, the first point to address is a new manager.

“I’d be looking at the likes of Zinedine Zidane,” he said. “Why? Because he’s a big-name manager and when you don’t have Champions League football, you need to have a manager who a player would come and play for. Someone they would recognize, some they would appreciate, and Zidane ticks off all those boxes right now.”

Having to wait till January to strengthen the squad is no bad thing, according to Morrison, as it will allow the new owners to take their time and scout the right players.

“Someone like Jan Oblak, the Atletico Madrid goalkeeper, would be fabulous,” he said. “And up front you have a very unsettled Harry Kane, who may have not been allowed to leave Spurs last summer, but I’m sure will be allowed to leave this summer, maybe even in the January window. Shore up the back and make sure you’re not conceding goals, make sure you’re scoring goals, they’re always the most pressing problems for any new owners.”

For Dubai-based Newcastle fan Mohsin Khan, the most important aspect of the new take-over was the departure of the old owner.




Newcastle United's new director Amanda Staveley (R) and husband Mehrdad Ghodoussi (L) talk to the media on Oct. 8, 2021, after the sale of the football club. (Photo by Oli Scarff / AFP)

“The overriding feeling is relief, the primary thing for me was getting rid of Mike Ashley,” Khan said.

He accepts that fans of other clubs will be “envious” and hopes that the club is developed “organically” with investments going into renovating the stadium, surrounding area and creating jobs, and not just on buying players.

Khan says that the writing was already on the wall for Newcastle manager Steve Bruce, even without the takeover, and the time has come to replace him with someone who has the desire to take the club forward.

“There are a few names that have been mentioned like [Antonio] Conte, but he said that he doesn’t want to join a project at this early stage so in my mind I’m not bothered about him,” he said. “I don’t want that type of personality.”

Khan would be happy with an up and coming manager.

 

 

“Someone like Graham Potter from Brighton, I think he’s doing a really good job. Maybe Steven Gerrard,” he said. “He’s got the capabilities. Obviously Rangers are not in the Premier League, but I think he looks like an exciting manager. And possibly a good manager to have at this early stage when we’re trying to develop the club.”

As for a more established name, his first choice in a perfect world would have been for a figure that is still loved at Newcastle.

“Maybe at this point you need a big manager in order to attract players, so Rafa (Benitez) would have been the ideal one, but that ship has sailed unfortunately.”

Looking at players, Khan says that calls to sign the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar are just a bit of fun by the fans.




Newcastle United's English defender Jamaal Lascelles (C) heads the ball wide during the English Premier League football match between Newcastle United and Leeds United on Sept. 17, 2021. (Photo by Lindsey Parnaby / AFP)

“Newcastle fans are intelligent enough to know that the caliber of players that will come in will be experienced and exciting, but they’re not going to be that upper tier level of player initially,” he said. “Maybe (Philippe) Coutinho because he’s been linked several times, that could be our one marquee signing. Other than that, it would be great to get a few names in with Premier League experience, James Tarkowski of Burnley, he’d be a good signing. Sensible signings, we need to get a couple of defenders in and we need a striker. And I’d also like to replace Jonjo Shelvey, I’m not a big fan of his.”

Born in the UK, Khan grew up in Abu Dhabi before moving back to his home country as a teenager. That was when he fell in love with Kevin Keegan’s mid-90s Newcastle team, particularly Andy Cole. In 2018 he relocated to Dubai and discovered how popular English football was in the region. 

“Football is massive here, it really did take me by surprise,” he said. “When I first moved here during the World Cup three years ago, it was amazing to see how passionate everyone is about football. If Newcastle can turn themselves into one of the contenders, then there will be many more people following them. They’re a big club. I’ll be really excited to see more fans walking around in Newcastle shirts in the next year or so.”


Barcelona out of Champions League in loss to Bayern Munich

Barcelona out of Champions League in loss to Bayern Munich
Updated 09 December 2021

Barcelona out of Champions League in loss to Bayern Munich

Barcelona out of Champions League in loss to Bayern Munich

MUNICH: Barcelona will not play in the knockout rounds of the Champions League for the first time in 18 years after a 3-0 loss to Bayern Munich on Wednesday ensured the Catalan club was eliminated from European soccer’s premier competition.
Barcelona drops into the Europa League playoffs after finishing third in Group E, thanks to Benfica’s 2-0 win over Dynamo Kyiv in the other game of the evening.
That ended a Barcelona campaign which would have been unthinkable in the club’s heyday with Lionel Messi up front and Pep Guardiola as coach from 2008 through 2012. The group stage began with a 3-0 loss to Bayern at the Camp Nou and got worse with a 3-0 defeat and 0-0 draw against Benfica. Barcelona scored only two goals in six games, both against last-place Dynamo, and conceded nine.
“We start a new era, from zero, from here, to work hard and to recover Barca and to put Barca in the place that we deserve, that is in the top of the Champions League,” coach Xavi Hernández told broadcaster DAZN. “This is our reality. We are out of Champions League, we are in Europa League, but this is not the place of Barcelona.”
The five-time European champion last failed to make the Champions League last 16 in 2003-04. That season, Barcelona missed the Champions League entirely and played in what was then the UEFA Cup, thanks to a poor Spanish league finish the season before.
Defeat in the snow in Munich will deepen Barcelona’s already overwhelming financial problems as it misses out on lucrative prize money and exposure for sponsors. Sitting seventh in La Liga means Barcelona may not even qualify for next year’s competition.
“We need to work hard, many things that put Barcelona in this situation. But this is our reality. I cannot say anything else,” Xavi said. “We need to win Europa League, work hard for recovering points in La Liga, win the cup, win the Super Cup, this is what Barcelona deserve ... We will try to work hard. We have many injuries. Maybe we can sign some players now in January. Let’s see.”
Unlike the hammer blow of Barcelona’s 8-2 loss to Bayern in August 2020, this time the German champions calmly took their time dismantling a Barcelona team which only registered two shots on target.
The first goal Barcelona conceded Wednesday was one of fine margins, with goal-line technology required to show Thomas Müller’s looping header had crossed the line before Ronald Araujo belatedly attempted to clear.
The second was a simple goalkeeping error as Marc-André ter Stegen let Leroy Sané’s speculative long-range shot bounce off his arm and in. That left Xavi’s team 2-0 down at halftime and needing either its own stunning comeback or a similar feat from last-place Dynamo against Benfica.
The deficit worsened in the 62nd minute when Alphonso Davies, the Canadian left-back whose pace had caused problems all game, cut the ball back from the touchline for Jamal Musiala, who applied a simple finish from within a crowd of Barcelona players.
Playing at home in an empty stadium because of new pandemic-related restrictions, Bayern was already assured of qualifying as the group winner and finished with six wins from six games, matching Liverpool and Ajax on a perfect record this season. Coach Julian Nagelsmann told DAZN his team could have scored “more than three” goals against Barcelona.
Bayern is the only German team in the round of 16 after Borussia Dortmund, Leipzig and Wolfsburg all fell short in the group stage. The last time that happened was 2017-18.
Besides the shock of not qualifying, Barcelona may have to deal with an injury for Jordi Alba after the full-back limped off with an apparent thigh problem.


Qatari rally driver Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah boosts FIA World Cup hopes with Hail stage win

Qatari rally driver Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah boosts FIA World Cup hopes with Hail stage win
Updated 09 December 2021

Qatari rally driver Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah boosts FIA World Cup hopes with Hail stage win

Qatari rally driver Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah boosts FIA World Cup hopes with Hail stage win
  • The Toyota Gazoo Racing duo steered their Toyota Hilux to a time of 3hr 20min 01sec

HAIL: Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and French navigator Matthieu Baumel comfortably won the opening 258.14 km selective section of the Hail Cross-Country Rally early on Wednesday.

The Toyota Gazoo Racing duo steered their Toyota Hilux to a time of 3hr 20min 01sec and finished 6min 05sec in front of stage runner-up Denis Krotov.

Al-Attiyah’s stage performance boosted his already overwhelming odds of clinching the FIA World Cup title and, heading into the night halt in Hail, the Qatari found himself 22min 16sec ahead of Toyota team-mate and title rival Lucio Alvarez.

“We started first of the T1 cars, but the T1 2022 specification cars started before us,” Al-Attiyah’s co-driver Baumel said.

“We passed all three of them during the day and we opened the road half the way. It was not an easy stage. The first part was more navigation and off-track and the second part was faster. It was a nice day and we had a good result. We need to win two stages to get the World Cup. That is the goal for this rally.”

The X-raid Mini Buggies of Jakub Przygonski and Sebastien Halpern were third and fifth, sandwiching Vladimir Vasilyev’s BMW X3 in fourth.

“It was quite a nice stage with a lot of camel grass and it was quite soft,” said Przygonski. “We made a navigation mistake and got lost, but we enjoyed it. It was nice.”


Sixth Saudi Open golf championship gets underway

Sixth Saudi Open golf championship gets underway
Updated 09 December 2021

Sixth Saudi Open golf championship gets underway

Sixth Saudi Open golf championship gets underway
  • Saudi participants include professional player Othman Almulla, along with national team members Abdulrahman Al-Mansour, Faisal Salhab and Saud Al-Sharif
  • Chief Operating Officer of Golf Saudi Ed Edwards: Our vision and the goal of the mass participation programme is the training of Saudi youth to transform the golfing landscape

RIYADH: The sixth Saudi Open golf tournament tees off today at Riyadh Golf Club.

Prince Khalid bin Saud Al-Faisal, advisor to the Saudi Golf Federation, and Mohammed Al-Issa, Executive Manager of the Saudi Golf Federation, oversaw the launch of the championship at a press conference yesterday. The tournament will finish on Dec. 11.

During the briefing reporters were told that participation in the tournament is open to all professional and amateur golf players in the Middle East and North Africa who are registered with any golf club.

Al-Issa said: “We are proud to announce the launch of the sixth Saudi Open, which will give Saudi and Arab golf players the opportunity to participate in sports competitions of this kind. The events are a great opportunity for players to develop their skill levels and interact with players from different countries in the Middle East and North Africa in a competitive environment.”

The tournament is expected to attract wide interest from golf fans inside and outside the Kingdom. The Saudi Open will see the participation of leading players from the Gulf states and other Arab countries.

Saudi participants, who have all gone from strength to strength in recent years, as golf gains popularity in the Kingdom, include the only Saudi professional player Othman Almulla, along with national team members Abdulrahman Al-Mansour, Faisal Salhab and Saud Al-Sharif.

All four players will be in strong contention following their performances on the Asian Tour in Thailand last week, where they were in action at the Blue Canyon Phuket Championship and the Laguna Phuket Championship.

A lot will be at stake as the Saudi Open also represents a qualification opportunity for the 2022 Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers, which will be held next February. 

In a reply to Arab News, Ed Edwards, Chief Operating Officer of Golf Saudi, said: “Our vision and the goal of the mass participation programme is the training of Saudi youth to transform the golfing landscape. Saudi Arabia will be a regional sports hub.”

The Saudi Open is one of the events that Golf Saudi holds annually to raise awareness of the game in the Kingdom and to develop home-grown future talent. By working with other sports federations and the Ministry of Sport, Golf Saudi, which is the commercial development arm of the Saudi Golf Federation, is looking to underline the wider benefit of sports participation more generally as part of Saudi Arabia’s progress towards its Vision 2030 goals to improve its citizens quality of life.

Combined with grass roots training and education programmes that introduce people to the game at the earliest opportunity and with the greatest ease, Golf Saudi is committed to delivering a dynamic national development programme that transforms the golfing landscape.


Conte says 8 Spurs players, 5 staff members have coronavirus

Conte says 8 Spurs players, 5 staff members have coronavirus
Updated 08 December 2021

Conte says 8 Spurs players, 5 staff members have coronavirus

Conte says 8 Spurs players, 5 staff members have coronavirus
  • “Every day we are having people with COVID,” Conte said at a news conference
  • UEFA rules state a game must go ahead as long as a club has at least 13 senior players available

LONDON: Eight Tottenham players and five members of staff at the club have tested positive for the coronavirus, manager Antonio Conte said Wednesday.
“Every day we are having people with COVID,” Conte said at a news conference a day before a match against French team Rennes in the Europa Conference League.
Conte said he has 11 players available for the game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
UEFA rules state a game must go ahead as long as a club has at least 13 senior players available, including at least one goalkeeper.
Conte said “everyone is a bit scared” at the club because people are coming into contact with others who have tested negative but who later test positive.
“At the end of the training session today, again one player is positive, another member of staff is positive,” he said. “Tomorrow, who? Me? Another player? Another member of staff? We continue in this way but the situation is serious.”
Conte said he is concerned players and staff members at Tottenham might be passing on the virus to their loved ones.
“We have families, we have contact with our families when we come back home,” a visibly emotional Conte said. “It is a situation that makes me upset.
“Now for sure we are bit scared, because tomorrow we don’t know what happens.”
It has been reported in the British media that Tottenham has asked for its Premier League game against Brighton on Sunday to be postponed. Conte did not confirm that at the news conference.
Six Premier League matches were postponed last season because of virus outbreaks at clubs.
Tottenham is in second place in its group in the Conference League — the third-tier European competition — and is tied on points with third-place Vitesse. Rennes has already won the group with one game left to play.
The runner-up qualifies for a playoff for the last 16 against a team that will drop down from the Europa League.


Tickets go on sale for Formula E season opener in Diriyah

Tickets go on sale for Formula E season opener in Diriyah
Updated 08 December 2021

Tickets go on sale for Formula E season opener in Diriyah

Tickets go on sale for Formula E season opener in Diriyah
  • The first and second rounds of the eighth season of the electric car championship, in January 2022, will again be night races
  • 22 drivers, including Sam Bird, reigning world champion Nyck de Vries, and new drivers Antonio Giovinazzi, Dan Ticktum and Oliver Askew will tackle the fast and technical circuit

RIYADH: Tickets have gone on sale for the season-opening Diriyah Formula E night-race double header in January. The Kingdom is once again hosting the first and second rounds of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship.

The ticket-sales announcement was made by the Saudi Ministry of Sports during an event in At-Turaif, in historic Diriyah, that also featured Alberto Longo, the co-founder and chief championship officer of Formula E, Carlo Boutagy, the founder and CEO of event promoter CBX, and British driver Sam Bird, who won the round two race in Diriyah last year.

“We are pleased to announce the launch of tickets for the Formula E race in its first and second rounds, which will start at the end of January 2022,” said Prince Khalid Bin Sultan Al-Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation.

“We look forward to doing what is required to ensure the event runs in the best possible way, to host sports fans from all over the world, and to welcome them to our country to enjoy the strong competition and the events accompanying the race.”

Tickets for the races, which will take place on January 28 and 29, start from SR150 ($40), with 10,000 grandstand tickets available.

Twenty-two drivers, including Bird, reigning world champion Nyck de Vries, and new drivers Antonio Giovinazzi, Dan Ticktum and Oliver Askew will tackle the fast and technical circuit which, like last year, will be illuminated by LED lights during the only night races of the Formula E season.

“Racing under the lights of the Diriyah E-Prix is unique and provides challenges unlike any other race in the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship,” said Bird, who drives for Jaguar TCS Racing.

“The Diriyah Circuit is technical, fast and challenging all at the same time and I look forward to returning for the races in January 2022.”

Longo described the Diriyah E-Prix as “the perfect opening race” for the eighth season of the Formula E World Championship, and said it will inspire new generations to “embrace” the electric car series.

Boutagy added: “We’re thrilled to work alongside the Ministry of Sport and Formula E to host the opening rounds of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship in January 2022.

“We will soon be announcing the international music artists who will headline our post-race concerts, and encourage fans to buy tickets on sale now to ensure best views of the racing and post-race entertainment.”

Visit diriyah-eprix.com for tickets and more information.