Al-Hilal hero Bafetimbi Gomis departs Saudi football as one of its greatest foreign players of all time

Bafetimbi Gomis will be remembered in Saudi Arabia as one of the best foreign players the country has ever seen. (Twitter/@BafGomis)
Bafetimbi Gomis will be remembered in Saudi Arabia as one of the best foreign players the country has ever seen. (Twitter/@BafGomis)
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Updated 25 January 2022

Al-Hilal hero Bafetimbi Gomis departs Saudi football as one of its greatest foreign players of all time

Bafetimbi Gomis will be remembered in Saudi Arabia as one of the best foreign players the country has ever seen. (Twitter/@BafGomis)
  • Since arriving in 2018, the 36-year-old Frenchman has barely put a foot wrong on and off the pitch for the Riyadh giants, helping them win two AFC Champions League crowns and two SPL titles

RIYADH: It says a lot about Bafetimbi Gomis that his departure from Al-Hilal has been reported all over Asia, but then he has scored against clubs from the top nations during his AFC Champions League heroics.

The French striker may be respected in Asian football, but he will be remembered in Saudi Arabia as one of the best foreign players the country has ever seen. 

Since arriving in Riyadh in August 2018 from Turkish giants Galatasaray and then departing almost three-and-a-half years later, the 36-year-old barely put a foot wrong on or off the pitch.

His lion celebration in which he gets down and paces on all fours after scoring has become iconic for Al-Hilal fans and increasingly — and understandably — disliked by those on the receiving end. It is testament to his exploits that a possible replacement at the 17-time Saudi champions has been reported to be Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, the Arsenal star who is one of the biggest names in African football. 

The Gabonese goalgetter is unlikely to come to Saudi Arabia, but the fact that he is being mentioned as Gomis leaves shows the impact the Frenchman has had. 

There were few expectations of this when he arrived. Gomis had enjoyed a fine career even if he had not reached the elite level of the European game, but there have been dozens of those coming to Saudi Arabia over the years. After starring for Saint-Ettienne, he got a move to Lyon in 2009, where he scored double figures for five successive seasons. Then came spells in the English Premier League with Swansea City, a return to France with Marseille and the move to Turkey. If he was in danger of becoming a journeyman striker, he seems to have found a spiritual home in Riyadh.

His stats alone are impressive. There were 113 goals in 154 games that helped Al-Hilal to two domestic championships. Last season’s win was helped immensely by his 24 goals in the league, five more than the second-highest scorer. 

It was in Asia where he really made a difference and made the team believe that a return to continental glory was possible. Al-Hilal had won their second Asian championship way back in 2000 and had been desperate to make it three for a long time. They had watched Al-Ittihad win in 2004 and again in 2005 and then reached the final in 2014 to play Western Sydney Wanderers. Hilal dominated and missed chance after chance only to be caught by a sucker punch from the Australians. 

In 2017, they lost 2-1 over two legs to Urawa Reds. Had Gomis been present for both ties, they could have ended very differently.

In 2019, it did. It was a legendary campaign. The reward for getting out of the group stage was a second round tie against Saudi Arabian rivals Al-Ahli. In the first leg, in front of almost 50,000 fans in Jeddah, the hosts took an early lead. Then Gomis scored a hat-trick to basically win the tie. Already popular, it earned him near-legendary status. The reward for that was a quarter-final against the other Jeddah giants, Al-Ittihad, which Hilal won

Gomis scored three across two legs in the semi-final against Al-Sadd, an 6-5 victory on aggregate. 

It earned them a final against Urawa Reds and a chance for revenge. It was taken and Gomis scored in the final seconds of the second leg to ensure that the 19-year wait for the third title was over. It was his 11th goal of the continental campaign, and he was the top scorer and tournament MVP.

Only two players scored more than Gomis’s six in last year’s continental triumph, a record fourth for the club. It wasn’t just about the goals. Here was a team player, proven by his through ball assist in the final for Moussa Marega that sealed the win over Pohang Steelers.

It was a symbolic goal. Gomis was no longer the main man in attack for Hilal with Marega, six years younger who arrived from FC Porto earlier in the year, taking on that mantle. Time has been catching up with the former French international. He is not quite the dynamic and powerful force in the area as when he first arrived. His finishing is also not quite as sharp, even if he has scored nine league goals this season so far. There is still plenty for Gomis to give, but it is perhaps the right time that he gives it somewhere else. 

Now he moves. It could be a return to Turkey to end his career or perhaps to Qatar and Al-Rayyan to link up with French coach Laurent Blanc. If he does choose Doha then he could be in the team that faces Al-Hilal in the group stage of the AFC Champions League in April.

Fans in Riyadh would be wary of his abilities, but would also surely welcome the chance to see him once more and say goodbye to a club legend. It would be especially fitting in the tournament where he earned a continental-wide reputation.


More medal success for Saudi on Day 2 of GCC Games

More medal success for Saudi on Day 2 of GCC Games
Updated 17 May 2022

More medal success for Saudi on Day 2 of GCC Games

More medal success for Saudi on Day 2 of GCC Games
  • Day of action resulted in podium finishes in athletics, swimming and shooting

The second day of the GCC Games taking place in Kuwait proved fruitful for the Saudi contingent with several more podium finishes in the athletics, swimming and shooting categories.

Saudi sprinter Mohammed Al-Maawi took silver medal in the 400 meter hurdles competition with a time of 50.6 seconds, while his colleague Moadh Al-Saad came in third place with a time of 53.34 seconds to secure the bronze.

On another day of fine results for Saudi’s athletes, Hassan Doshi claimed a gold medal in the triple jump competition with a distance of 16 meters, while teammate Mohammed Al-Yami came in fourth place with a distance of 14.61 meters.

Meanwhile, Osama Al-Aqili won the bronze medal in the discus with a throw of 51.97 meters.

The Saudi women’s 4×100 relay team missed out on a medal after finishing fourth in the final with a time of 53.52 seconds.

In the 10 meter Air Pistol competition, Saudi’s Atallah Al-Anzi snatched the gold medal at the Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Olympic Shooting Complex, and that was followed with silver for Abdul Aziz Al-Anzi in the 50 meter Rifle category.

In the men’s swimming competitions, Ahmed Al-Hashem took bronze in the 1500 meter freestyle, while the Saudi team came third place in the 4x100m medley relay race, securing bronze medals for Al-Hashem, Mohammed Al-Muhr, Youssef Buarish and Ali Al-Issa.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Saudi Arabian men’s basketball team went down 67-63 to the United Arab Emirates.


Eddie Howe hopes Newcastle relegation battles are a thing of the past

Eddie Howe hopes Newcastle relegation battles are a thing of the past
Updated 17 May 2022

Eddie Howe hopes Newcastle relegation battles are a thing of the past

Eddie Howe hopes Newcastle relegation battles are a thing of the past
  • A remarkable second half of the season saw the Magpies coach lead the club to safety after the team had failed to win any of the opening 14 matches
  • Eddie Howe: I have an idea of what I want to do and where I want to take the team and the changes we need to make

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe hopes this season is the last Newcastle United fans will have to worry about Premier League safety.

The Magpies secured their top flight status with two games of the campaign left, having failed to win any of their first 14 top matches. A 2-0 victory over Champions League-chasing Arsenal was the icing on the cake on what has been a remarkable season in many ways.

And while that season-opening run and the subsequent recovery set Newcastle Premier League records, Howe does not want to walk that same road again, with his eyes fixed firmly on progress and ambition at St James’ Park.

Howe, whose side plays Burnley on the final day of the season on Sunday, said: “There are no guarantees in football and that’s what makes the game so beautiful because you never know what’s around the corner.

“We have ambitions to improve, so I hope we’re not in this position again of fighting through the season. The Premier League is so difficult, it examines you in so many different ways. The competition is fierce, everyone will have different aims and dreams.

“All I can pledge is I will do everything in my power to make sure we come back a stronger team but there are no guarantees.”

While Howe is playing it coy with his future predictions, the ambitions of the ownership model at Newcastle is clear — they want regular success and silverware on Tyneside before the decade is out.

“They care. They care deeply,” said Howe of the club’s owners, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media.

“They care about the players and staff, they want to be involved and be actively helping. They were that way right from the start.

“After (the defeat to) Cambridge, they (Amanda Staveley, Mehrdad Ghodoussi and Yasir Al-Rumayyan) came to see me and the staff, of course at that moment, we were low. It meant a lot to see them come in and support us and say ‘come on, we go again.’ The week after was Watford and they supported us again.

“When you look back after a successful period, those moments are so important. A big thank you to them.”

Lots of public talk of reduced budgets and Financial Fair Play concerns have been raised by Newcastle sources in recent weeks, leading some to conclude it will be a frugal summer on Tyneside.

However, a hard-and-fast rule in business is not to tell potential sellers just how much cash you’re operating with.

The club’s accounts for the period ended Jun. 30, 2021, prior to Mike Ashley’s majority sale to PIF, show the football club made a loss of around $15 million.

Under the Premier League’s Profit and Sustainability rules, club’s can operate a $131 million loss over three seasons.

The 34 pages posted to the club’s filing history on Companies House also show that since acquisition, the club’s owners have pumped $209,500 into the company, which, although not stated, is likely to have covered operating costs, infrastructural upgrades and January transfers as well as the hiring of Howe and the sacking of Steve Bruce.

So is Howe expecting a tough summer, or one another record-breaking spend?

“It’s very difficult to plan a summer transfer window because as I’ve said before, of the unpredictability of the market,” he said.

“Of course, I have an idea of what I want to do and where I want to take the team and the changes we need to make. That’s one thing having that idea in your head but the other is executing it. We’ll see what happens.”


Footballer Fahad Al-Muwallad banned for 18 months by Saudi Arabian Anti-Doping Committee

Footballer Fahad Al-Muwallad banned for 18 months by Saudi Arabian Anti-Doping Committee
Updated 17 May 2022

Footballer Fahad Al-Muwallad banned for 18 months by Saudi Arabian Anti-Doping Committee

Footballer Fahad Al-Muwallad banned for 18 months by Saudi Arabian Anti-Doping Committee
  • Al-Ittihad, Saudi national team star tested positive for banned substance before King’s Cup semi-final against Al-Feiha in April

RIYADH: Al-Ittihad and Saudi Arabia star Fahad Al-Muwallad has been suspended from all football activities for 18 months after testing positive for a banned substance.

The Saudi Arabian Anti-Doping Committee confirmed the news on Monday, according to Arabic sports daily Arriyadiyah.

The committee clarified that the player waived his right to open the B sample at the hearing during which all the supporting documents for the case were reviewed.

Al-Muwallad was tested before Al-Ittihad’s King’s Cup semi-final against Al-Feiha on April 4, a match the Saudi Pro League leaders lost 1-0 to exit the tournament.

In a statement, the SAADC said: “The period of suspension of Fahad Al-Muwallad from participating in all internal and external sporting competitions begins from the temporary suspension period on March 28 of this year.”

While the player has been banned from taking part in any competitions, the statement added that he could return to training in the last two months of the suspension period.

Al-Muwallad was previously suspended in 2019 for testing positive for a banned substance after a Saudi Pro League match against Al-Nassr.


Saudi gaming champ Musaed Al-Dossary ready for FIFA 22 Champions Cup in Doha

Saudi gaming champ Musaed Al-Dossary ready for FIFA 22 Champions Cup in Doha
Updated 17 May 2022

Saudi gaming champ Musaed Al-Dossary ready for FIFA 22 Champions Cup in Doha

Saudi gaming champ Musaed Al-Dossary ready for FIFA 22 Champions Cup in Doha
  • Tournament will this month see top 16 Arab gamers compete for $50,000 total prize pot

RIYADH: Saudi gaming superstar Musaed Al-Dossary was optimistic ahead of taking part in the FIFA 22 Champions Cup powered by Ooredoo Nation later this month.

The tournament, being staged in the Qatari capital Doha from May 24 to 25 before concluding on May 28, will welcome the Arab world’s top 16 FIFA 22 gamers and more than 2,000 spectators.

A total prize pot of $50,000 will be up for grabs, with the winner taking $25,000, the runner-up $15,000, while third- and fourth-place finishers will receive $5,000 each.

The 2018 FIFAe World Champion, who plays under the moniker MS Dossary, told Arabic sports daily Arriyadiyah: “I am happy with the return of live attendance competitions and championships, and taking part in the neighboring nation of Qatar is certainly of importance to me.

“I hope that the tournament will be of the desired level for e-sports lovers, and I am fully prepared to face other elite players and win the title,” he said.


Hammoud Al- Saiari becomes first-ever Saudi to coach in north Africa’s top-flight leagues

Hammoud Al- Saiari becomes first-ever Saudi to coach in north Africa’s top-flight leagues
Updated 17 May 2022

Hammoud Al- Saiari becomes first-ever Saudi to coach in north Africa’s top-flight leagues

Hammoud Al- Saiari becomes first-ever Saudi to coach in north Africa’s top-flight leagues
  • After stints with second-tier clubs in Kingdom, Al-Saiari appointed head coach of Tunisia’s AS Rejiche on short-term contract

RIYADH: For some time now, there have been calls for more Saudi Arabian players to head overseas.

Not only does this provide vital international experience for the country’s best talent to develop and then bring back to the national team and their colleagues it also gives opportunities for young players at home to step up to fill the gap.

It is also exciting to see how they perform. That is why the prospect of stars such as Salem Al-Dawsari heading overseas to play in Europe is an enticing one.

It has yet to really happen but then, all of a sudden, there is news of a Saudi coach taking over a foreign team at a high level.

On Sunday, it was announced that Hammoud Al-Saiari had been appointed as head coach of Tunisian top-flight club AS Rejiche. He is the first Saudi tactician to work in the north African country.

Al-Saiari, who has experience with second-tier teams at home such as Al-Ain, Al-Nahda, and Jeddah, replaces local boss Ferid Ben Belgacem.

“I have contracted with Rejiche and am proud to be the first Saudi coach to work in a strong league in a different country,” Al-Saiari said, thanking the president of his new club.

The east-coast team are not one of the powerhouses of Tunisian football and were promoted to the top tier in 2021. For them, the current league season is over after finishing fourth in Group B just outside the play-off places (the 16-team top tier is divided into two groups of eight with the top three from each progressing to the next stage).

The new man will be in charge for the Tunisian Cup which starts next month. If Al-Saiari can impress during the competition, then he is likely to be handed a lengthier contract to take control of the team for next season.

This is an encouraging and natural response to the situation at home. There are some fine coaches in the top tier of the Saudi Professional League, but they are all foreign. Opportunities for home-grown managers are few and far between and they are usually confined to short-term caretaker positions or second-tier jobs.

At Al-Ettifaq, Khaled Al-Alwi’s time in charge came to an end in October and so the league lost the last permanent local who was replaced by Vladan Milojevic. The Serbian was himself replaced in March by Patrice Carteron and the team are still deep in relegation trouble, so perhaps there is something to be said for sticking with Saudi talent.

In East Asian countries, there is usually more of a mix between foreign and domestic tacticians. Almost half in the Japanese top tier are foreign, with South Korea having just one international boss, a situation also not seen as ideal.

Foreign bosses bring new ideas, methods, and experience and those that are committed and enthusiastic can make a real difference to the league as well as individual players. It is also great for local coaches to pit their wits against counterparts from Brazil, Serbia, Argentina, and the Netherlands and to also learn from them.

However, in the absence of opportunity it is natural that coaches will seek pastures new, and it is a good sign. Al-Saiari’s move should be huge news in Saudi Arabia and fans and media in the country should get behind their export to Tunisia, a level that is decent in Africa and would rival most in Asia.

A big-name player such as Al-Dawsari going overseas is always going to grab the headlines but if Saudi Arabia can start exporting coaches, then it will be a huge benefit to the country and also show those budding tacticians starting out that there is a professional pathway in the game.

What should also happen is that if the likes of Al-Saiari and other Saudi bosses can have success abroad then they will be more attractive to clubs at home. It all helps to strengthen the domestic football scene.

All this is a lot of pressure to place on one coach who has a short-term contract with a mid-table Tunisian club but for the situation to change, there always has to be a first.

There should be a few more people interested in the Tunisian Cup next month and if AS Rejoice can show signs of improvement in the knockout competition, then next season could be fascinating indeed and also meaningful for the future.