Wael Al-Qadi and Bristol Rovers celebrate a football miracle for the ages

Wael Al-Qadi and Bristol Rovers celebrate a football miracle for the ages
This has been a good season for Arab owners of English football clubs, especially Jordanian businessman Wael Al-Qadi and his club Bristol Rovers as they celebrated their automatic promotion to League One on Saturday. (Twitter)
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Updated 21 May 2022

Wael Al-Qadi and Bristol Rovers celebrate a football miracle for the ages

Wael Al-Qadi and Bristol Rovers celebrate a football miracle for the ages
  • It’s been a good season for Arab owners of English football clubs, but few stories can compare to Bristol Rovers’ automatic promotion to League One
  • May 7, 2022, and Bristol Rovers are playing Scunthorpe United at the Memorial Stadium with an automatic place in League One on the line

DUBAI: Time was running out and a fifth, sixth, and seventh goal were needed.
They would, astonishingly, arrive, because that’s what football miracles are made of.
But we’re jumping ahead.
This has been a good season for Arab owners of English football clubs.
Manchester City are on the brink of retaining their Premier League title. Newcastle United have pulled off a record-breaking escape from relegation and are looking toward a bright future. And Wigan have gained promotion to the Championship.
But for sheer drama, none of these stories can quite compete with that of Bristol Rovers, owned by Jordanian businessman Wael Al-Qadi.
At one point, the club was second to bottom in League Two, 91st out of 92 clubs in the pyramid of English football. To say promotion to League One was against the odds would barely scratch the surface of the events of the season.
“It was one of the most crazy, demanding seasons, really tiring because we went through it all, the lowest of the low to the highest of the high,” said Al-Qadi. “In a normal season, I’m here 50 percent of the time, I attend 50 percent of the games, but this season, because of what was going on, the upheaval in the club, going from rock bottom, I was here a lot more. And as a result, negativity and stress and lots of problems arose from within the club, and around the club there was pressure on me to get rid of the manager (Joey Barton). It was basically a revolt from within the club to make change.”
Some difficult decisions had to be taken, ones that have been vindicated spectacularly.
“I stuck with him and as a result, I cleaned house in the club, everybody was just pushed out and I appointed the new CEO (Tom Gorringe) who was with us as a commercial director, he became the youngest CEO in English football. Sweeping changes all across the club in all the departments brought in new, young, energized people.
“The combination of Tom, Joe, and me we rode out the storm, and results started to happen,” he added. “It went from a total negative dark place to be, to a ride of success which was fantastic. The quality of football being played, the goals, fairytale gains, being 3-1 down with 18 minutes left to win 4-3 in the 95th minute, stuff like that. It’s just incredible.
“And then the final game of the season, ‘the miracle’ I call it, a footballing miracle, to witness that was just unbelievable. And then what happened after the celebrations. The whole city, for not only that night, for days and weeks, they’re still talking about and it will go down in the folklore of the club as one of the greatest achievements ever.”
May 7, 2022, and Bristol Rovers are playing Scunthorpe United at the Memorial Stadium with an automatic place in League One on the line. But they trail Northampton Town, second in League Two and playing at Barrow, on goal difference.
“Going into the game, it (automatic promotion) was unlikely, we had to first of all win by five goals just to catch up and hope at the same time, if we didn’t do that hope we win and Northampton draws or loses,” said Al-Qadi.
“So I asked the manager, ‘Are we going for it? And he was like, hell yes. So I knew we were gonna attack and go for goal difference because we’re not relying on the other teams to do us favors. So the lineup was totally attacking, we put in wing-backs who are wingers actually, we changed the line up to basically nine attackers and just two defenders and I knew we were gonna go for it.”
What happened next defied all footballing logic.
“So we started off well but then the news filtered in, 1-0 Northampton, then 2-0 Northampton, then 3-0 Northampton, so you’re kind of deflated, and you start thinking, okay, at least we’re in the playoffs, it’s not the end of the world. And then we scored a goal, and we scored another goal. And Barrow scored the goal. That’s three goals wiped off the deficit of eight.
“So at halftime, there were five to go, and honestly I thought that it was doable because I know we were going to go all-out attack. I know that we’re one of the fittest teams in the league, I know that a lot of our goals are scored in the last 15 minutes, so it was just me expecting the next goal to go in
“And then after that went in, I was like, okay, when’s the fourth going in? And then, okay, when’s the fifth going in? Then the sixth goal (on 79 minutes). And then when the seventh goal went in (85), I lost it completely. It was, it was just incredible.”
Having pulled off the impossible, there was a brief, but terrifying, concern that it could all be in vain when the fans invaded the pitch before its conclusion, with the referee taking the players into the dressing rooms for 15 minutes.
“We were under the whim of this referee,” Al-Qadi said. “His decision could cost us, basically, promotion. So I went down on the pitch and addressed the crowd, ‘Please do not come onto the pitch’, because this referee could abandon the game again.”
After Barton addressed the crowd as well, the match was completed and the celebrations could start all over again.
Al-Qadi’s faith in his players to pull off the result was not based on blind optimism either. Increasingly throughout the season, the team had shown a capacity to score very late, decisive goals, a legacy of their improved fitness.
“When Joe came in, he realized that we were way behind in standards in fitness and sports science and nutrition,” he said. “So he did a complete overhaul in that department and he brought in people who he knows and trusts and who he’d worked with before. For example, we got in Tom Short, ‘Shorty,’ from Premier League Burnley. He had treated Joe when he was a player at Burnley and got him fit again, so he knows his capabilities.”
Al-Qadi calls Short and all the backroom staff “unsung heroes” for their part in the promotion.
“Joe built a super fit team that lasts beyond the 90 minutes, you could see it throughout the season, where other teams drop off around the 75th minute, and we keep on going. We’re fitter, we’re stronger, and the results speak for themselves.”
A week before the promotion was secured, Bristol Rovers had pulled off another miracle away at Rochdale. Losing 3-2 into stoppage time, Barton’s team somehow managed to turn almost defeat into a 4-3 win, a match Al-Qadi watched with the traveling support.
“It’s just crazy, I wanted to get on the pitch,” said Al-Qadi. “What a day. We had to win to keep up with everyone at one stage, we win, we are losing, we were out of the playoffs. Imagine we were losing 3-1 with 18 minutes left, we were out of the playoffs. Even going to the 90th minute, we’re losing 3-2, two out, and then all of a sudden we’re in and then the next week, we get promoted. It’s crazy.”
Rovers took more than 2,000 fans to Rochdale and Al-Qadi’s presence in the stands was proof that six years after taking over the club he is as much a fan as he is an owner.
“You have to enjoy it,” he said. “You have to because there’s so much stress and anger and you know, falling out with people and people don’t see that, it’s not just about watching a football game and enjoying it. So I guess it’s like a balance with all the joy you get. It balances out all the other negative stuff that you have to deal with, and we have dealt with, and how the season was crazy.”
With no stress of a playoff to worry about, the Bristol Rovers fans have been wallowing in the joy of “the miracle” and the chairman is enjoying the ride even as, behind the scenes, preparations for League One are already taking place.
“You should see the fans. I mean, my God stories of lost ones, dear ones, that they bring their pictures of the dear ones to the game. And after promotion, they just put that picture up and take a memory picture for them. It’s done for them. It’s so many stories, you know, it’s just unbelievable. I met a guy who flew in from Australia just for this game. And I was so relieved for him, because imagine if we didn’t make it.
“And another guy from Canada,” he added. “I was picking up my son at the airport in the morning. He came in from the US, and I was stopped by the flight steward who recognized me, (he) came up and said, ‘I just flew in from Ireland. I’m gonna go get changed and go to the game.’ It’s just beautiful stories.
“They’re over the moon, they’re just really happy,” Al-Qadi said. “They’re loving the football we’re playing at the moment. They say it’s the best football they’ve ever seen. It’s really satisfactory to hear that.”


Formula E returns to Morocco for season eight, round 10 at Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan

Formula E returns to Morocco for season eight, round 10 at Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan
Updated 01 July 2022

Formula E returns to Morocco for season eight, round 10 at Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan

Formula E returns to Morocco for season eight, round 10 at Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan
  • Mercedes-EQ’s Stoffel Vandoorne leads the way in the Drivers’ World Championship with a five-point advantage over nearest challenger and double champion Jean-Eric Vergne of DS TECHEETAH

SAUDI ARABIA: The ABB FIA Formula E World Championship returns to Marrakesh on Saturday for round 10 in the 16-race season, with four drivers pulling ahead in the battle for the drivers’ title.

Going into the Marrakesh E-Prix at the Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan, Mercedes-EQ’s Stoffel Vandoorne leads the way in the Drivers’ World Championship with a five-point advantage over nearest challenger and double champion Jean-Eric Vergne (DS TECHEETAH).

Edoardo Mortara (ROKiT Venturi Racing) is two points back in third place, while Mitch Evans (Jaguar TCS Racing), who won last time out in Jakarta, sits fourth, but only 12 points back from the standings lead.

With a maximum of 29 points on offer in Marrakesh, any one of those four drivers could lead the championship come the chequered flag on Saturday,

Evans’ win in Indonesia squeezed the margins splitting the top four, with Mortara and Vergne also making the podium last time around to pile the pressure on points pacesetter Vandoorne.

Consistency is key in Formula E if any driver is to assemble a run at the World Championship. The Belgian has finished outside the top five just twice in nine rounds, though both Evans and Mortara have scored in all but two races this season, while Vergne has never failed to tally.

The Atlas mountains provide the backdrop for Formula E’s fifth trip to the city’s centuries-old Agdal district, with the first Marrakesh E-Prix taking place in 2016. The track follows the Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan — named after the crown prince of Morocco — before spilling out onto the streets of Marrakesh’s hotel district.

Renowned for being an energy-zapping circuit, this fast and highly technical track features 12 turns, three straights and a series of bends completing a track length of 2.971 kilometers.

Last time out in Morocco was magic for Antonio Felix da Costa and DS TECHEETAH who dominated proceedings, with victory setting in motion a run to the 2019-20 championship trophy.

Sebastien Buemi (Nissan e.dams) sealed the win on Formula E’s inaugural visit in 2016, with Felix Rosenqvist and Jerome D’Ambrosio taking back-to-back victories for Mahindra Racing in 2018 and 2019 before da Costa fired his season six title charge into life a year later here.


Revamped Extreme E set for NEOM Island X Prix in Sardinia

Revamped Extreme E set for NEOM Island X Prix in Sardinia
Updated 01 July 2022

Revamped Extreme E set for NEOM Island X Prix in Sardinia

Revamped Extreme E set for NEOM Island X Prix in Sardinia
  • Automobile Club d’Italia and Regione Sardegna co-organizing event

RIYADH: The countdown is on to the first-ever double-header Extreme E event, as the championship returns to the Italian island of Sardinia for a summer showdown of back-to-back racing on July 6-7 and July 9-10.

NEOM’s title sponsorship of the Island X Prix follows the announcement that Extreme E has entered into a multi-year relationship with ENOWA, NEOM’s energy, water, and hydrogen subsidiary, to introduce green hydrogen power to their global sustainable racing series.

Extreme E continues to showcase innovative sustainable solutions, whether they demonstrate the full potential of e-SUVs or deliver legacy programs at race locations.

The event will be returning to the Season 1 location of the army training area at Capo Teulada in Sulcis-Iglesiente. The Teulada will provide a challenging backdrop for the course, which measures around 7 kilometers.

Due to the hot summer conditions in July, the terrain will be much drier than last year’s Enel X Island X Prix, with the drivers having to navigate a harder, more compact surface riddled with rocks, bushes, and dry riverbeds cracked from the heat.

The purpose-driven message of the series will focus on blue and green carbon restoration in Sardinia, continuing to work alongside the MEDSEA Foundation (Mediterranean Sea and Coast Foundation) to support two significant projects.

For Round Two, the first project explores green carbon. The sport-for-purpose championship will be returning to Sennariolo to visit the communities affected by the devastating wildfires of 2021.

As for Round Three, the second project supports seagrass conservation,  mitigating the detrimental effects of blue carbon in Mediterranean waters.

Extreme E has been working closely with Automobile Club d’Italia - the national sports federation co-organizing and coordinating the event - the Region of Sardinia and its Tourism Department, the Ministry of Defense, and the Italian Army.


Maldini signs new two-year director deal with AC Milan

Maldini signs new two-year director deal with AC Milan
Updated 01 July 2022

Maldini signs new two-year director deal with AC Milan

Maldini signs new two-year director deal with AC Milan
  • Milan icon Maldini's new deal means that the seven-time European champions will keep the duo who built their Scudetto-winning side
  • Maldini worked alongside sporting director Frederic Massara to take Milan from the doldrums to the top of the Italian game

MILAN: Paolo Maldini will stay on as AC Milan’s technical director after signing a new two-year contract, the Serie A champions announced on Friday.
Milan icon Maldini’s new deal means that the seven-time European champions will keep the duo who built their Scudetto-winning side.
Maldini worked alongside sporting director Frederic Massara, who has also signed a two-year extension, to take Milan from the doldrums to the top of the Italian game.
“This deal highlights the importance of continuity we see throughout the club as we continue to strengthen and grow,” Milan said in a statement.
The 54-year-old confirmed late last night that he had signed an extension after weeks of delays which almost led to Milan starting the summer transfer window — which opened in Italy on Friday — without their key men.
He has been critical in Milan signing some of their most important players, one such example being a now-famous meeting in Ibiza which was crucial to bringing Theo Hernandez to the club in 2019.
France left-back Hernandez was a stand-out player in last season’s surprise title win.
Maldini is one of the greatest players in Milan’s history, winning a raft of trophies over a quarter of a century passed entirely with his boyhood club.
He played over 900 times for Milan, winning the European Cup or Champions League five times and claiming seven Serie A titles before retiring in 2009.
That success was not replicated in an Italy jersey despite earning 126 caps, losing in the 1994 World Cup and Euro 2000 finals.
Last month Milan announced that current owners, investment fund Elliott Management, had agreed to sell the club to rival US fund RedBird for 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion).
Milan said that the sale of the club will be completed no later than September.


Mo Salah ends speculation by signing new Liverpool contract

Mo Salah ends speculation by signing new Liverpool contract
Updated 01 July 2022

Mo Salah ends speculation by signing new Liverpool contract

Mo Salah ends speculation by signing new Liverpool contract
  • The Egypt international had entered the final year of his existing contract
  • Salah has scored 156 goals in 254 appearances for the club since arriving in 2017

LIVERPOOL: Mohamed Salah signed a new three-year contract with Liverpool on Friday which will keep him at the club until 2025.
The Egypt international had entered the final year of his existing contract after negotiations over extending his stay dragged on for most of last season.
The 30-year-old forward’s wage demands had been a stumbling block, but a delegation flew out to meet with the player, who is still currently on holiday in the Mediterranean, and came to an agreement which reportedly makes the forward the highest-paid player in the club’s history.
“I feel great and (I am) excited to win trophies with the club. It’s a happy day for everyone,” Salah told the club’s website. “It takes a little bit of time, I think, to renew, but now everything is done so we just need to focus on what’s next. I think you can see in the last five or six years the team was always going (upwards).”
Salah has scored 156 goals in 254 appearances for the club since arriving in 2017 and has helped them win the Premier League, Champions League, Club World Cup, FA Cup and League Cup during that time.
“If I look back to that time when I came (here), the club were not winning many things but I think I told you I had come (here) to win trophies,” Salah said. “I think we have won good trophies together and I think we can do it again.”
Liverpool won the FA Cup and League cup last season but finished second to Manchester City in the Premier League and lost the final of the Champions League to Real Madrid.


Saudi Arabia basketball team secure spot in second round of FIBA World Cup qualifying

Saudi Arabia basketball team secure spot in second round of FIBA World Cup qualifying
Updated 01 July 2022

Saudi Arabia basketball team secure spot in second round of FIBA World Cup qualifying

Saudi Arabia basketball team secure spot in second round of FIBA World Cup qualifying
  • Saudi Arabia remained composed and saw out the game to seal a 69-67 win

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s basketball team secured their spot in the second round of qualifying for next year’s FIBA World Cup with a come-from-behind win against Indonesia in Jakarta on Friday.

The Saudis were down by 13 points at one point mid-third quarter, but outscored their hosts by 16-2 to lead 49-48 going into the final quarter.

Despite a valiant effort from Indonesia, Saudi Arabia remained composed and saw out the game to seal a 69-67 win, which propelled them to top of their Asia First Round qualifying pool.

The Saudis can go into their preparations for the second round in style if they seal another win on the road when they face Lebanon, who along with Jordan have also qualified for the next phase, in Zouk Mikael on Monday.

Indonesia are co-hosting next year’s basketball World Cup with the Philippines and Japan.