Stay or go? Ronaldo’s future uncertain at Manchester United

Stay or go? Ronaldo’s future uncertain at Manchester United
Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo holds the ball after Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso scored his side’s first goal during their English Premier League match at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester in April 2022. (AP)
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Updated 21 July 2022

Stay or go? Ronaldo’s future uncertain at Manchester United

Stay or go? Ronaldo’s future uncertain at Manchester United
  • Ronaldo wants to be competing on the biggest stage, winning the biggest trophies while he can
  • He reportedly wants out after just one season back at Old Trafford, with United no longer in the Champions League

DUBAI: The weekly social media posts published by Cristiano Ronaldo this offseason typically have shown the soccer superstar half-dressed, muscles bulging, either working out or promoting one of his many brands.
Remaining relevant and highly visible is clearly so important to the player who, along with Lionel Messi, is the greatest of his generation. That also extends to the final years of his career on the field, too.
It is why, for the 37-year-old Ronaldo, playing for Manchester United — still one of the world’s most famous sports teams, despite their recent trophy drought — just isn’t enough. He wants to be competing on the biggest stage, winning the biggest trophies while he can.
Hence the current standoff with United, which is becoming more damaging and disruptive as the days go by and the new season looms.
Publicly, Ronaldo has not yet returned to preseason training with the English club because of what has been described as “personal reasons.” The expectation, recently hired United manager Erik ten Hag repeats on an almost-daily basis, is that Ronaldo will be back before the Premier League begins and be a key member of the squad.
The reality, it seems, is different. Ronaldo reportedly wants out after just one season back at Old Trafford, with United no longer in the Champions League or in shape to compete with the best teams in England like Manchester City and Liverpool.
United finished sixth last season, 35 points behind first-place City.
So, while the rest of the United squad have been on tour in Thailand and Australia, getting match-sharp and acquainted with ten Hag and his methods, Ronaldo has been back home in Portugal with his family while his agent, Jorge Mendes, shops around seeking a new club for his most famous client.
Currently, there is no buyer.
And the Premier League season starts in about two weeks.
“I don’t know what Cristiano said to the club and to the manager,” said United midfielder Bruno Fernandes, who also plays alongside Ronaldo for Portugal. “I don’t know what’s going on in his head, if he wants to leave. I didn’t ask them that.
“From everything we know,” Fernandes added, “he had some family problems so we have to respect his space, give him some space and that’s it. The only thing I asked Cristiano when he didn’t turn up was if everything was OK with the family. He told me what was going on, that’s it and nothing more.”
On the face of it, United still want to keep Ronaldo — he was the team’s top scorer last season with 24 goals and is back to being the club’s poster boy for the marketing department — and ten Hag has called the striker “extremely important” along with being “not for sale.”
But why would other top clubs be cold on a player who is still a guaranteed source of goals, and revenue for that matter?
Goals might be the aim of the game but they are not necessarily enough for a modern-day coach. A certain level of mobility and an ability to be part of a team pressing game counts for a lot, too, and Ronaldo does not offer that, even if he remains a supremely athletic player with that uncanny knack of coming alive in the penalty area and scoring from anywhere. A team’s structure must change to accommodate a player like an aging Ronaldo, covering for his deficiencies and the need to make him the focal point.
In short, his presence requires compromises to be made. He is a problem and a solution.
Maybe, if he ends up staying at United, ten Hag can come up with a system in which Ronaldo thrives and the players around him can cover for him and make the team operate in an efficient way. That’s easier said than done.
Thomas Tuchel — the sort of coach who values a team over the individual — clearly thought that wasn’t possible, given his Chelsea team were one of the clubs Mendes apparently spoke to. There was a glaring hole in Chelsea’s forward line, too, with Romelu Lukaku returning to Inter Milan.
Bayern Munich are another team to have reportedly turned down the chance to sign Ronaldo. There has been no desire from Real Madrid or Juventus to go back in for him, either.
Ronaldo’s wage demands are likely ruling out most of the other clubs competing in this season’s Champions League, a competition in which he is the record scorer with 141 goals — 16 more than Messi — and for which he lives.
It leaves Ronaldo in an awkward spot. Still one of the greatest scorers in soccer but a player unwanted by the best teams.
So what comes next? An uneasy truce with United and a sheepish return to a team playing in the Europa League and unlikely to be involved in the Premier League title race? Or can Mendes pull a blockbuster move out of the bag, like he did last year when Ronaldo sealed a sensational return to England?
For his brand and his legacy, Ronaldo will want the latter, ending what has turned out to be a nostalgia project without a happy ending.
And deep down, that might suit ten Hag, too, enabling him to start the rebuilding job at United with a clean slate.


Argentina, Netherlands eye quarters as World Cup last 16 kicks off

Argentina, Netherlands eye quarters as World Cup last 16 kicks off
Updated 03 December 2022

Argentina, Netherlands eye quarters as World Cup last 16 kicks off

Argentina, Netherlands eye quarters as World Cup last 16 kicks off
  • Business end of the tournament kicks off with 16 teams dreaming of plotting a path to the final in Doha on December 18

DOHA: Australia take on Lionel Messi’s Argentina in a David v Goliath World Cup showdown while the United States look to ambush the Netherlands as the World Cup knockout rounds get under way on Saturday.
After a group stage full of twists and turns, the business end of the tournament kicks off with 16 teams dreaming of plotting a path to the final in Doha on December 18.
The USA and the Netherlands open the second round at the Khalifa Stadium on Saturday, with the Americans aiming to advance to the quarter-finals for the first time since 2002.
Coach Gregg Berhalter’s USA squad booked their spot in the last 16 with a 1-0 win over Iran to secure second place in Group B behind England.
While the Dutch possess the greater historical pedigree, reaching three previous World Cup finals, the USA head into the knockout rounds brimming with confidence.
“It’s a great opportunity, but it’s not something that we’re going into it thinking it’s an honor,” Berhalter said.
“We deserve to be in the position we’re in.”
The US face a Dutch team who finished first in Group A ahead of Senegal, Ecuador and Qatar without really showing their best form.
The Netherlands’ veteran coach Louis van Gaal is wary of the threat posed by the energetic Americans, describing Berhalter’s team as one of the best in the tournament.
“They have an excellent team, I would say even one of the best teams,” said Van Gaal.
“It’ll be a tough match but it’s nothing we can’t overcome. We also have a good team.”
In Saturday’s other knockout game, South American giants Argentina face an Australia side who confounded all expectations by getting out of a Group D that included defending champions France, Denmark and Tunisia.
However Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni is not ready to take anything for granted having already seen his team suffer a shock loss to Saudi Arabia earlier in the tournament.
“Whether or not they are inferior to us remains to be seen,” Scaloni said. “Forget who is theoretically favorites and let’s play football.”
Australia coach Graham Arnold meanwhile said he expects the Socceroos to raise their game once more against the star-studded Argentines.
“Playing against that type of talent, and that name I think resonates right across the world — it’s a football nation and it is inspiring to play against them,” Arnold said.
The conclusion of the group phase on Friday marked the departure of four more teams from the 32-nation tournament.
South Korea battled their way into the last 16 after a last-gasp winner in a 2-1 win over Portugal which in turn eliminated Uruguay, 2-0 victors over Ghana.
Tottenham forward Son Heung-min produced a brilliant assist for Hwang Hee-chan to score the goal that secured a 2-1 victory.
The Korean players then watched the final minutes of Uruguay’s match on a mobile phone as they waited for their place in the last 16 to be confirmed.
Uruguay, leading 2-0 against the Africans, needed one more goal to go through but fell agonizingly short despite piling on the pressure, crashing out by virtue of goals scored.
Uruguay’s campaign ended in disarray with veteran Luis Suarez in tears on the substitutes bench while striker Edinson Cavani angrily knocked over a pitchside VAR monitor as he left the field — an apparent protest at several decisions which went against the team.
Switzerland edged a bad-tempered encounter with Serbia to progress, winning 3-2 to earn a meeting with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.
Switzerland’s Granit Xhaka was at the center of a melee between players form both sides after a clash with Serbian defender Nikola Milenkovic.
Brazil won Group G despite dropping nine players from their starting lineup and losing 1-0 to Cameroon with Vincent Aboubakar heading in a stoppage-time winner to claim a memorable win that could not prevent the African side being eliminated.


Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix open for booking 

Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix open for booking 
Updated 03 December 2022

Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix open for booking 

Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix open for booking 
  • Saudi Arabia is one of the newest places on the Formula 1 calendar

JEDDAH: The Saudi Motorsport Company, the promoter of Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2023, offered access on Friday to early ticket packages for the third race of STC Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix — the second round of the F1 world championship — to be staged on the Jeddah Corniche circuit from March 17-19, 2023.

As of Friday, local and international audiences can pre-book tickets for 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on www.saudiarabiangp.com.

Early booking ticket holders will enjoy a discount of up to 10 percent for the premium hospitality category, and a 30 percent discount for the main stands and general admission category. This offer will be valid until the first week of January 2023 with a limited number of seats.

Saudi Arabia is one of the newest places on the Formula 1 calendar, as it hosted its first race in December 2021, and its second one after only four months in March 2022. 

In the first race, the competition intensified between Red Bull driver Max Verstappen and Mercedes driver and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, ending in a hard-fought victory for the Mercedes driver and both equal on points one round before the end of the season.

The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2022 had Verstappen winning after a fierce competition with Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, who took the lead for most of the race until Verstappen managed to overtake him three laps before the finish line.


Saudi Dakar Rally 2023 route unveiled

Saudi Dakar Rally 2023 route unveiled
Updated 03 December 2022

Saudi Dakar Rally 2023 route unveiled

Saudi Dakar Rally 2023 route unveiled

JEDDAH: The details of the fourth edition of Saudi Dakar Rally in 2023 were announced by the Dakar Rally Organizing Committee in a virtual press conference on Thursday.

Present during the press conference were Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, chairman of the board of directors of the Saudi Federation of Motors and Motorcycles as well as of the Saudi Motorsports Company; Jan Luminaire, CEO of Amaury Sport Organization; and David Castera, director of the Dakar Rally.

During the conference the route of the new edition of the rally — held for the fourth consecutive year in Saudi Arabia — was revealed. It will take place from Dec. 31 to Jan. 15, with 453 vehicles across various categories of the race, including 89 vehicles in the Dakar Classic race, with a distance of more than 8,500 km.

This is the longest for the special stages subject to timing since 2014, and is expected to attract drivers from more than 68 countries.

The rally track for this year consists of a preliminary stage and 14 regular stages. Drivers will begin the rally with an introductory trip from the sea camp in the northwestern mountain regions before heading to the far southeast, passing through AlUla, Hail, Dawadmi, Haradh, the Empty Quarter, Shaybah, Hofuf and Dammam.

The Saudi Dakar Rally last January witnessed the participation of a group of the most prominent global drivers, attracting more than 1,000 racers representing 70 countries from around the world. The 2022 edition of the event ran for 14 days across 12 stages and six categories.

Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal stressed that hosting Dakar Rally for the fourth time in a row confirms the Kingdom’s ability to host the most important international events, and contributes to consolidating its deserved position on the global sports map.

He said that due to the Kingdom’s capabilities and potential, Saudi Arabia has become a distinguished destination for fans of the sport, based on the nature of the rally as one of the largest and most important events on the motor sport agenda, leading to a spotlight on the diversity and geographical distinction of the Kingdom, which makes the rally stronger.

He added: “We have begun preparations with all concerned authorities to ensure the provision of all the required factors and elements, and to ensure success in organizing in a way that reflects our ambitions and underlines the transformation march of the Kingdom.”

The stages of the race will be as follows:

- Preliminary stage (Saturday, Dec. 31): Al-Bahr Camp — Al-Bahr Camp, for a distance of 11 km.

- First Stage (Sunday, Jan. 1): Camp Al-Bahr — Al-Bahr Camp, a circular stage for a distance of 603 km (Special stage: 368 km).

- Second Stage (Monday, Jan. 2): Al-Bahr Camp — AlUla, 590 km (Special Stage: 431 km).

- Third stage (Tuesday, Jan. 3): AlUla - Hail, 669 km (Special stage: 447 km).

- Fourth Stage (Wednesday, Jan. 4): Hail — Hail, circular stage for a distance of 573 km (Special stage: 425 km).

- Fifth Stage (Thursday, Jan. 5): Hail — Hail, circular stage for a distance of 646 km (Special stage: 375 km).

- Sixth stage (Friday, Jan. 6): Hail — Dawadmi, 877 km (Special stage: 466 km).

- Seven Stage (Saturday, Jan. 7): Dawadmi — Dawadmi, a circular stage for a distance of 641 km (Special stage: 473 km).

- Eighth Stage (Sunday, Jan. 8): Dawadmi — Riyadh, 722 km (Special Stage: 407 km).

- Rest Day (Monday, Jan. 9): Riyadh.

- Ninth Stage (Tuesday, Jan. 10): Riyadh — Haradh, 710 km (Special Stage: 439 km).

- 10th Stage (Wednesday, Jan. 11): Haradh — Shaybah, 623 km (Special Stage: 114 km).

- 11th Stage (Thursday, Jan. 12): Shaybah — Al-Ardah, marathon stage 426 km (Special stage: 275 km).

- 12th Stage (Friday, Jan. 13): Al-Ardah — Shaybah, marathon stage 375 km (Special stage: 185 km).

- 13th Stage (Saturday, Jan. 14): Shaybah — Hofuf, 669 km (Special Stage: 154 km).

- 14th Stage (Sunday, Jan. 15): Hofuf — Dammam, 414 km (Special Stage: 136 km).


Cameroon first African team to taste victory against Brazil at a World Cup

Cameroon first African team to taste victory against Brazil at a World Cup
Updated 03 December 2022

Cameroon first African team to taste victory against Brazil at a World Cup

Cameroon first African team to taste victory against Brazil at a World Cup
  • Despite the victory on Friday, Cameroon finished third in their group and was eliminated

AP LUSAIL, Qatar: Cameroon coach Rigobert Song came full circle on a memorable and bittersweet night for African soccer.

Jerome Ngom Mbekeli, the only member of Cameroon’s team who plays for a Cameroonian club, made an inspiring run and cross to set up Vincent Aboubakar’s header and stoppage-time winner in a 1-0 victory to make the Indomitable Lions the first African nation to beat Brazil at a World Cup.

Despite the victory on Friday, Cameroon finished third in their group and was eliminated.

The 24-year-old Ngom Mbekeli was Cameroon’s final substitution, coming on four minutes from time. Song credited his own former coach, Henri Michel, for giving him an opportunity in 1994 when he played for local club Tonnerre Yaounde as he was making his World Cup debut.

“You need to trust youth,” Song said through a translator. “Henri Michel gave me an opportunity. He saw the potential in me. Now I’m the coach and I see potential in my young players.

“I knew (Ngom Mbekeli) was a good, quality player. He just needed an opportunity to show that. Hopefully his performance can motivate other local players.”

Goalkeeper Devis Epassy — thrust into action after usual starter Andre Onana was sent home for disciplinary reasons after a dispute with Song before Cameroon’s previous game — earned player of the match honors for a series of difficult saves.

“No one knew me — even in Cameroon — until I started playing for the national team a year ago,” Epassy said through a translator. “We can be proud of what we’ve done tonight. We showed that we can also be a top team.”

Both Epassy and Aboubakar play for clubs in Saudi Arabia.

With eight goals in seven games, the 22-year-old Aboubakar was the top scorer at the African Cup of Nations in January.

Song and Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon’s soccer federation president, are instilling a strict discipline policy modeled after the European clubs that they once played for — Song as a reliable defender and Eto’o as a standout striker.

“That’s where we let ourselves down in the past,” Song said. “Perhaps we didn’t do everything right, so we’re focusing on discipline.

“The team always needs to take precedent over individuals. When you play for the national team you need to do what’s expected of you.”

While Brazil had already advanced and used mostly reserves, Cameroon still became the first team to beat the five-time champion in the World Cup group stage since Norway did it at the 1998 tournament in France — ending an unbeaten run of 17 group matches.

“We realize now that we could have done better,” Song said. “But we’re a young team and today we’ve seen a young team getting stronger and stronger, and they should be congratulated on their performance.

“It’s a real shame that we have to go home now,” Song added. “But we are going to keep working and keep improving.”


Anthony Davis, LeBron James take charge as Lakers beat Bucks in thriller

Anthony Davis, LeBron James take charge as Lakers beat Bucks in thriller
Updated 03 December 2022

Anthony Davis, LeBron James take charge as Lakers beat Bucks in thriller

Anthony Davis, LeBron James take charge as Lakers beat Bucks in thriller
  • Miami had a split of two games in Boston, beating the Celtics after Boston’s Jaylen Brown banked in a long 3-pointer to force overtime

MILWAUKEE: Anthony Davis scored a season-high 44 points, LeBron James overtook Magic Johnson on the NBA’s career assists list and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 133-129 in a thriller Friday night.

Davis and James helped give Lakers coach Darvin Ham a triumphant return to Milwaukee. Ham worked on Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer’s staff from 2018-22, and the former colleagues shared a big hug before the game.

Ham, an assistant coach on Milwaukee’s 2021 championship team, also played for the Bucks from 1999-2002.

The Lakers withstood a 40-point night from Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who also had seven rebounds and five assists. The Lakers also spoiled the season debut of Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, who had 17 points and seven assists in his return from offseason wrist surgery.

During a fourth quarter that featured three ties and six lead changes, James put the Lakers ahead for good by sinking a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:22 left.

James finished with 28 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. He improved his career assist total to 10,144 and moved into sixth place on the list, ahead of Johnson (10,133).

HEAT 120 CELTICS 116, OT

In Boston, Bam Adebayo scored 28 points, Tyler Herro had 26 and Miami completed a split of two games in Boston, beating the Celtics after Boston’s Jaylen Brown banked in a long 3-pointer to force overtime.

Heat scoring leader Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup and had 25 points in 36 minutes after missing the previous seven games with a sore right knee. He added 15 rebounds.

Kyle Lowry chipped in with 20 points before fouling out in OT for the Heat, who sent Boston to just its second loss in 16 games.

Brown sent the game to overtime by banking in his long 3 with 1.7 seconds to play in regulation. He finished with 37 points.

Boston star Jayson Tatum scored just 14 points on a cold shooting night, going 5 of 18 from the floor, including 0 of 7 on 3-point attempts. He had 49 points in the Celtics’ 134-121 victory on Wednesday night.

ROCKETS 122 SUNS 121

In Phoenix, Jalen Green scored 21 of his 30 points in the second half and Houston overcame a 16-point deficit to stun short-handed Phoenix.

Houston won after blowing a six-point lead in the final two minutes. Devin Booker and Cameron Payne made back-to-back 3-pointers to tie it at 121, but the Rockets pushed ahead by a point when Green made one of two free throws with 28.8 seconds remaining.

That set up a frantic final possession that included four missed shots by the Suns, including a 16-foot jumper by Booker at the buzzer.

It was one of the few blemishes for Booker, who led the Suns with 41 points on 15-of-25 shooting. The three-time All-Star is in the midst of one of the best scoring stretches of his career. He had 44 points at Sacramento on Monday night and 51 against Chicago at home Wednesday night.

HAWKS 117 NUGGETS 109

In Atlanta, Dejounte Murray scored 34 points, rookie A.J. Griffin tied a career high with 24 subbing for injured Trae Young and short-handed Atlanta beat Denver.

Denver star Nikola Jokic, the two-time defending NBA MVP, had just four points in the first half on 2-of-5 shooting, but finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

The Hawks were riddled with injuries before the game with Young, their leading scorer, sidelined by soreness in his right shoulder and John Collins out at least two weeks and De’Andre Hunter out at least one week. In all, Atlanta had eight players listed on the injury report.

HORNETS 117 WIZARDS 116

In Charlotte, N.C.,Terry Rozier scored 25 points, Kelly Oubre Jr. added 22 and Charlotte held off a second-half rally by Bradley Beal and Washington to hand the Wizards their fifth loss in six games.

P.J. Washington had 21 points and Mason Plumlee added 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Hornets. They have won three of their last four.

Beal scored 33 points, but turned the ball over twice and missed an open jumper in the final minute with Washington trailing by one.

NETS 114 RAPTORS 105

In New York, Kyrie Irving scored 27 points and Brooklyn built a huge lead in beating Toronto for their fourth victory in a row.

Brooklyn led by 36 points midway through the second quarter and held a 93-72 advantage at the start of the fourth.

Kevin Durant had 17 points and Nic Claxton added 15 for the Nets.

Pascal Siakam scored 24 points for Toronto.

PELICANS 117 SPURS 99

In San Antonio, Zion Williamson scored 30 points and matched a career high with 15 rebounds and New Orleans past San Antonio, with the Spurs without coach Gregg Popovich.

Jonas Valanciunas added 21 points and 11 rebounds for New Orleans, which has won three straight and eight of 10 to remain atop the Southwest Division ahead of Memphis.

San Antonio has lost 10 straight, matching the franchise’s longest losing streak set in 1987.

Popovich was at the AT&T Cente.r but missed the game due to a minor medical procedure. He will also miss a home game Sunday against Phoenix. Former Philadelphia coach Brett Brown coached the Spurs in Popovich’s absence.

GRIZZLIES 117 76ERS 109

In Memphis, Tennessee, Ja Morant had 28 points and eight rebounds, Jaren Jackson Jr. added 22 points and four blocks — one in the closing minute — and Memphis beat Philadelphia.

Dillon Brooks finished with 17 points to help Memphis win for third time in four games.

Joel Embiid had 35 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists for Philadelpia. Tobias Harris added 21 points and 11 rebounds, and Shake Milton had 17 points and six assists.

The Grizzlies led by 18 early in the fourth, but the 76ers had another push left, cutting the Memphis lead to single digits with about five minutes left and to 111-106 with three minutes to go.

CAVALIERS 107 MAGIC 96

In Cleveland, Donovan Mitchell scored 34 points, Evan Mobley had 19 points and 13 rebounds and Cleveland beat Orlando.

Mitchell poured in 16 points in the first nine minutes, outscoring Orlando himself by one, and the Cavaliers never relinquished control. Cleveland eventually led by 20 in winning for the 10th time in 11 home games this season.

Rookie forward Paolo Banchero scored 22 points for NBA-worst Orlando. They have lost seven straight to fall to 5-18.