Chelsea must ‘build step by step’ to get back among challengers, says Sterling

Chelsea must ‘build step by step’ to get back among challengers, says Sterling
Chelsea's English midfielder Raheem Sterling leaves the pitch after being substituted off during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on May 21, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 28 May 2023

Chelsea must ‘build step by step’ to get back among challengers, says Sterling

Chelsea must ‘build step by step’ to get back among challengers, says Sterling
  • The London club will end a torrid season with home clash against Champions League-bound Newcastle United

Raheem Sterling casts his mind back to the start of his Manchester City career to reflect on a turbulent debut season at Chelsea.

“My first two years at City, it was not all beauty,” he says. “We had to build step by step and that’s exactly what we have to do here at Chelsea.”

From his arrival in 2015 until 2017, a League Cup triumph in 2016 was City's sole trophy and all they had to show for their exertions in four competitions.

They came fourth and third too in a Premier League they have since dominated.

That latter placing came in Pep Guardiola’s eagerly-awaited first season as they finished empty-handed and the Spaniard came under intense scrutiny as he tried to shape their transformation.

It was way below the expectations of the club and their supporters - something six-time league champions Chelsea can relate to now as they endure their worst campaign in the Premier League era.

The Blues, who host Newcastle in Sunday’s final day of fixtures, are in 12th place with a 43-point tally after spending £600 million on 16 new signings under new owner Todd Boehly.

Their fall - in contrast to the rise of Eddie Howe's side as they secured Champions League football next season after previously battling relegation - has been astonishing.

Just 15 months ago Chelsea were crowned World Club champions in Abu Dhabi - following on from their 1-0 victory in Porto over Sterling’s City side in the 2021 Champions League final.

Critics and fans have savaged them for their under-achievement since, with Sterling among the main targets following last summer’s £50m arrival from City, where he won four league titles and six domestic cups.

“It’s been hard, but it’s a transitional period for the club and I know, like everything, how things can be,” the 28-year-old tells Arab News exclusively.

“There’s an expectation of a certain level for clubs and players, and if you don’t match that, then you are going to get that criticism.

“But that’s what you want at this top level, because that’s what drives you to build, to get better and have a better season than the one we have had this season.

“And I have got no doubt that once we get the organisation right, once we get the personnel right, then we will be challenging.”

And Sterling, who was left out of England’s squad for the Euro 2024 qualifiers against Malta and North Macedonia in June after talks with boss Gareth Southgate amid injury concerns, is ready to accept the challenges ahead.

He has faced hardships and vitriol before. Whether it was his acrimonious departure from Liverpool to City, leading the fight against racism or having to constantly prove his worth for England, for whom he has 20 goals in 82 appearances.

As a two-year-old, Jamaica-born Sterling’s father was murdered and his mother Nadine moved to England to provide a better life for the family.

Setbacks only serve as a driving force for the forward to respond and succeed.

So too does watching former club City lift this season’s title for a fifth time in six seasons - and after a 1-0 loss at the Etihad where the Chelsea players formed a guard of honour for the champions beforehand.

"That’s what I want, that’s the level I want to be at, that’s the motivation for me," adds Sterling, who has scored nine goals for Chelsea but struggled to find consistency in a side unsettled by managerial changes and the influx of new faces.

“It’s not been hard at all for me personally. I don’t hear the criticism. I keep working, keep going and that’s it.

“I’ve got the ambition to do well. This is one season and you just have to brush it off and go again.

“Sometimes these tough times are what gets you to go to the next level. That’s why you use this fuel, you use this motivation of seeing City, my old club, win the title, right in front of me, and go again. It’s simple.

“That’s the level I’ve been at for the past seven years and that’s the level I want to stay at. I won’t accept this season and we just build now.”

Chelsea’s rebuild will begin with the imminent arrival of Argentine Mauricio Pochettino to take charge.

He will be the club’s fifth manager since September, following the departures of Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and interim bosses Bruno Saltor and Frank Lampard, who will lead them for the last time against Newcastle.

Sterling believes Pochettino, who managed Tottenham Hotspur and Paris Saint-Germain, can restore the good times at Chelsea.

“From his time before at Tottenham, I heard a conversation about him and he’s the exact person that we need,” he says.

“He will bring leadership, he will challenge players physically and mentally and I think he is going to come here and he is going to have the personality that everyone is going to respect. That’s what we need, someone in charge.”

Sterling adds: “We have a good squad, the quality is there. We will add some players and some will leave, I get it, but there’s no doubt in my mind we will be challenging again very soon.

“From the start of this season we have not had our best XI out. The majority of it, we have had 11, 12 players out injured so it was an unfair start. 

“But then again, these are the challenges that happen at the top football clubs and it will get us the consistency we need.

“It’s been hard work, it’s been a tough season, but I always believe after tough times there will be good times if you keep working hard. 

“No matter how this season has gone, good, bad or indifferent, I’ve tried to keep the same focus, the same work-rate and believe you will see the shadow pass.”

‘Starstruck’ Al-Ghamdi embraces Steven Gerrard’s Ettifaq revolution

‘Starstruck’ Al-Ghamdi embraces Steven Gerrard’s Ettifaq revolution
Updated 7 sec ago

‘Starstruck’ Al-Ghamdi embraces Steven Gerrard’s Ettifaq revolution

‘Starstruck’ Al-Ghamdi embraces Steven Gerrard’s Ettifaq revolution
  • The 21-year-old joined the Dammam-based club in 2020 after his return to the Kingdom from Canada

RIYADH: The young Saudi midfielder Ahmed Al-Ghamdi admits to being “starstruck” for the first few days after Steven Gerrard took over as manager of his club, Ettifaq.

Al-Ghamdi, 21, joined the Dammam-based club in 2020 after returning to Saudi Arabia from Canada, where he had lived since the age of one, and has witnessed the transformation at the club first-hand.

While much of the recent investment in Saudi football has focused on the four major clubs from Riyadh and Jeddah, Ettifaq have been making headlines of their own after signing England and Liverpool legend Gerrard as manager, then adding another former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, Scottish international Jack Hendry, Lyon striker Moussa Dembele and, most recently, Dutch midfielder Gini Wijnaldum to their squad.

It has heralded a new era for the club and catapulted the two-time Saudi champions into the global spotlight.

“It was kind of a shock to see someone you’ve been watching on TV, on social media all the time and then finally, he’s here; he’s your coach,” Al-Ghamdi told Arab News.

“So for the first (few) days, I was kind of starstruck. But then, after it sank in, I realized what a great opportunity I have to learn from such a player, such a coaching staff, and all the experience they have.”

Al-Ghamdi’s journey to professional football was somewhat unconventional compared to most of his Saudi counterparts. Though he was born in Jeddah, Al-Ghamdi grew up almost 12,000 km away in Vancouver, Canada, where his parents moved when he was just one in search of greater opportunities for both themselves and their children.

“(Growing up in Canada has) given me a different perspective on life,” Al-Ghamdi said. “There’s more diversity over there, you get introduced to all different cultures from around the world, all different kinds of immigrants, you learn new things, new customs, and you just understand everything through a broader perspective.”

While there were frequent trips back to his homeland, Al-Ghamdi, one of four brothers, grew up in a typically North American environment, and while football was always a passion — passed down from his father — he also had other sporting interests.

“Obviously, when you’re in North America, football isn’t the biggest sport, it’s more ice hockey and basketball,” he said. “At school, they always gave you opportunities to play different sports and, at the time, I was really into basketball. Even now I still love watching the NBA. When I was younger, I used to play on the teams there, and you could say it helped develop my athletic ability as well.”

While sport was a constant throughout his childhood, Al-Ghamdi was no slouch in the classroom either, and, were it not for fate intervening, he could very well be on his way to becoming a doctor. After signing for Vancouver-based Pacific FC in the Canadian Premier League when he was just 17, Al-Ghamdi had earned a place at the prestigious University of British Columbia, which counts Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau among its alumni, to study medicine.

With one season of professional football under his belt, he was ready to pursue his academic ambitions, but a trip back to — ironically — Dammam with the Saudi under-19 national team changed everything.

“I signed a one-year contract with Pacific in the first season of the CPL,” he explained. “I really didn’t have a plan for after that, I was just thankful that I was doing what I love at 17. I saw (it) as a massive opportunity, because it’s very difficult to play professionally out of Vancouver because there’s not that many pathways

“After my contract finished, I thought I was going to leave football. My parents are really big on education, so the plan was to find some sort of agreement (to see if) I could stay (at Pacific) and go to UBC. If I couldn’t reach an agreement with Pacific, I would just go to UBC and focus on my degree,” he continued. “But, at the same time, I was introduced to football in Saudi through the youth national team. I went with them for the U19 Asian Cup qualifiers in Dammam. After the qualifiers finished, I heard that there were clubs in Saudi interested in me, so I decided to take the semester off and see where it took me.”

Now playing under Gerrard, and alongside so many international stars, it’s safe to say that Al-Ghamdi is happy with his decision.

Having made his senior international debut earlier this year at the Gulf Cup — a moment he described as “unbelievable” — Al-Ghamdi is part of a generation of talent hoping to force their way into Roberto Mancini’s reckoning over the next three years ahead of the next FIFA World Cup.

He played a leading role in helping Saudi Arabia win last year’s AFC U23 Asian Cup, scoring the opening goal in the final as the Green Falcons prevailed 2-0 over host nation Uzbekistan, and impressed again at the Gulf Cup earlier this year, making two appearances off the bench.

With the next World Cup due to take place in the USA, Mexico and Canada, the prospect of ‘completing the circle’ and playing for Saudi Arabia in a World Cup match in Canada — possibly even in Vancouver — is one that understandably excites the 21-year-old.

“That would be amazing. It would be a full-circle moment for me to play for Saudi, in Canada, at the 2026 World Cup,” he said. “That would be a really amazing moment for me and my family.”

Five share individual lead, Stinger tops team standings at LIV Golf Chicago

Five share individual lead, Stinger tops team standings at LIV Golf Chicago
Updated 23 September 2023

Five share individual lead, Stinger tops team standings at LIV Golf Chicago

Five share individual lead, Stinger tops team standings at LIV Golf Chicago
  • Jediah Morgan of Ripper GC opened with a 5-under 66 during the first round as he looks to retain spot for next season
  • Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen, Anirban Lahiri and Sebastian Munoz also head a packed leaderboard

SUGAR GROVE: Ripper GC’s Jediah Morgan, fighting to retain his spot in the LIV Golf League for next season, opened with a 5-under 66 to share the first-round lead on Friday at LIV Golf Chicago.

Morgan is tied with Fireballs GC Captain Sergio Garcia, Stinger GC Captain Louis Oosthuizen, Crusher GC’s Anirban Lahiri and Torque GC’s Sebastian Munoz on a packed leaderboard in which 19 other players ­are within two shots of the lead.

Among those pursuers are team captains Brooks Koepka (Smash GC), Dustin Johnson (4Aces GC) and Bryson DeChambeau (Crushers), who each shot 68, and Joaquin Niemann (Torque), who shot 67.

While the four other co-leaders are assured of returning in 2024, the 23-year-old Morgan is one of four players currently in the drop zone who face relegation at the end of the season. He ranks 46th with just three points but a big result this week at Rich Harvest Farms could move him above the drop zone.

Non-captains ranked 45th or worse will be relegated but have a chance to play their way back in later this year at the promotion tournament.

“I know where I am and everyone keeps reminding me where I am, so it’s pretty hard to get away from it,” said Morgan, who posted the low round in the field on Sunday at the previous LIV Golf event in Bedminster last month. “So, there’s no point in me trying to act like it’s not there in my head. It’s obviously there.

“But I know if I play well enough, put myself in the position I think to make putts for birdie, then that’s really all you can do.”

The South African Stinger team, which has finished third in each of the past three tournaments, top the team leaderboard at 13 under, with Charl Schwartzel and Dean Burmester contributing 67s to support Oosthuizen’s score. A strong finish this week could wrap up one of the top four seeds that will receive a bye at the team championship in Miami.

“We’re playing well,” Oosthuizen said. “… We help each other out to try and get into form, and especially now with Miami around the corner, we really want to give a good push to the end.”

The Crushers and Fireballs are one stroke back at 12 under, with the Rippers at 11 under. The top two teams in the season-long standings, No. 1 4Aces and No. 2 Torque, share fifth place at 10 under.

The five-way individual tie is among the most after any LIV Golf first round. Soft conditions provided opportunities for low scores, a big difference from last year’s firm test won by Ripper GC Captain Cameron Smith, who shot 69 on Friday.

“With the conditions, the course is quite gettable,” Garcia said. “I’m actually surprised there wasn’t a couple lower scores today. I could have shot one of those, obviously.

“It still is the kind of course that you still have to hit the ball well to score. It’s a good mix, but if you strike the ball nicely, it feels like you can make a lot of birdies.”

Morgan made seven birdies on Friday, tied for the most in the field. Similar success this weekend could lead to a significant moment in his young career.

“Playing good is motivating me more than getting out of that position,” Morgan said. “Winning the tournament is more motivating than getting out of the bottom four. That’s what I want to do.”

Smith, his captain, said: “I’m very proud of him; he’s a great player. This is what he should be doing every day.”

Here are the standings and counting scores for Friday’s opening round of the team competition at LIV Golf Chicago. The three best scores from each team count in every round for their total team score. The team with the lowest cumulative score after three rounds wins the team title.

1. STINGER GC (-13): Louis Oosthuizen 66, Charl Schwartzel 67, Dean Burmester 67

T2. FIREBALLS GC (-12): Sergio Garcia 66, Carlos Ortiz 67, Eugenio Chacarra 68

T2. CRUSHERS GC (-12): Anirban Lahiri 66, Charles Howell III 67, Bryson DeChambeau 68

4. RIPPER GC (-11): Jediah Morgan 66, Marc Leishman 67, Cameron Smith 69

T5. 4ACES GC (-10): Patrick Reed 67, Peter Uihlein 68, Dustin Johnson 68

T5. TORQUE GC (-10): Sebastián Muñoz 66, Joaquin Niemann 67, David Puig 70

T5. SMASH GC (-10): Jason Kokrak 67, Brooks Koepka 68, Matthew Wolff 68

8. RANGEGOATS GC (-9): Thomas Pieters 67, Talor Gooch 68, Bubba Watson 69

9. MAJESTICKS GC (-6): Sam Horsfield 69, Ian Poulter 69, Lee Westwood 69

10. IRON HEADS GC (-3): Scott Vincent 67, Kevin Na 70, Danny Lee 73

11. HYFLYERS GC (-2): Cameron Tringale 68, Brendan Steele 69, James Piot 74

12. CLEEKS GC (-1): Graeme McDowell 70, Richard Bland 71, Bernd Wiesberger 71

India dethrone Pakistan to become top-ranked ODI side ahead of World Cup

India dethrone Pakistan to become top-ranked ODI side ahead of World Cup
Updated 23 September 2023

India dethrone Pakistan to become top-ranked ODI side ahead of World Cup

India dethrone Pakistan to become top-ranked ODI side ahead of World Cup
  • India become top-ranked side in all three formats of cricket after beating Australia by 5 wickets
  • Pakistan slump to number 2 rankings after losing to Sri Lanka, India in Asia Cup’s Super Four clashes

ISLAMABAD: India brushed aside Pakistan to claim the top spot in the One Day International rankings this week, the International Cricket Council (ICC) said on Saturday, with the development taking place less than two weeks before the World Cup kicks off.
India scripted history on Friday after beating Australia in the first of the three-match ODI series between the two sides. After beating Australia by five wickets in what was a one-sided match, India became only the second team in history to top all cricket formats. South Africa were the only side to have achieved the feat in 2012.
Rohit Sharma’s side were already the top-ranked team in Test and T20 formats of cricket before climbing to the top in the ODI format. Pakistan had regained the top ranking in ODIs after losing to India and Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup after India lost to Bangladesh in the Super Four stage of the tournament.
“India have become the No.1 ranked team across all formats in the
@mrfworldwide ICC Men’s Team Rankings,” the International Cricket Council (ICC) said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

India’s win over Australia in Mohali took them to 116 rating points, one ahead of Pakistan, who have now slumped to number 2 in the ranking.
Sharma’s side, however, could slump down the table if Australia— on 111 points— win the remaining two matches in the series against India.
If India win the series, they will head into the showpiece tournament as the world’s top-ranked ODI team.
Pakistan, meanwhile, head into the World Cup at the back of a disappointing performance in the Asia Cup tournament and injury woes.
Chief Selector Inzamam-ul-Haq on Friday announced the 15-man World Cup squad for the Babar Azam-led side, which included pacer Hassan Ali instead of ace bowler Naseem Shah.
Shah has been ruled out of the upcoming tournament due to a shoulder injury he suffered during the Asia Cup. Pacer Haris Rauf also sat out part of Pakistan’s match against India after he suffered discomfort in his right flank.
Pakistan open their World Cup campaign against the Netherlands on October 6.

League of Legends, other esports join Asian Games in competition for the first time

League of Legends, other esports join Asian Games in competition for the first time
Updated 23 September 2023

League of Legends, other esports join Asian Games in competition for the first time

League of Legends, other esports join Asian Games in competition for the first time
  • The Asian Games has long featured other so-called “mind games” like bridge and chess
  • The competition features five PC games and two mobile games

HANGZHOU, China: The world of online gaming takes its place this year at the Asian Games as an official event for the first time, with gold medals in play across seven top titles.

The Asian Games has long featured other so-called “mind games,” like bridge and chess, so it’s not surprising that extremely popular — and lucrative — esports are being added to the lineup.

Teams from more than 30 countries are taking part, with South Korea and host China expected to dominate what is anticipated to be one of the most watched events of the two-week Asian Games.

The competition features five PC games and two mobile games, covering both multiplayer online battle arena, or MOBA, and single-player genres.

The lineup consists of: League of Legends, Arena of Valor Asian Games Version (also known as Honor of Kings); Peace Elite Asian Games Version (also known as PUBG Mobile); Dota 2; Dream Three Kingdoms 2; Street Fighter V: Champion Edition; and EA Sports FC (also known as FIFA Online 4).

Competition forms vary with the genre but gold medals will be awarded for each game.

There’s even more at stake for the South Korean players, like Lee “Faker” Sanghyeok, known by many as the League of Legends G.O.A.T. — Greatest Of All Time — where winning a gold medal at the Asian Games also wins one an exemption from otherwise compulsory military service for men.

Esports was first featured at the last Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, as a demonstration sport and proved incredibly popular.

Newzoo, a research company that specializes in tracking the global games market, projected in its annual analysis released last month that the number of players worldwide will reach 3.38 billion in 2023, up 6.3 percent year-on-year, with mobile gaming contributing to most of the growth. It expects 3.79 billion players by the end of 2026.

Annual revenues are expected to grow 2.6 percent to $187.7 billion, with 46 percent from the Asia-Pacific region, followed by 27 percent from North America and 18 percent from Europe. The strongest growth, however, was seen in the Middle East and Africa.

There’s more to gaming crossover than esports showing up in the Asian Games competition. Newzoo notes the success of movies and shows derived from video games, like the Super Mario Bros. Movie and HBO’s The Last of Us series.

“Gaming is now fully embedded in the mainstream,” the company said in its report.

“With each younger generation, gaming engagement increases; as current players age and new players enter the fold, player numbers will continue to rise.”

Despite being a competition event at the Asian Games now, however, the possibility of esports making it to the Olympics is still an open question.

The International Olympic Committee has looked longingly at the potential of video gaming and virtual sports to help attract and stay relevant with young audiences. That goal saw skateboarding and surfing debut at the Tokyo Olympics held in 2021 and breakdancing joins them at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

However, some long-established aspects of video gaming culture are not welcome in the Olympic family.

“We have to draw a very clear red line in this respect,” IOC president Thomas Bach has said, “and that red line would be e-games which are killer games or where you have promotion of violence or any kind of discrimination as a content.”

The IOC created a formal esports commission this month and its focus is on virtual sports, such as cycling on a stationary bike that replicates the demands, for example, of riding a mountain stage at the Tour de France.

Spain’s World Cup winners return to action after sexism scandal with 3-2 win in Sweden

Spain’s World Cup winners return to action after sexism scandal with 3-2 win in Sweden
Updated 23 September 2023

Spain’s World Cup winners return to action after sexism scandal with 3-2 win in Sweden

Spain’s World Cup winners return to action after sexism scandal with 3-2 win in Sweden
  • Athenea del Castillo:They have been difficult days for everyone
  • Putellas was captain for the game in a Spain team containing seven starters from the World Cup final against England

GOTHENBURG, Sweden: Spain’s World Cup-winning women’s team got back to being soccer players on Friday.

A 3-2 victory over Sweden in Gothenburg — secured by a penalty with virtually the last kick of the game — was Spain’s first match since capturing the biggest prize in women’s soccer last month in Australia. That achievement ultimately was tarnished by a sexism scandal sparked by the former Spanish soccer federation president, Luis Rubiales, kissing player Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the World Cup awards ceremony.

The fallout has been far-reaching, remaining high up the global news agenda and continuing right up to the eve of the match when a deal was reached between the players, federation and government mediators that Spain’s players believe will lead to real reform inside the beleaguered federation and mark a turning point in the fight for equality.

To get to that point, the players were engaged in through-the-night meetings and constant telephone calls, all the while staying under massive external scrutiny that hardly provided the best preparation for a Nations League match against the world’s top-ranked team.

Still, the Spanish showed the kind of battling qualities that have characterized the off-the-field fight against their federation by coming from behind at the Ullevi stadium, clinching the win when Mariona Caldentey converted a spot kick in the sixth minute of second-half stoppage time. The final whistle blew immediately after the resulting restart and Spain’s players celebrated wildly.

“They have been difficult days for everyone,” said Athenea del Castillo, who scored Spain’s first goal, “but we have shown that we are a true team that wants to represent its country and that is what it is about — fighting until the end.”

A 23rd-minute opener by captain Magdalena Eriksson gave Sweden the lead but Spain replied through Del Castillo’s equalizer in the 37th, when her shot from outside the area squirmed out of goalkeeper ZeCira Musovic’s grasp and bounced into the net.

Spain went ahead in the 77th through Eva Navarro, who curled a left-footed shot into the top corner, only for Lina Hurtig to make it 2-2 five minutes later.

The penalty was awarded with seconds left of added-on time when Amanda Ilestedt pulled back Amaiur Sarriegi in the area, a foul that earned the center back a red card.

“I told them that it is a day in which they have dignified the profession that they enjoy so much and I felt happy,” newly appointed Spain coach Montse Tomé said. “It has been a special debut in a complicated week, but I felt like we could use that energy and focus it on football.”

Before the match, players from both teams got together and held aloft a banner containing the words “Se Acabo” — Spanish for “this is over” – followed by “Our fight is the global fight.” There was applause around the stadium.

The “Se Acabo” slogan was started by Hermoso’s teammate Alexia Putellas, Spain’s star player, and has been a rallying call amid the scandal.

Putellas was captain for the game in a Spain team containing seven starters from the World Cup final against England. Hermoso wasn’t one of them because she wasn’t called up “as a way to protect her,” in the words of Tome.

Spain returns to action on Tuesday against Switzerland in its first home game as world champion.

Meanwhile, three national team players have been summoned as witnesses by the judge investigating Rubiales for the kiss. The players, who were not named, are expected to testify next week.

The federation earlier Friday announced that it fired its integrity director, Miguel García Caba. The announcement came a few days after it said secretary general Andreu Camps was relieved of his duties. The changes were part of the demands made by the players who boycotted the national team after the kiss by Rubiales.