Liverpool connections, home comforts key to Mane’s Al-Nassr move

New Al-Nassr signing Sadio Mane. supplied
New Al-Nassr signing Sadio Mane. supplied
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Updated 11 August 2023
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Liverpool connections, home comforts key to Mane’s Al-Nassr move

New Al-Nassr signing Sadio Mane. supplied
  • Former Anfield star relishing his stay in Saudi Arabia after words of encouragement from mother, former teammates
  • Mane and Senegal teammate Edouard Mendy impressed by standard of young Saudi talent

JEDDAH: With the new era of the Roshn Saudi League set to get underway this weekend, new Al-Nassr signing Sadio Mane has admitted that words of encouragement from some legendary names — and an important member of his family — tempted him to join the influx of superstars in Saudi Arabia this season.

The former Liverpool striker signed for Al-Nassr this summer after a season in the Bundesliga with champions Bayern Munich and will team up with former Manchester United rival Cristiano Ronaldo, as the Riyadh giants aim to go one better than their second-place finish to Al-Ittihad last time round.

Mane enjoyed a warm embrace with former Anfield teammate Jordan Henderson at the official Roshn Saudi League launch event in Jeddah, and he admits the former Liverpool skipper is just one old teammate he has a strong connection with ahead of the new season.

Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard took Henderson under his wing as Al-Ettifaq coach, while Mane’s former strike partner Roberto Firmino will play for Al-Ahli and midfielder Fabinho has signed for champions Al-Ittihad.

Mane joked about how Firmino and Fabinho had both encouraged him to join them at their new clubs. “I think first of all I spoke with Firmino for sure; I think he wanted me to come to the wrong club — I’m joking! He always called two or three times to convince me to come to Al-Ahli.

“At the same time, I spoke with Fabinho because he was quite close to me and he also wanted me to come to Al-Ittihad, but in this time when Al-Nassr came, I chose Al-Nassr. Of course, Henderson is here also, and he sent me a message two days ago to wish me good luck and I’m excited to meet all these great guys and also to meet them face to face for the first time. I’m going to win against you guys!”

Mane may have had words of encouragement from his former teammates, but it was some sound advice from his mother that sealed the deal.

He said: “Since I had the opportunity I spoke to my family, and they were happiest, of course, because it is a Muslim country. My mum especially encouraged me to go.

“My mum is Muslim like me. She was the first to vote for me to go here and my whole family was excited for me to come here so it was not hard — it is important to my faith. I am pleased to be part of this project and to make it go forward. We have a bright future ahead.”

The prospect of a mouth-watering attacking partnership with Ronaldo also played a big part in Mane’s decision. “I think you can see how quickly everything goes for me, because he is one of the best players in history if not the best, of course, and that was easy for me. He makes it easier for me. And (Brazil midfielder) Talisca and the other boys, they are all really great players and I am really excited to start the league with all these boys to make the club a real success.”

Mane admits he has been “really impressed” by the Saudi players since training with the Al-Nassr squad, and another former teammate agrees about the genuine talent in the Roshn Saudi League.

Mane’s international teammate, Edouard Mendy, is another big name starting a new chapter in Saudi Arabia this season. Widely regarded as one of the world’s best keepers, having won the Champions League Super Cup and Club World Cup with Chelsea, as well as the African Cup of Nations alongside Mane for Senegal, Mendy is set to turn out alongside Brazilian Firmino as well as Manchester City winger Riyad Mahrez and Newcastle’s Allan Saint-Maximin in a star-studded Al-Ahli lineup.

The 31-year-old is confident this season’s influx of talent can quickly take Saudi’s players to the next level.

He said: “We could see in the World Cup, the Saudi players are very good technically. They know how to use the ball, they are really comfortable with the ball.

“So it was not a surprise to me to see the quality of the young players and also the experienced players — they just need to have the principles and they will improve. This is what we are doing. We want them to be at the highest level possible, and that’s why we work closely with the young players to help them to be better and better every day.”

When it comes to personal targets and demands, Mendy is as hungry as ever.

“My ambitions for the next year and the coming years is the same as at Chelsea, my previous club: To win and to perform in the best way possible. This club is used to winning trophies, so we know the expectations and we have to deliver on the pitch.”

The 2023-24 Roshn Saudi League season kicks off in Jeddah on Aug. 11 as Al-Ahli take on Al-Hazem at the Prince Abdullah Al-Faisal Stadium.


Al-Hilal beats Al-Ittihad 4-1 in final of the Saudi Super Cup

Al-Hilal beats Al-Ittihad 4-1 in final of the Saudi Super Cup
Updated 12 April 2024
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Al-Hilal beats Al-Ittihad 4-1 in final of the Saudi Super Cup

Al-Hilal beats Al-Ittihad 4-1 in final of the Saudi Super Cup
  • “It was a difficult game and I am very happy to score two goals,” Malcom told Saudi television

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates: Al-Hilal beat Al-Ittihad 4-1 in the final of the Saudi Super Cup on Thursday to stay on course for an unprecedented quadruple.
The trophy, lifted in Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium, is the first of the season for the Riyadh giant but is unlikely to be the last as the team is also 12 points clear of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr at the top of the Saudi Pro League with just seven games remaining.
Al-Hilal, also in the semifinal of the Asian Champions League and the Saudi King’s Cup, has also expanded its world record winning streak for top-tier teams to 34 consecutive games in all competitions.
Three days after defeating Al-Nassr in the semifinal, during which Ronaldo was sent off for elbowing Ali Al-Bulaihi, two goals from Brazilian winger Malcom did the damage for Al-Hilal. Salem Al-Dawsari and Nasser Al-Dawsari sealed the win with late goals.
“It was a difficult game and I am very happy to score two goals,” Malcom told Saudi television. “We are also happy to collect our first title of the season but we are chasing more trophies.”
Ittihad striker Karim Benzema, signed from Real Madrid last summer, was unable to find the target while colleague Abderrazak Hamdallah made up for missing a penalty by getting on the scoresheet.
The Moroccan forward featured in a controversial incident at the end of the match, however, as he seemed to get involved in an altercation with a fan standing close to the field. The supporter was led away by security personnel.
In 2023, the Super Cup was expanded from a single game between the league champion and King’s Cup winner to include the runners-up from both competitions. It was also moved to Abu Dhabi.
Al-Hilal returns to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday to take on Al-Ain in the first leg of the Asian Champions League semifinals as it seeks a record fifth continental title.
The club’s potentially record-breaking season comes after it spent about 350 million euros ($380 million) on player transfers after being taken over by the Saudi sovereign wealth operation, the Public Investment Fund which is controlled by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.


French footballer Bafetimbi Gomis defends ex-teammate Ali Al-Bulayhi in Ronaldo saga

French footballer Bafetimbi Gomis defends ex-teammate Ali Al-Bulayhi in Ronaldo saga
Updated 11 April 2024
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French footballer Bafetimbi Gomis defends ex-teammate Ali Al-Bulayhi in Ronaldo saga

French footballer Bafetimbi Gomis defends ex-teammate Ali Al-Bulayhi in Ronaldo saga
  • ‘He is far from being a bad person,’ says Gomis on X
  • Post attracts over 11,000 likes, 4,500 retweets, more than 1,500 replies

RIAYDH: French footballer Bafetimbi Gomis on Thursday defended Al-Hilal’s Saudi defender Ali Al-Bulayhi following his altercation with Al-Nassr’s Cristiano Ronaldo on Monday during their Super Cup semifinal showdown.
The Portuguese international was sent off for elbowing Al-Bulayhi during Al-Nassr’s narrow 2-1 defeat.
Gomis, a former Al-Hilal player who turned out for the Riyadh giants between 2018 and 2022, said of his former teammate Al-Bulayhi on X: “An exemplary teammate, first come, last left from training. He gives everything for his country and for his club. Actually, he’s one of the best center-backs in the world and I know a few things from my experience. He is far from being a bad person!!!”

Currently playing for Japanese club Kawasaki Frontale, Gomis’ post has attracted more than 11,000 likes, 4,500 retweets and in excess of 1,500 replies.
One user posted a video of Al-Bulayhi and Gomis hugging, and wrote: “Two historic legends.”
Another user posted a video — which is believed to have been filmed when Gomis left Al-Hilal — of the two players saluting each other and a comment citing the Frenchman as saying “I love you, Bulayhi.”
A user called Yousef commented, saying: “Thank you Gomis for the unforgettable days!”
The Saudi Ministry of Sport denied rumors on Wednesday that its minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki bin Faisal, had held discussions with Ronaldo after his controversial sending off.


Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema extend Eid Al-Fitr wishes to their followers

Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema extend Eid Al-Fitr wishes to their followers
Updated 10 April 2024
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Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema extend Eid Al-Fitr wishes to their followers

Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema extend Eid Al-Fitr wishes to their followers
  • ‘Eid Mubarak! Wishing you all joy, peace and happiness on this special day,’ writes Ronaldo
  • Benzema says in a short video clip: ‘Salam alaikum, Eid Mubarak to you all, and may Allah accept from us all’

RIYADH: Al-Nassr’s Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and Al-Ittihad’s French legend Karim Benzema took to X on Wednesday to wish their followers a happy Eid Al-Fitr.
The Saudi Pro League giants extended their best wishes to followers in Saudi Arabia and across the world on the evening of the first day of Eid Al-Fitr, a celebration that started on Wednesday and ends on Friday.
“Eid Mubarak! Wishing you all joy, peace and happiness on this special day,” wrote Ronaldo on X as he posted a picture of himself in a white top.
The Frenchman posted a short video clip of himself, saying: “Salam alaikum, Eid Mubarak to you all, and may Allah accept from us all.” He spoke partly in French and partly in Arabic.
Up until this article went up online, the Portuguese player’s post had garnered over 425,000 likes, 36,000 retweets and 9,700 replies.

A follower called Nungua wrote: “Happy Eid Mubarak, my goat. I love you.”
Yaseen said: “I love you.”
Sadaf, a female fan, wrote: “Wishing you a very happy Eid.”
A follower called Hsnain wrote: “Yes, much special day. Thank you. This means a lot from the man of millions.”
“Be blessed, and thank you so much for the kind words,” commented a user called Raisa, who added an Eid Mubarak image as well.
The Al-Ittihad striker’s post generated over 80,000 likes, 7,800 retweets and more than 1,600 replies

“Happy Eid, Karim. Get ready for the match against Al-Hilal,” said a follower called Ahmad on Benzema’s video.
Another follower said: “Eid Mubarak, brother.”
Abdol Mohsen wrote in Arabic: “May God accept from you and us!”
A user called Ali wrote: “The best person ever to wish us Eid Mubarak,” adding four white heart emojis.
A Benzema fan called Abu Zaid replied to the Frenchman’s post in French, saying: “Eid Mubarak, and every year get creative against your opponents.”


Saudi footballers target Olympic qualification at 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup in Qatar

Saudi footballers target Olympic qualification at 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup in Qatar
Updated 10 April 2024
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Saudi footballers target Olympic qualification at 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup in Qatar

Saudi footballers target Olympic qualification at 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup in Qatar
  • Saad Al-Shehri’s team beat South Korea in their final friendly before heading out to Doha on Thursday

ABU DHABI: Saudi Arabia’s U-23 national football team on Tuesday defeated South Korea 1-0 in their final friendly match before turning their attention to qualification for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

The match at Al-Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi concluded the squad’s preparation camp before the start of the 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup in Qatar, which will take place from April 15 to May 3, providing a pathway to the football competition at the Paris Olympics this summer.

Jihad Zakry scored the only goal for Saad Al-Shehri’s team in the 72nd minute of a match attended by Sultan Al-Anqari, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UAE; Ibrahim Al-Kassim, secretary-general of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation; and Naeem Al-Bakr, board member at SAFF.

The Saudi squad is set to fly out to Doha on Thursday, before kicking off their Group C fixtures against Tajikistan on April 16 at Khalifa International Stadium.

The Green Falcons will then face Thailand (April 19) and Iraq (April 22) at the same venue.

The 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup sees 16 nations split into four groups of four teams, with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals.

The winners of the two semifinals will both secure automatic qualification to the Olympic Games regardless of which team wins the final.

The two losing semifinalists will contest the third place, with the winners also booking their spot in Paris, while the losers (fourth-place finishers) will have take part in a play-off against an African qualifier for one final chance at qualification.


Saudi sports ministry denies communication between minister and Ronaldo

Saudi sports ministry denies communication between minister and Ronaldo
Updated 10 April 2024
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Saudi sports ministry denies communication between minister and Ronaldo

Saudi sports ministry denies communication between minister and Ronaldo

RIYADH: The Saudi Sports Ministry denied rumors that its minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki bin Faisal, had discussions with Al-Nassr’s Cristiano Ronaldo after his dismissal in a cup game on Monday.
Chatter circulated online that the minister talked to the Portuguese international about the quality of refereeing in the Saudi game.
A ministry source told Arab News: “There is no truth to  the rumors circulating about any contact between HRH the Minister of Sport and the Portuguese football star Cristiano Ronaldo. What is being talked about in this regard is completely untrue.”
Ronaldo was sent off for elbowing Ali Al-Bulayhi during Al-Nassr’s 2-1 loss to Al-Hilal in the Saudi Super Cup semi-final.