Defender Dan Burn hails ‘perfect’ Saudi impact on boyhood club Newcastle United

Defender Dan Burn hails ‘perfect’ Saudi impact on boyhood club Newcastle United
Defender Dan Burn says that it has been ‘perfect’ since he joined his hometown club from Brighton 19 months ago for £13 million. (AFP)
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Updated 27 August 2023
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Defender Dan Burn hails ‘perfect’ Saudi impact on boyhood club Newcastle United

Defender Dan Burn hails ‘perfect’ Saudi impact on boyhood club Newcastle United
  • ‘I’m loving it. It couldn’t have gone any better since I signed really’
  • ‘The takeover brought new life into the club. With the fans, too, they didn’t just demand a team that wins, but a team that tries to win’

For Dan Burn, Newcastle United’s ambition has no bounds and they have the motivation and mindset to bring unbridled joy to their football-obsessed city.

They are also a team driven to oppose those who do not want them to succeed — or disrupt the status quo of clubs who have long dominated at the top of the Premier League.

Following the 2021 takeover by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, Newcastle have gone from being involved in a relegation battle to a fourth-placed finish last season and subsequent return to the Champions League after a 20-year absence.

Defender Burn says that it has been “perfect” since he joined his hometown club from Brighton 19 months ago for £13 million.

“I’m loving it,” he told Arab News exclusively. “It couldn’t have gone any better since I signed really.

“We are doing really well, still a lot to do, but I would have snapped your hand off if you had said we were going to do this when I signed.

“With the ambition of the ownership, we always knew we were going to go in this direction. We have probably done it a lot quicker than what we were expecting and it’s about trying to keep us on that trajectory now and keep pushing for as long as we can.

“The takeover brought new life into the club. With the fans, too, they didn’t just demand a team that wins, but a team that tries to win. 

“Ever since the ownership has come in, especially with (co-owners) Mehrdad Ghodoussi and Amanda Staveley, I see them and they couldn’t do more. When you have got a group like that behind you — and always wanting to do better — then to get us to where we are now, I’m sure they will keep trying to do that.

“Around the city you can see everyone buzzing and it’s nice because, for a long time, it hasn’t been like that. So it’s a nice place to play at the moment and hopefully it will carry on like that.”

The buzz is such that former Newcastle and Nottingham Forest defender Stuart Pearce tipped them to wrest the title from Manchester City, who are chasing an unprecedented fourth successive championship.

Following an impressive 5-1 opening-day win over Aston Villa, Newcastle were edged out 1-0 by City at the Etihad last weekend in a hard-fought encounter.

They host Liverpool today at St. James’ Park, with a trip to Brighton next in a tough set of fixtures at the start of this eagerly awaited campaign.

But it’s a challenge Eddie Howe’s men relish, according to the 31-year-old Burn.

“He’s a legend,” said Burn of Pearce as he pondered the England hero’s pre-season prediction. “I think it’s a little bit early to say we are title challengers if I’m honest, but you never know.

“If we can string some good results together we want to make sure that we are in and around there at the end of the season.

“Of course that’s what we want — and you want to have that sort of pressure on you to be able to do that. 

“We want to be doing what Man City are doing. It took them a bit of time to get there and I’m sure we will get there, but it’s a tough league with a lot of good teams.

“We need to prove it was not a one-season thing (to finish fourth), but that we are here to stay.”

He added: “Our ambition is to go a step further than last season, but I think it’s going to be tough with the Champions League as well. 

“We have seen it before, like West Ham last season as they struggled in the league when they had all the European games coming up. I think we just have to treat every game as if it’s the same and no matter what competition it is — and we just attack every team and see how we get on.”

Newcastle won the last of their four top-flight titles in 1927 and their highest Premier League finish was second place in 1996 and 1997.

Yet in an enthused show of determination and defiance against critics, Burn feels Newcastle are viewed just as Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City were after Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan bought the club in 2008 and transformed their fortunes.

An influx of major signings saw City end a 35-year trophy drought with the FA Cup in 2011 and claimed a coveted Premier League title the following year.

Now Pep Guardiola’s men are Europe’s top side after lifting the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League last season — and will play in December’s Fifa Club World Cup in Saudi Arabia.

Burn says that City are “the benchmark” for Newcastle and, with the addition of summer signings Sandro Tonali, Tino Livermento, Harvey Barnes and Lewis Hall, the Toon have greater hope.

Luring Italy international midfielder Tonali, 23, away from AC Milan was a statement transfer by Newcastle as Burn admitted: “It’s quality — and it shows where we are that we can attract that sort of player.

“Sandro’s been brilliant and Harvey, we all know what he’s like — he was brilliant at Leicester. I think we have a lot of competition all around the pitch so it means you don’t get relaxed and know you are going to play every week, but that you are going to push each other and it’s friendly competition.”

And he also warned: “I think this is a team that can handle the pressure. I feel like it’s a sort of ‘us against the world’ — I don’t think anyone outside particularly wants us to do well.

“But I feel us, as a city, we like that. We like being a team that’s sort of not liked and everyone gets together and fights against that — I think you can see that with the way we play.

“I don’t think anyone likes it when a team comes into money and challenges that top six — especially the top six, I don’t think they like that.

“They like there being a certain amount of teams challenging for that and that’s probably why. When we play away, we feel that and I think we live off it. It’s motivation for us.

“It’s like when Man City first did the same. They are the best team in the world and have been for the last few years — even if they hadn’t won the Champions League before.

“That’s the benchmark — and I feel as if we are getting closer to them. We probably didn’t do as well as we wanted to against them (in losing 1-0), but I do feel we are getting closer to them and hopefully we can do it soon.”

A first win over Liverpool since 2015 will certainly offer proof of Newcastle’s title credentials, before Thursday’s Champions League draw that will pit them against Europe’s elite.

That will also be a dream come true for Burn, who was released by the club in 2003 after being on their books as a youngster.

That same season he watched his heroes when they last played in the competition and reached the second group stage after famous wins over Juventus and Feyenoord got them there.

Burn, who has played at left-back and central defense for the club, said: “I think it will be a pinch-me moment.

“I always loved Newcastle, but when I really fell in love with football was when I watched those Champions League nights — games against Juventus, Feyenoord, those are the nights that stick out for me as a kid.

“Hopefully we are now going to have that opportunity to inspire the next generation of young kids.

“We’ve got three important games before we get to the Champions League games, so we have to make sure our focus does not slip.”


Palestine beat Syria to reach semifinals of 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship

Palestine beat Syria to reach semifinals of 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship
Updated 23 February 2024
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Palestine beat Syria to reach semifinals of 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship

Palestine beat Syria to reach semifinals of 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship
  • A 1-0 win secured maximum 6 points from 2 matches in Group B and spot in the last 4

JEDDAH: Palestine on Thursday night advanced to the semifinals of the West Asian Football Federation Women’s Championship after defeating Syria 1-0 at the reserve pitch of King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah.

Miral Qassis scored the winner in the 85th minute with a powerful shot from outside the penalty area, leaving Palestine with a maximum of six points from two matches, and second in Group B only on goal difference to Nepal.

Palestine had won their opener 3-0 against Iraq and will now face the group leaders on Saturday. With no points, Syria and Iraq sit in third and fourth respectively, and meet each other in a dead rubber on the same day.


Chelsea’s Sterling eyes history against Liverpool in Carabao Cup final

Chelsea’s Sterling eyes history against Liverpool in Carabao Cup final
Updated 23 February 2024
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Chelsea’s Sterling eyes history against Liverpool in Carabao Cup final

Chelsea’s Sterling eyes history against Liverpool in Carabao Cup final
  • England international is seeking a record 6th winner’s medal alongside former teammates Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho

Raheem Sterling is targeting a personal piece of history in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final.

The England forward won the competition five times in seven years at Manchester City before he joined Chelsea for $63 million (£50 million) in 2022.

And if he can help the London side overcome former club Liverpool at Wembley, he will join former City teammates Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho with a record tally for most wins at six.

“It would be a massive achievement to do that,” said the 29-year-old, who spent five years at Anfield. “But I think you have to always keep going. Once it comes, you have to try to get another one.

“When you’ve had that taste for it, you always want more, and this game will be the exact same thing.

“We’ve got a great test this week against Liverpool. It’s a good challenge against one of the most dominant teams in the last few years. For sure, it would mean a lot to win that trophy again. But competing for it, I think that’s the most important thing.”

It has been struggle to get to this stage for Sterling and Chelsea since he became the club’s first signing following the takeover by a consortium led by US businessman Todd Boehly.

Chelsea were Champions League and Club World Cup winners only three years ago, and lost both the FA Cup and Carabao Cup finals to Liverpool in 2022 on penalties, but this will be their first chance of silverware under the new ownership.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side will be underdogs against the side that beat them 4-1 at Anfield last month and have a record nine League Cup wins compared with Chelsea’s five.

But despite inconsistent performances this season, the Blues are in the FA Cup quarterfinals, and also have gained an impressive 4-1 league win at Tottenham and drawn with title hopefuls Liverpool and Arsenal at home, and twice held defending champions Manchester City.

Sterling scored his eighth goal of the campaign in the 1-1 draw at City last weekend and believes his side can upset the leading teams.

“I wanted to show myself against City and we were unlucky we couldn’t get the win against them,” he told Arab News exclusively.

“We’re a young group and that performance will build confidence going forward.

“But I’ve always said these are the challenges that we need to step up to. Against some of the top-four teams this season we have shown ourselves.

“Liverpool away was obviously a disappointing one, but against Tottenham, Arsenal and City we have shown ourselves — and we have to keep building.

Sterling admitted the defeat at Anfield “hurt,” and said the players are looking to redeem themselves in the final.

“I think that first trophy would definitely build the belief for the group. If you win that one trophy, it gives you that sniff, that feeling and you want more.

“I think we’re getting stronger and the most important thing is to try to compete — and this week we have a great opportunity to do that and I’m looking forward to it.”

Reports suggested Sterling rejected a move to a Saudi Arabian club last summer, and he is determined to stay and prove his worth.

The iconic venue would be the perfect stage for him to do that after having grown up near Wembley and won 82 caps for his country.

“That’s my home,” said Sterling with a smile. “I’m really looking forward to it. When I go to Wembley, I get a different feeling; I can’t wait to get on the field.”


Messi impact: Apple boss urges MLS clubs to sign more stars

Messi impact: Apple boss urges MLS clubs to sign more stars
Updated 23 February 2024
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Messi impact: Apple boss urges MLS clubs to sign more stars

Messi impact: Apple boss urges MLS clubs to sign more stars
  • Miami’s recruitment of big-name international players is unprecedented in MLS with Messi having been joined initially by two former Barcelona team-mates in Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquet
  • Apple TV chief Eddy Cue said he had been surprised by just how big a difference Messi had made to the numbers

Miami’s recruitment of big-name international players is unprecedented in MLS with Messi having been joined initially by two former Barcelona team-mates in Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets. (USA TODAY Sports)

 

FORD LAUDERDALE, Florida: The head of Apple TV’s collaboration with Major League Soccer has urged clubs in the league to follow the example of Inter Miami’s deal with Lionel Messi and sign more top stars.

Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of services, told reporters at Inter Miami’s 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake on Wednesday that Messi had made a huge impact on subscriptions bringing in new viewers from Europe and South America as well as North America.

“I’m excited that there are teams that are definitely pushing hard. Obviously what Inter Miami has done is an example of that and I think there needs to be more teams doing that and I think there will be,” Cue said.

“At least I’ve seen it enough now that there’s a level of excitement... when anybody asks what do I want from anybody, any of the teams, I’m like, sign some more players!” he said.

Miami’s recruitment of big-name international players is unprecedented in MLS with Messi having been joined initially by two former Barcelona team-mates in Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets.

In December, Miami added another top international with the acquisition of former Barca and Liverpool striker Luis Suarez.

Getting MLS clubs to open up their wallets to spend big on international talent would require a shift from clubs that have focused mainly in recent years on bringing in lower cost, young talent from South America.

MLS commissioner Don Garber, speaking earlier, said he was aware of reports suggested changes could be coming to the league’s salary cap and roster rules that could make it easier to bring in big players but said the league was aware it had to remain smart in how it approaches growth.

However, he acknowledged that Inter Miami had been able to generate what are widely expected to be record revenues from the Messi deal.

“If we thought every team could deliver that by signing players, I can assure you that MLS would adapt its rules to be able to deliver that,” he said.

“Our thinking in terms of strategic player spending — we will do whatever we need to do to grow our fan base, to grow the competitiveness of our league, and to grow our revenues and ultimately the credibility and viability of MLS on a global stage,” he added.

“Nothing is going to stop us from doing that. We just want to be thoughtful about it,” he said.

Cue suggested there may be different views among the 29 club owners in the league.

“There’s a lot of owners, there’s a lot of teams and so in life when you have that many, it’s always hard to move everybody in the same direction. (Don Garber) does that very well but it’s a tough job and so I try to help because I bring a sort of either different or at least another perspective on it,” he added.

But Garber did paint a positive picture of MLS’s growth.

“Season tickets are up, our overall ticket sales are up, our sponsorship is up, social media and our media coverage is up. All of that is bringing global recognition to the league,” he said.

Apple have not released subscription numbers for their first season of their subscription broadcast service MLS Season Pass but Sports Business Journal reported this month that they had reached two million — with the numbers doubling after Messi signed for Miami in July.

MLS season ticket holders are given free access to the service while there were a number of special offers available for fans. The report did not state what proportion of the two million subscribers had paid the full fee.

Cue said he had been surprised by just how big a difference Messi had made to the numbers.

“I was shocked. I had no idea because I knew it would make a difference but I thought it would take time. He just moved the needle really fast on a global perspective and the US perspective,” he said.

“So, no, I did not appreciate the power and the reach that he had... it’s amazing to see,” he added.

Cue said Messi had also managed to attract an audience for MLS games from outside the United States and Canada.

“I won’t give you the exact number but I will tell you pre-Messi it was very US top. Post-Messi it was it changed materially because he added a significant number of subscribers from South America and from Europe, so it was a big change,” he said.


Al-Ittihad progress to Asian Champions League quarter-finals despite early Benzema own goal

Al-Ittihad progress to Asian Champions League quarter-finals despite early Benzema own goal
Updated 22 February 2024
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Al-Ittihad progress to Asian Champions League quarter-finals despite early Benzema own goal

Al-Ittihad progress to Asian Champions League quarter-finals despite early Benzema own goal
  • The Jeddah giants leave it late but progress after a hard-fought 2-1 home victory over Navbahor of Uzbekistan

Saudi Pro League side Al-Ittihad squeezed into the quarter-finals of the Asian Champions League at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah on Thursday thanks to a hard-fought 2-1 home victory over Navbahor of Uzbekistan, following a goalless draw in the first leg last week.

The Jeddah giants recovered from a Karim Bemzema own goal midway through the first half to take control of the game, level the score and eventually go through thanks to a late Navbahor own goal. It was no less than the Saudis deserved as they made most of the running and created the bulk of the chances.

Fabinho had the earliest opportunity to open the scoring but the former Liverpool midfielder fired just over the bar from outside the box.

The opening goal came from a familiar source but not in the way fans expected. The home crowd was silenced in the 25th minute when Jamshid Iskanderov floated over a free-kick from the right, and former Real Madrid star Benzema met it on the edge of the six-yard box to send a powerful header into his own net past a startled Abdullah Al-Mayouf.

The goal came out of nothing, against the run of play, but Al-Ittihad quickly regrouped, refocused their efforts and continued to dominate the game.

Benzema redeemed himself on the stroke of half-time, nodding down a corner to the near post where Abderrazak Hamdallah was waiting to sweep the ball home from close range.

The second half unfolded in much the same fashion, with Al-Ittihad enjoying most of the possession and creating more of the chances. Midway through the period, however, they were reminded of Navbahor’s goal threat when Filip Ivankovic fired just wide from the right side of the area.

With 15 minutes remaining, Benzema had the ball in the net, the correct one this time, when he fired home after some good work from Ahmed Hegazy. After a lengthy intervention, however, the video assistant referee ruled it out.

This only delayed the celebrations of the home fans, though, as three minutes from time the Tigers took a decisive lead, thanks to another own goal.

Substitute Saleh Al-Amri’s corner from the right failed to clear the first man but, in swinging a boot, Toma Tabatadze sliced his attempted clearance and the ball looped over the keeper into the far corner of the net.

Navbahor did their utmost to get back on level terms but time was against them and it was not to be. As a result, Al-Ittihad, back-to-back winners of the competition in 2004 and 2005, remain in the hunt for a third continental crown.


Milan, Benfica and Marseille reach Europa League last 16

Milan, Benfica and Marseille reach Europa League last 16
Updated 23 February 2024
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Milan, Benfica and Marseille reach Europa League last 16

Milan, Benfica and Marseille reach Europa League last 16
  • Benjamin Bourigeaud scored a hat-trick for Rennes, including a pair of penalties
  • Benfica also saw off French opposition as a 0-0 draw away to Toulouse

PARIS: AC Milan overcame a spirited Rennes 5-3 on aggregate despite a 3-2 loss in Thursday’s playoff round second leg to reach the Europa League last 16, where they will be joined by fellow former European champions Benfica and Marseille.

Benjamin Bourigeaud scored a hat trick for Rennes, including a pair of penalties, but goals from Luka Jovic and Rafael Leao ensured Milan were never really in danger of blowing a 3-0 lead from the first leg.

Benfica also saw off French opposition as a 0-0 draw away to Toulouse was enough to send the Portuguese side through following their 2-1 victory in last week’s first leg in Lisbon.

Lens, who dropped down from the Champions League into the knockout playoff round, became the third French club to go out after Freiburg fought back from two goals down to win 3-2 after extra time.

David Pereira da Costa and Elye Wahi put Lens in control of the tie following a goalless opening leg, but Roland Sallai struck twice to force extra time in Germany.

Michael Gregoritsch grabbed the winner in the 99th minute for Freiburg.

Marseille kept French interest in the competition alive as they came from behind to beat Shakhtar Donetsk 5-3 on aggregate after a 3-1 victory at the Velodrome.

Georgiy Sudakov stroked home a penalty early in Marseille before the hosts replied via Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s record-setting 31st Europa League goal.

Ismaila Sarr fired Marseille ahead on 74 minutes and Geoffrey Kondogbia added a late third on Jean-Louis Gasset’s debut as coach after the departure of Gennaro Gattuso.

Last season’s runners-up Roma edged Feyenoord 4-2 on penalties in the Italian capital after 1-1 draws in both legs.

Qarabag, 4-2 winners last week away to Braga, blew a two-goal advantage after being reduced to 10 men as their Portuguese opponents took the tie to extra time in Baku.

The Azerbaijani team went back in front through Matheus Silva but it looked destined for penalties when Simon Banza’s penalty made it 3-1 on the night to Braga.

Nariman Akhundzade sent Qarabag into the next round though with a goal in the 122nd minute.

Sporting progressed 4-2 on aggregate despite a 1-1 draw at home to Swiss champions Young Boys.

Sparta Prague overturned a 3-2 first-leg deficit by scoring three times after Galatasaray’s Kaan Ayhan saw red to win the return fixture 4-1 at home.

Ajax scraped past Norwegian champions Bodo/Glimt after extra time to reach the Europa Conference League last 16.

After a 2-2 draw in Amsterdam, the Dutch giants went ahead when Steven Berghuis struck in the first half of the second leg.

But they had center-back Josip Sutalo sent off early in the second half and Patrick Berg’s equalizer took it into extra time, with Kenneth Taylor’s 114th-minute effort putting Ajax through 4-3 on aggregate.

Dinamo Zagreb knocked out Real Betis 2-1 on aggregate and Union Saint-Gilloise of Belgium took down 2022 Europa League winners Eintracht Frankfurt 4-3 over two legs.

Olympiakos also moved on along with Swiss side Servette, Norwegians Molde and Austria’s Sturm Graz.

Maccabi Haifa were the first team through after defeating Gent 2-1 on aggregate, with the second leg in Belgium on Wednesday played behind closed doors because of fears of riots linked to the Israel-Hamas war.

The draws for the last 16 of both competitions will be made at UEFA headquarters in Nyon on Friday.