Saudi transfer window closes after a $1 billion spending spree on soccer stars

Saudi transfer window closes after a $1 billion spending spree on soccer stars
Liverpool last week reportedly rejected a bid worth 150 million pounds ($188 million) from Al-Ittihad for Salah. (FILE/AFP)
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Updated 08 September 2023
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Saudi transfer window closes after a $1 billion spending spree on soccer stars

Saudi transfer window closes after a $1 billion spending spree on soccer stars
  • Based on reported fees, Saudi clubs paid just over $1 billion on players
  • Mo Salah to stay at Liverpool for now but will the next window throw out a more lucrative offer?

MANCHESTER, England: After an outlay of $1 billion, Saudi Arabia’s transfer window shut on Thursday with the Kingdom having announced itself as a new powerhouse in global soccer.
Leading target Mohamed Salah may not have joined Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Karim Benzema by moving to the lucrative Saudi Pro League, but it seems inevitable more stars will eventually be lured away from Europe’s biggest clubs.
Liverpool last week reportedly rejected a bid worth 150 million pounds ($188 million) from Al-Ittihad for Salah and despite speculation a renewed offer would come before Thursday’s deadline, no deal was struck for the Egypt international.
There is, however, little suggestion Saudi Arabia’s spectacular spending will end there as the country has sought to move its way into international sports, investing in recent years in golf, boxing, Formula One racing and tennis, as well as soccer.
Based on reported fees, Saudi clubs paid just over $1 billion on players, which would place it behind only the English Premier League in terms of global spending during the window.
Then there are the large salaries said to be on offer, with Ronaldo’s deal reportedly worth up to $200 million a year.
Despite anticipation that Salah could be the latest superstar signing, the Saudi window ended relatively quietly. Demarai Gray joined Al-Ettifaq from Everton and Luiz Felipe completed a move from Real Betis to Al-Ittihad.
There was also speculation that Manchester United winger Jadon Sancho could join the exodus, but a move did not materialize.
The transfer business of Saudi’s leading clubs has been spectacular enough, even without a deadline day deal for Salah.
Ronaldo’s decision to join Al-Nassr in December has paved the way for more of the world’s leading players to head to the country.
Champions League winners N’Golo Kante, Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez, Roberto Firmino, Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Aymeric Laporte have joined Benzema and Neymar as star recruits to a league that was previously little known outside of the region.
Failed attempts were made for Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe.
The push is backed by the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund, which took up a majority ownership stake in four of its top clubs, Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahli, Al-Nassr, and Al Hilal.
The moves into sport are cast as part of efforts by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to leverage the Kingdom’s oil wealth to provide new jobs and opportunities for the country’s youth.
As well its drive to improve its domestic league, Saudi Arabia also has a foot in the Premier League after PIF bought Newcastle United in 2021, with its financial backing enabling the club to qualify for this season’s Champions League.
There is also speculation Saudi Arabia will bid to host the 2030 men’s soccer World Cup.
Neymar proved to be the biggest signing of the window after joining Al Hilal from Paris Saint-Germain.
Al Hilal is Saudi’s most successful team, having won the league championship a record 18 times and the Asian Champions League four times. It had already missed out on Messi, who joined MLS club Inter Miami, and bid a record $332 million for Mbappe.
As well as Neymar, Al Hilal signed Yassine Bounou, Kalidou Koulibaly, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Ruben Neves and Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr signed Mane, Otavio, Marcelo Brozovic, Laporte and Alex Telles.
Reigning Saudi champion Al-Ittihad brought in Benzema, Kante and Fabinho before the deadline day signing of Felipe.
Al-Ahli’s signings included Firmino, Mahrez, Allan Saint-Maximin, Edouard Mendy, Franck Kessie and Gabri Veiga.
Al-Ettifaq hired former Rangers and Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard as coach and signed ex-Liverpool captain Henderson before landing Gray before the window closed.


Tchouameni prefers substance over style for France at Euro 2024

Tchouameni prefers substance over style for France at Euro 2024
Updated 23 June 2024
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Tchouameni prefers substance over style for France at Euro 2024

Tchouameni prefers substance over style for France at Euro 2024
  • A draw against a Poland side who are already eliminated will be enough to secure France’s last-16 place

PADERBORN, Germany: France midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni says he is not concerned about criticism of the team’s performances so far at Euro 2024 as the favorites stand on the brink of a place in the last 16 despite not lighting up the tournament.
“Some people want to win and do so by playing well, and others just want to win. Personally I just want to win, whether we play well or not,” the Real Madrid star told reporters at the French team’s base in Paderborn on Sunday.
“The most important thing is winning and getting three points because I think at the end of our careers what we will remember is what we have won, not how we played.”
The 2022 World Cup runners-up go into Tuesday’s final Group D game against Poland in Dortmund with four points from two outings having scored just once via an own goal while keeping two clean sheets.
They beat Austria 1-0 in their opening match after Maximilian Woeber put through his own net, and then drew 0-0 with the Netherlands in Leipzig in the absence of the injured Kylian Mbappe.
That is despite France boasting supreme attacking quality in their ranks beyond their captain.
Yet Les Bleus have often been criticized in the past for not playing more expansive football under coach Didier Deschamps.
They went on to win the 2018 World Cup after laboring through the group stage, recording a narrow 2-1 win against Australia thanks to a penalty and an own goal, then edging Peru 1-0 before a 0-0 draw against Denmark.
“In recent times we have had quite a lot of good results and won titles with this coach. That is the most important thing,” Tchouameni said.
“I understand that some people want to see a team play really good football.
“Maybe we are not the team that plays the best football, but we are the ones who are most often in the latter stages and that is the main thing for me.”
A draw against a Poland side who are already eliminated will be enough to secure France’s last-16 place.
Mbappe could return after sitting out the Netherlands match as he recovers from a broken nose suffered against Austria and adapts to wearing a protective face mask.
“I think everyone knows he is really eager to play in the next match,” Tchouameni said of his future Madrid teammate.
“As for the mask, I think he is starting to get used to it. Of course he would rather not wear it but I think if you ask the doctor he would say there is no choice.
“But that won’t change anything for him. We know that when he is on the field he will bring a lot to the team.”
Even a defeat against Poland might not stop France progressing, depending on the result of the other group game between Austria and the Netherlands.
However, a victory might not be enough for the French to top the group, if the Dutch win too and so by a bigger margin.


Jordan, Buttler star as England thrash USA to reach T20 World Cup semifinals

Jordan, Buttler star as England thrash USA to reach T20 World Cup semifinals
Updated 23 June 2024
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Jordan, Buttler star as England thrash USA to reach T20 World Cup semifinals

Jordan, Buttler star as England thrash USA to reach T20 World Cup semifinals
  • By winning so quickly, England secured a place in the last four, regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s final Group Two Super Eights match

BRIDGETOWN: Chris Jordan took four wickets in five balls, including the third hat-trick of the T20 World Cup, as defending champions England qualified for the semifinals with a 10-wicket thrashing of the United States in his native Barbados on Sunday.
The 35-year-old all-rounder, born and educated on the Caribbean island, justified his recall for this match in spectacular fashion with the remarkable figures of 4-10 in 2.5 overs as the United States were dismissed for 115.
England captain Jos Buttler then led from the front in a blistering chase with an unbeaten 83, featuring five sixes in an over from Harmeet Singh, as his side raced to their target in a mere 9.4 overs.
By winning so quickly, England secured a place in the last four, regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s final Group Two Super Eights match between co-hosts the West Indies and South Africa in Antigua and any associated net run-rate calculations.
Buttler faced just 38 balls, including six fours and seven sixes, but the day belonged to Jordan, whose hat-trick was the third of this tournament, with Australia’s Pat Cummins achieving the feat against both Bangladesh and Afghanistan, and the first by an England bowler in any men’s T20 international.
“Unbelievable feeling, more importantly to restrict USA and to do it in a special place like this is always nice,” said Jordan.
“Been on a hat-trick a few times, nice to get it on target this time.”
Buttler added: “I wanted to bring CJ back in to add a little bit of depth to the batting and we know what he is capable of with the ball. He executed it fantastically well, and a World Cup hat-trick is a great effort.”
As for his own form, Buttler said: “Personally it’s really important I continue this into the semifinals. I have been feeling good all year, I feel I am hitting the ball well and it is nice to get that confidence.”
The United States, one of the surprise packages of the event after defeating Pakistan on their way to the second round, were 115-6 when Jordan came onto bowl the 19th over.
His first ball of the over saw Corey Anderson hit a fast and low full toss to Harry Brook at long-on as the former New Zealand all-rounder fell for 29.
Two balls later, paceman Jordan clean bowled Ali Khan for a duck, the off-stump knocked out of the ground.
Next ball Nosthush Kenjige was plumb lbw and Jordan then completed his hat-trick — and ended the innings — by bowling Saurabh Netravalkar between bat and pad to remove the last man’s middle stump.
The United States were relatively well-placed at 48-2 at the end of the six-over powerplay.
But leg-spinner Adil Rashid then bowled two excellent googlies to dismiss Aaron Jones and Nitish Kumar, whose 30 was the highest score of the innings, in a miserly haul of 2-13.
England started their reply knowing victory in 17.4 overs would see them advance to the semifinals regardless of events elsewhere.
Buttler signalled his intentions early on with an extraordinary 104-meter six before Mumbai-born left-arm spinner Singh then felt the full force of his bat.
England must now wait another 24 hours to discover the identity of their semifinal opponents.


Euro 2024 security bulked after pitch invaders aim for Ronaldo selfies

Euro 2024 security bulked after pitch invaders aim for Ronaldo selfies
Updated 23 June 2024
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Euro 2024 security bulked after pitch invaders aim for Ronaldo selfies

Euro 2024 security bulked after pitch invaders aim for Ronaldo selfies

BERLIN: UEFA will increase security during the rest of Euro 2024 after several pitch invaders attempted to take selfies with Portugal’s star striker Cristiano Ronaldo.
The 39-year-old forward posed for a photo with a young boy during the 3-0 win over Turkiye in Group F on Saturday in Dortmund, but grew exasperated as at least five more fans attempted to do the same.
“Safety and security in the stadium, on the pitch and at team facilities are the ultimate priority for UEFA,” the European football governing body told AFP on Sunday.
“To this end, additional safety measures will be deployed in the stadiums to further meet the requirements of the tournament, and to prevent such incidents.”
One security guard crashed into Paris Saint-Germain striker Goncalo Ramos while trying to stop a pitch invader reaching Ronaldo.
Portugal coach Roberto Martinez said it was lucky that the supporters who ran on to the pitch were only trying to take photographs.
“It is a concern because today we were lucky that the intentions of the fans were good,” said Martinez.
“It is a very difficult moment if those intentions are wrong... probably we should give a message to the fans that it is not the right way.”
UEFA said any spectators entering the field of play will be thrown out of the stadium, be banned for further matches and face “the filing of a formal criminal complaint for trespass.”
Portugal qualified for the last 16 with their comfortable win over Turkiye as Group F winners.


Max Verstappen holds off Lando Norris to win Spanish GP and increase F1 lead

Max Verstappen holds off Lando Norris to win Spanish GP and increase F1 lead
Updated 23 June 2024
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Max Verstappen holds off Lando Norris to win Spanish GP and increase F1 lead

Max Verstappen holds off Lando Norris to win Spanish GP and increase F1 lead
  • Verstappen started from second on the grid behind pole-sitter Lando Norris
  • Once overtaken, Norris tried to mount a late challenge but Verstappen upped the pace to cross first

MONTMELO, Spain: Max Verstappen steered his Red Bull to victory at the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday to increase his lead in the Formula 1 drivers championship.
Verstappen started from second on the grid behind pole-sitter Lando Norris. But the three-time champion whipped past the McLaren driver by the first turn and then overtook George Russell on lap three of 66 and never looked back.
Norris tried to mount a late challenge but Verstappen upped the pace to cross first. Norris was second, followed by Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes in third.
Verstappen said that his moves to get past Norris and Russell so early proved crucial so he could build an advantage and keep the hard-charging Norris at bay.
“I think what made the difference in the race was the beginning,” Verstappen said. “I took the lead and had my buffer. After that we had to drive a defensive race.”
Verstappen got his seventh win in 10 races this season and claimed his third straight victory at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalonia.
Verstappen has 219 points. Norris moved into second place with 150, overtaking Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who fell into third place with 148 points after finishing fifth.
Norris put the blame on his poor start — when he lost two spots — for having to settle for second. The British driver got his first win at Miami in May and was gunning for a second victory.
“I should have won,” Norris said. “I got a bad straight, it is as simple as that.”
Hamilton’s third place was the first podium of the season for the seven-time world champion, who is in his last season for Mercedes before joining Ferrari next season.
Norris was beaten from the starting line by Verstappen and Russell, who whipped around both rivals from his start from fourth on the grid to take a surprise lead after the nearly 600-meter (yard) run to the first corner.
Verstappen was right behind Russell, however, and within two laps he swerved past him just after his team told him “(this) might be our best opportunity now.”
Once ahead, Verstappen managed his tires on the tough Barcelona track, and his Red Bull team pulled off two clean pit stops to avoid any mistakes.
Norris showed his great form by chasing down both Mercedes after a tire change. He got past Hamilton and then featured in a long duel with Russell midway through the race. Norris swerved past, Russell counterattacked to edge ahead, before Norris finally got in front.
But the jousting also favored Verstappen, who added to his lead.
Norris turned up the speed over the final 10 laps and was closing on the Dutchman, but he ran out of time and track. He crossed two seconds behind Verstappen.
Russell finished fourth, while it was a bad day for Leclerc and Carlos Sainz as neither Ferrari could contend with the front-runners. Sainz, the Spanish fan’s best hope for a win, finished sixth.
Norris’ McLaren partner Oscar Piastri was seventh. Sergio Pérez in the other Red Bull was eighth after his start from 11th place following a third-place grid penalty incurred in last round’s Canadian GP. Alpine pair Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon rounded out the top 10. Fernando Alonso was 12th in his Aston Martin.


Albania team says UEFA banned player Mirlind Daku for two Euro 2024 games after nationalist chants

Albania team says UEFA banned player Mirlind Daku for two Euro 2024 games after nationalist chants
Updated 23 June 2024
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Albania team says UEFA banned player Mirlind Daku for two Euro 2024 games after nationalist chants

Albania team says UEFA banned player Mirlind Daku for two Euro 2024 games after nationalist chants
  • Daku joined in chanting slogans against Serbia and North Macedonia
  • 26-year-old forward began playing for Albania last year having used his right under FIFA rules to change his eligibility from Kosovo

TIRANA: The Albanian soccer federation said UEFA banned its player Mirlind Daku on Sunday for two games after leading fans in nationalist chants at the European Championship.
Daku took a megaphone after Albania’s 2-2 draw with Croatia on Wednesday in Hamburg and joined in chanting slogans against Serbia and North Macedonia.
The Albanian federation also said UEFA imposed fines totaling 47,250 euros ($50,500) for incidents at the game, where its fans joined Croatian fans and chanted an anti-Serb slogan.
The Serbian soccer federation said it would leave the tournament if UEFA did not punish the incidents.
Albania play a decisive group-stage game on Monday against Spain. If Albania advance, Daku also would sit out the round of 16 game.
Daku later apologized for his actions in a social media posting, as UEFA appointed an in-house investigator to study his “alleged inappropriate behavior.”
The 26-year-old forward began playing for Albania last year having used his right under FIFA rules to change his eligibility from Kosovo, the ethnic-Albanian former province of Serbia that declared independence 16 years ago.
UEFA also announced charges against its Albanian and Croatian member federations for “potential racist and/or discriminatory conduct” by fans on Wednesday, who were reportedly chanting “Kill the Serbs” in Serbian.
The Albanian soccer Federation, or FSHF, called on the fans to be “accountable and avoid incidents and riots.”
“The FSHF invites fans and football lovers to support to the end the Albanian national team in this magical and historic path in Euro 2024 by showing citizenry and accountability through correct behavior and by respecting the rules and the opponents,” said a statement.
Albania have impressed at Euro 2024 in an opening 2-1 loss against Italy and then the 2-2 draw with Croatia. The team likely need to beat Spain to advance.