Al-Qubaisi sisters: ‘F1 Academy saved our careers’

At the opening round of the inaugural F1 Academy all-female series, Hamda Al-Qubaisi finished second in race three and sister Amna took third place. (Supplied)
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At the opening round of the inaugural F1 Academy all-female series, Hamda Al-Qubaisi finished second in race three and sister Amna took third place. (Supplied)
At the opening round of the inaugural F1 Academy all-female series, Hamda Al-Qubaisi finished second in race three and sister Amna took third place. (Supplied)
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At the opening round of the inaugural F1 Academy all-female series, Hamda Al-Qubaisi finished second in race three and sister Amna took third place. (Supplied)
At the opening round of the inaugural F1 Academy all-female series, Hamda Al-Qubaisi finished second in race three and sister Amna took third place. (Supplied)
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At the opening round of the inaugural F1 Academy all-female series, Hamda Al-Qubaisi finished second in race three and sister Amna took third place. (Supplied)
At the opening round of the inaugural F1 Academy all-female series, Hamda Al-Qubaisi finished second in race three and sister Amna took third place. (Supplied)
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At the opening round of the inaugural F1 Academy all-female series, Hamda Al-Qubaisi finished second in race three and sister Amna took third place. (Supplied)
At the opening round of the inaugural F1 Academy all-female series, Hamda Al-Qubaisi finished second in race three and sister Amna took third place. (Supplied)
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At the opening round of the inaugural F1 Academy all-female series, Hamda Al-Qubaisi finished second in race three and sister Amna took third place. (Supplied)
At the opening round of the inaugural F1 Academy all-female series, Hamda Al-Qubaisi finished second in race three and sister Amna took third place. (Supplied)
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At the opening round of the inaugural F1 Academy all-female series, Hamda Al-Qubaisi finished second in race three and sister Amna took third place. (Supplied)
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Updated 01 December 2023
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Al-Qubaisi sisters: ‘F1 Academy saved our careers’

Al-Qubaisi sisters: ‘F1 Academy saved our careers’
  • Emirati history-makers Hamda and Amna reflect on their motorsport success

ABU DHABI: They have pulled off some impressive feats individually in the world of motorsport, but if you ask Amna and Hamda Al-Qubaisi what they consider to be the highlight of their careers, the Emirati sisters choose a moment in which they both got to shine.

“I would say Red Bull Ring, the first round in Austria, where we got to share a podium,” Amna, 23, told Arab News in Abu Dhabi last weekend.

“I shared the podium with my sister. It was an amazing feeling and I hope we can do the same again,” added Hamda, 21.

The older Al-Qubaisi sister is referring to the opening round of the inaugural F1 Academy all-female series, which saw Hamda finish second in race three and Amna take third place.

Earlier that day at Red Bull Ring, Amna claimed victory in race two, but stepping on the podium together with her sister in the next race ultimately proved more special to both of them.

From a young age, the Al-Qubaisi sisters have made a habit of making history.

At 18, Amna became the first Emirati female driver to race in single-seater competitions internationally when she joined the grid in Italian Formula 4.

In 2019, she became the first Arab woman to win a Formula 4 race when she topped the podium in the F4 UAE Trophy Round at Yas Marina Circuit during the F1 Grand Prix weekend, and in 2021, Amna took things further by becoming the UAE’s first female F3 driver.

Hamda made waves when she scooped six race wins across her first two full seasons in F4 UAE — 2020-2021 — but her big moment on the international stage came in June 2021 when she became the first woman in history to make the podium in the Italian F4 Championship, placing third in the first race at Misano World Circuit. She was just 18 years old at the time.

By the end of 2022, the careers of Amna and Hamda were in jeopardy as they struggled to find the necessary funding to keep racing. But then came the announcement of the launch of F1 Academy, an all-female racing series aimed at developing and preparing young female drivers to progress to higher levels of competition.

Both sisters were signed by Dutch team MP Motorsport for the inaugural season, which saw Hamda finish third in the F1 Academy championship and Amna secure P6.

“Honestly, it saved my career,” said Amna of the F1-supported initiative.

“I was about to stop racing and they saved my career by having the budget really low and the opportunity to race on extraordinary tracks. So a big thank you to Susie Wolff for creating the F1 Academy and giving me the opportunity to be back racing again.”

Hamda, who took four race victories in the inaugural championship, was also concerned either she or Amna would have to drop out of competing.

“For me, I think F1 Academy also saved my career. We were really low on budget and it was at a point we were choosing between us, who would race and who would stop,” said Hamda.

“So it wasn’t really a nice feeling and I’m happy we’re able to share the track together, as teammates as well, representing our country. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Since the start of their careers, Amna and Hamda had been competing in mixed competitions, side by side with male drivers, so switching their focus to an all-female series could have been considered a risky move. But Hamda feels her level has only gone higher, and her top-five finish in the F4 UAE Trophy Round with Yas Heat Racing in Abu Dhabi last weekend, which featured a competitive mixed grid, has helped her prove her point.

“F1 Academy has done great, I performed really well there, and it hasn’t done anything (negative) to the level I’m at,” said Hamda.

“Being an all-female series, people thought it would bring my level down but I’m here (at Yas Marina Circuit) competing in a mixed grid and I’m still at the top. So it goes to show how strong the grid was and how females can really perform in this category.”

But can an all-female series really be the right stepping stone for women looking to make it to Formula 1?

“Yes, I think for sure,” replied Hamda. “Because I’ve been through a lot of championships and to be honest F1 Academy has been one of the most competitive championships I’ve raced at. Considering I’ve raced on a 40-plus-car grid in F4 Italia, in F4 UAE, so to be in F1 Academy 15-car grid but still so competitive, it’s a really high level and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Hamda’s F1 Academy campaign was all the more impressive considering she had surgery for a broken wrist just six weeks before the season started. The doctors told her she would need four months to recover but Hamda somehow managed to make it in time for pre-season testing in Barcelona and she stood on top of the podium, winning a race in Valencia, just 75 days after going under the knife.

“At one point I was already in the fight for the lead of the championship,” said Hamda, reflecting on her season. “So for me it was amazing. I was able to perform really well at such a high level; especially as an Emirati woman in the sport, I showed what we’re capable of and I’m sure a lot of women here in the region can do the same.”

Arguably the fastest sister act in all of motorsport, the Al-Qubaisis have successfully navigated what could have been a very tricky dynamic as siblings, teammates and competitors.

“In the beginning it was quite tough,” admitted Amna. “I mean, in karting we used to take each other out. But I think we’ve matured and in single-seaters we really have an advantage to everyone else, being sisters. We really help each other on track and off track. So it’s really good to have a teammate that’s your sister.”

Hamda explained their nuanced approach to how they manage races that bring them mixed fortunes.

“It happened a few times, when I’m mad and she’s happy, she tries not to be as happy, to not make me feel worse, and vice versa,” said Hamda. “But at the same time we celebrate each other’s wins despite what happens to each other. So if she won I’ll be there for her, I’ll celebrate no matter what happens to me.”

Still only 21, Hamda walked away from her first season in F1 Academy with many lessons learned.

“For sure it’s more about dealing with the pressure, trying to stay focused no matter what and forget about people or outsiders, whatever they have to say. I made a few mistakes on my side, driving-wise, but then again, I can’t look at the people who criticize me and I have to forget it and think tomorrow’s a new day, start fresh and learn from my mistakes,” she said.

“That’s one thing I struggled with; I would always let the past haunt me but I’ve learned a lot this season. I’ve learned to trust the process and see how things go.”


New Al-Tai boss Ramos believes dream debut win could boost SPL relegation fight

New Al-Tai boss Ramos believes dream debut win could boost SPL relegation fight
Updated 46 sec ago
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New Al-Tai boss Ramos believes dream debut win could boost SPL relegation fight

New Al-Tai boss Ramos believes dream debut win could boost SPL relegation fight
  • Uruguayan coach, whose side travel to Al-Fayha on Thursday, achieved dramatic last-gasp win over fellow relegation battlers Al-Riyadh at the weekend

RIYADH: Leonardo Ramos, the new Al-Tai manager, believes the club’s victory in his debut match could be vital to secure Roshn Saudi League football next season.

Ramos oversaw a dramatic 2-1 win for the Hail club at 10-man Al-Riyadh on Friday in the capital courtesy of a Khalid Al-Shuwayyi own goal 12 minutes into injury time.

The win lifted Al-Tai, who had gone four games without victory prior to the Uruguayan’s arrival, out of the relegation zone and into 14th place in the 18-team league.

“I know that every player in the team needs to bring his best abilities on the field, so the reason for my presence is my experience in ensuring this happens,” Ramos said. “Certainly, the ultimate goal is to play with greater performances and to improve the level and position of the club in the table. The win benefits this.

“The league is definitely approaching the end faster than I would have liked, but I think we can help the players a lot,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of games before I came here, and game by game we’ll have more vision. We were so happy because this was our first game together — and we are happy to have improved our position in the table. We have gone up in the table and that’s important.”

Al-Tai’s opener on Friday night at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium in Riyadh came from Bernard Mensah in first-half injury time. Al-Riyadh saw Abdullah Al-Khairbari red-carded just after the interval but equalized through Abdulhadi Al-Harajin. This came before Al-Shuwayyi watched in horror as a cross ball trundled into the net off his shoulder deep into stoppage time.

Ramos, 54, who earned eight caps for his country as a player, previously managed Al-Ettifaq in Saudi Arabian football in 2018 and was most recently in charge of Montevideo City Torque in his home country. He replaced Romanian national Laurentiu Reghecampf as Al-Tai manager.

Next up for Ramos and Al-Tai is a trip to Al-Fayha on Thursday, with kickoff at 6 p.m. The club then conclude their campaign with matches versus Al-Khaleej, Al-Raed, Al-Fateh, Al-Hilal and a final-day-of-the-season clash with fellow relegation battlers Al-Okhdood.

The Roshn Saudi League bottom five spots has Al-Hazem last on 16 points, followed by Al-Okhdood on 24, Abha and Al-Riyadh on 25 — with the former in the drop zone due to a considerably inferior goal difference — and then Al-Tai on 26 points. With the standings so tight, Ramos knows exactly what is needed now.

“For sure we need to continue working on improving performances,” the Uruguayan said. “I believe we played an outstanding match (against Al-Riyadh), although there were times that we lacked the rhythm, team spirit, and overall performance. Most of the time, we played on the sides and at the back, and we did not move progressively enough towards the opponent’s goal.

“However, we showed determination and desire to win, and we made some changes in the second half of the match to improve the result and achieve the victory, which we succeeded in at the end. I am very happy to work with the players, and the club overall, and achieving the victory was a great result.”

 


Spanish women among top Laureus winners and Djokovic is world sportsman of the year

Spanish women among top Laureus winners and Djokovic is world sportsman of the year
Updated 23 April 2024
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Spanish women among top Laureus winners and Djokovic is world sportsman of the year

Spanish women among top Laureus winners and Djokovic is world sportsman of the year
  • Laureus rewarded Spain as the first all-female team to win the team award
  • American gymnast Simone Biles was given the comeback of the year award

MADRID: Spain’s first Women’s World Cup triumph last year earned two more major plaudits at the Laureus World Sports Awards on Monday.

Spain were chosen world team of the year for 2023 and midfielder Aitana Bonmatí was picked as the best sportswoman.

Novak Djokovic received the sportsman of the year at the ceremony in Madrid, and American gymnast Simone Biles was given the comeback of the year award.

Real Madrid forward Jude Bellingham earned the breakthrough prize, and Rafael Nadal won the sport for good award thanks to his foundation.

The Spanish women’s World Cup breakthrough last August in New Zealand and Australia was tarnished in the following weeks because of an unwanted kiss of forward Jenni Hermoso by then-federation president Luis Rubiales after the final.

Laureus rewarded Spain as the first all-female team to win the team award.

Before the World Cup, Bonmati also helped Barcelona win a second Women’s Champions League. She’s the first female soccer player to win the Laureus, after also receiving the Ballon d’Or and FIFA best player award.

“I want to thank all my teammates and the staff of my club and national team who have helped me a lot, and because of them I am here today,” Bonmati said.

Djokovic won his record-equalling fifth Laureus sportsman award — tying Roger Federer — after titles at the Australian Open, French Open and US Open to reach a record 24 Grand Slam singles triumphs. NFL great Tom Brady presented Djokovic the award.

Biles made a record-breaking return to competition last year when she won four gold medals at the world championships, including a record sixth all-around title.

Nadal’s foundation was rewarded for helping more than “1,000 vulnerable young people in Spain and India,” according to Laureus.

Teenager Arisa Trew won the action sportsperson award after becoming the first female skateboarder to land a 720 in competition.

Dutch wheelchair player Diede de Groot was selected as the sportsperson of the year with a disability after winning her third straight calendar tennis Grand Slam.


Inter Milan seal Scudetto in derby thriller with AC Milan

Inter Milan seal Scudetto in derby thriller with AC Milan
Updated 23 April 2024
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Inter Milan seal Scudetto in derby thriller with AC Milan

Inter Milan seal Scudetto in derby thriller with AC Milan
  • Inter have become the second team to win 20 Italian league titles, and will have a second star stitched onto their jersey, after Juventus who are way out in the lead with 36 league crowns

MILAN: Inter Milan sealed the Serie A title on Monday after beating AC Milan 2-1 and creating an unassailable lead at the top of the league with their sixth straight derby victory.
Goals from Francesco Acerbi and Marcus Thuram gave Inter a 17-point advantage over closest challengers Milan and secured their 20th league crown with five matches of the season remaining.
Inter last won Serie A in 2021, followed by AC Milan in 2022 and Napoli last year.
For Simone Inzaghi it was the first league title as a manager and on a cold, soaking wet evening at the San Siro he strode proudly in front of a clutch of Inter’s “away” fans in the 75,000 crowd as they roared in delight and fired fireworks from the stands at the final whistle.
Milan made a fight of it in the final moments after Fikayo Tomori pulled one back with 10 minutes remaining but Inter held out to kick off a title party after a stormy ending to the match which featured three red cards.
“I feel like crying because we worked so hard, we deserve this joy,” said tearful captain Lautaro Martinez.
“It’s been wonderful but we have to keep going because we’ve already won a lot of trophies and we want to win many more.”
Inter have become the second team to win 20 Italian league titles, and will have a second star stitched onto their jersey, after Juventus who are way out in the lead with 36 league crowns.
Inzaghi’s team did it style, laying waste to the rest of the division and becoming the first team to claim the title by winning the Milan derby and leaving his opposite number Pioli on the verge of the sack.
“He was struggling 14 months ago according to the media and look what he has achieved since. I am happy here, I work well and I think the team has margin for improvement,” insisted 2022 Scudetto winner Pioli.
With outgoing champions Napoli crashing and burning early in the campaign and Milan falling away in the autumn Inter raced off into the distance at the turn of the year.
Juve looked like putting up a fight but they collapsed in February just as Inter strung together a run of 13 wins which also gave them hope of repeating a deep run in the Champions League.
Inter failed in that mission as they were knocked out of the Champions League by Atletico Madrid in mid-March, but by that time the domestic damage had already been done.
The future looks bright too as Inzaghi, Martinez and Italy midfielder Nicolo Barella are all set to renew their contracts while smart work in the transfer market and increased revenue have helped mitigate significant financial harm wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Piotr Zielinski and Mehdi Taremi will arrive from Napoli and Porto as free agents in the close season while big stars like Thuram should stay.
“Crazy feeling, crazy game. We wanted to do it for our fans and we did it. It’s my first league title and I’m very proud of it,” said Thuram.
The nominal away side on Monday, Inter were on their way to a title party in the 18th minute when Acerbi was left completely free to head home Benjamin Pavard’s flick-on.
Inter should have been two ahead seven minutes later through Lautaro Martinez who lost his footing when Federico Dimarco’s perfect cut-back fell to the Argentina striker.
And his strike partner Thuram was equally at fault for Inter not increasing their lead seven minutes before the break as he shot a great chance just wide after being set up by Nicolo Barella.
But shortly after half-time Thuram made up for that miss with a brilliant individual goal which took his tally for his debut Serie A season to 12.
France forward Thuram collected Alessandro Bastoni’s long pass on the left and eventually cut inside before drilling home at Mike Maignan’s near post.
Yann Sommer did well to keep out Theo Hernandez’s well-struck shot as Milan fans let go a barrage of flares in the stands.
The resulting smoke mixed with the persistent rain to create an misty atmosphere around the San Siro, and just as Inter looked set to see the match out Tomori made sure it would be a grandstand finish when he headed home on the rebound.
However instead of levelling the match Milan lost their heads, with both Theo Hernandez and Davide Calabria receiving straight red cards in stoppage time.
Inter’s Denzel Dumfries was also sent off in the closing minutes, but that will matter less to his team who danced and bounced in front of joyous fans.


Jeddah set to host its first-ever World Table Tennis Championship

Jeddah set to host its first-ever World Table Tennis Championship
Updated 22 April 2024
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Jeddah set to host its first-ever World Table Tennis Championship

Jeddah set to host its first-ever World Table Tennis Championship
  • Saudi Smash will take place May 1-11 and will see international and Saudi players compete for total prize money of $2m

JEDDAH: Saudi Smash, Jeddah’s first-ever World Table Tennis Championship, is set to take place from May 1-11 at the King Abdullah Sports City.

The event will see elite players from around the world and the Kingdom take part in singles and doubles competitions for men and women, as well as mixed doubles.

Confirmed for the tournament are men’s world No. 1 Wang Chuqin and women’s No. 1 Sun Yingsha, as well as Felix Lebrun, Hugo Calderno, Hina Hayata, Lin Yun-Ju and Tomakazi Harimoto.

A 64-player singles qualifying round will determine the eight players who advance to the respective singles main draw competitions.

With a prize pool of $2 million, this championship boasts the highest rewards ever offered in any officially sanctioned table tennis event. The men’s and women’s singles champions will each pocket $65,000 and get 2,000 International Table Tennis Federation world rankings points.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, the Saudi minister of sport and president of the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said: “By introducing Saudi Smash, we add a further new international event to our growing list of major championships that we are honored to host in Saudi Arabia.”

Dr. Abdullah Hashim Al-Bar, president of the Saudi Table Tennis Federation, commented on hosting Saudi Smash for the first time, saying: “The Saudi Table Tennis Federation is proud to announce that Jeddah has been chosen as the host city for the inaugural Saudi Smash.

“This is a ground-breaking event that promises to elevate the sport to new heights in the Kingdom and inspire future generations of Saudi table tennis players. We are excited to be partnering with WTT to deliver one of their marquee events and look forward to showcasing Jeddah and Saudi Arabia to the world.”

Steve Dainton, WTT CEO, said: “We are thrilled to host the first-ever Saudi Smash in Jeddah.

“Grand Smashes are WTT’s most prestigious events and (this one) represents a significant milestone for table tennis in Saudi Arabia,” he added. “We are excited to showcase the talent and excitement of our stars, and Jeddah’s dynamic energy and passion for sports make it an ideal host city.”


Ivan Rakitic: Luka Modric moving to Saudi Arabia would be ‘amazing’

Ivan Rakitic: Luka Modric moving to Saudi Arabia would be ‘amazing’
Updated 22 April 2024
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Ivan Rakitic: Luka Modric moving to Saudi Arabia would be ‘amazing’

Ivan Rakitic: Luka Modric moving to Saudi Arabia would be ‘amazing’
  • Al-Shabab midfielder would waste no time in promoting the Kingdom to his former Croatia teammate if he decides to leave Real Madrid

LONDON: Ivan Rakitic hopes his strong brotherly bond with his former Croatia team-mate Luka Modric can persuade the timeless maestro to join him at Al-Shabab in the Saudi Pro League.

Modric may be 38 but Rakitic said that his enduring class was something his fellow Real Madrid midfielder, the free-scoring tyro Jude Bellingham, could learn from.

Modric’s Real Madrid contract expires in the summer, and rumors of a move to Saudi Arabia have been swirling. Rakitic, eager to reunite with his former teammate, would be delighted to help facilitate it.

“If you come to Saudi but don’t come to Al-Shabab, you’re going to have some problems with me,” Rakitic told Arab News with a laugh when asked what he would tell Modric, whom he has said “is like a brother to me.”

Rakitic suffered an injury inlets month’s 4-3 home defeat to Al-Hilal and was absent from Al-Shabab’s 5-0 win over Abha on Thursday, a result that sees them sit ninth in the Saudi Pro League table.

The 36-year-old joined the Riyadh club from La Liga side Sevilla in January and told Arab News over Zoom that he would be thrilled to share a pitch again with Modric, with whom he played for Croatia for 12 years until his international retirement in 2019.

The pair’s midfield majesty helped to propel Croatia to the 2018 World Cup final, which they lost 4-2 to France.

“If he decides to move, it would be amazing. I would call him directly after two minutes to try to do everything for Al-Shabab, for Saudi, to bring him to the Saudi Pro League, or give him all the information that maybe he needs.

“If he decides to stay in Madrid for one more year, I think enjoying Luka at the highest level would also be amazing.”

A renowned playmaker after trophy-laden spells at Barcelona and Sevilla, Rakitic is well-placed to assess the merits of other leading midfielders.

Of the credentials of England’s Bellingham, who, at only 20, has enjoyed a marvelous debut season with Real Madrid and scored a stoppage time winner in Sunday’s 3-2 win over Barcelona, Rakitic said: “Of course, (there are many talented young players) and Jude is one of the first we look for but I like the old generation. I like Luka, (Kevin) De Bruyne, Bernardo. I have (so much) respect for Real Madrid because they were able to understand they had to do this change of generation step by step by giving the opportunity to big talents like Bellingham, (Federico) Valverde, (Eduardo) Camavinga. But there are still many things to learn from Luka and Toni (Kroos).”

Bellingham, Camavinga, Modric and Kroos are all set to appear at Euro 2024 in the summer and Rakitic expects “a really special” tournament. He said there would be “surprises for sure” and cited hosts Germany, France, and Portugal as his top contenders.

Rakitic also believes Croatia and the evergreen Modric can have “a big tournament” — despite being in a tough group with Spain and Italy.

He is similarly enthusiastic about Saudi Arabia hosting the 2034 World Cup.

“I think it will be the best World Cup because if the Saudis are at the top in something it is in organization and motivation,” he said.

An interview with Rakitic would not be complete without mentioning the iconic triumvirate of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez with whom Rakitic enjoyed halcyon days at Barcelona.

“Why not? I think we can do many, many, many important things together,” Rakitic said when Arab News mooted the dream scenario of him and the legendary trio joining forces in Saudi Arabia.

Messi may have rejected Al-Hilal’s $399 million-a-year deal last summer in favor of joining Inter Miami in the US but remains the Kingdom’s tourism ambassador.

Xavi has vowed to quit as Barcelona manager in the summer and has significant experience in the Middle East, having played for and managed Al-Sadd in Qatar between 2015 and 2021.

Iniesta is already in the region after joining Emirates Club in the UAE on a one-year deal in August.

“I think the season we did together, 2014-2015, I think (we were) the best team in the history of football,” Rakitic said.

Barcelona won La Liga, the Copa del Rey, and the Champions League, becoming the first European team to secure the treble twice — a feat Bayern Munich emulated in 2020.

“(We achieved) the perfect Champions League that season (beating) the French champions (Paris Saint-Germain), the English champions (Manchester City), the German champions (Bayern Munich) and the Italian champions (Juventus). It was the best season possible.”

Messi reportedly asked the Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham to persuade Rakitic to join his club last year.

But Rakitic said he “never spoke” to the former England, Real Madrid and Manchester United star.

“Hopefully I can speak to him because I’m a big fan,” he said.

“I wear my (Adidas) Predators because I saw him taking his free-kicks with (those boots). If David would like to meet and even take some free-kicks together, it would be amazing.”