Cristiano Ronaldo is ‘visionary’ that changed Saudi football, says Al-Nassr CEO Guido Fienga

Cristiano Ronaldo is ‘visionary’ that changed Saudi football, says Al-Nassr CEO Guido Fienga
The ex-Roma chief Guido Fienga joined Al-Nassr in September (X/@AlNassrFC_EN)
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Updated 01 February 2024
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Cristiano Ronaldo is ‘visionary’ that changed Saudi football, says Al-Nassr CEO Guido Fienga

Cristiano Ronaldo is ‘visionary’ that changed Saudi football, says Al-Nassr CEO Guido Fienga
  • Ex-Roma chief spoked to Arab News about the impact the Portuguese legend has had on the game in the Middle East and called Saudi football a ‘new product’ that does not need to compete with Europe

JEDDAH: On Jan. 19, 2023, Cristiano Ronaldo played his first match on Saudi soil since his sensational move to Riyadh in a friendly match between a combined Al-Nassr-Al-Hilal XI and French champions Paris Saint-Germain.

As fate would have it, facing him was none other than newly crowned world champion Lionel Messi in a match that had been scheduled months before Ronaldo signed for Al-Nassr.

Just over a year on from the PSG’s 5-4 win, an injury to Ronaldo has denied fans a reunion of the two great rivals in Thursday night’s friendly between Al-Nassr and Inter Miami, dubbed “The Last Dance.”

But in between those two matches, Ronaldo’s impact on Saudi, Arab and Asian football, and even across the world, has been seismic.

In his wake, some of the world’s best players have joined from some of Europe’s elite clubs, moves that a few years ago would have been unthinkable.

Al-Nassr’s yellow shirt is now ubiquitous around the world, and the Roshn Saudi League is being broadcast globally in countries that only a few years ago had showed little interest in this region’s football.

And Ronaldo has done it while remaining at the top of his game, according to Al-Nassr CEO Guido Fienga.

“Cristiano obviously adds a lot in gaining visibility,” Fienga told Arab News during a recent conversation in Jeddah. “Cristiano is the most visible man in the world. But Cristiano still is the top player. He is the one that has scored more goals in the league, the one that makes more assists and definitely is the best player in the (Saudi) league and continues to be the best player in the world because he’s competing in a real competition, he is in extremely good shape, is a super captain and all the players that are around him improve their quality.

The ex-Roma chief, who joined Al-Nassr in September, praised Ronaldo for believing in Saudi football when others scoffed.

“We have to recognize one thing, Cristiano has been a pioneer, he has been the visionary. When Cristiano came here, everyone talked about how he is going to get a golden pension, a golden retirement.

“No, he has been the one that watched and saw something that others didn’t understand. It’s the launch of a new product. So we need to recognize that Cristiano is going beyond football, he has been and still is the best player on the pitch. But he’s also the only player that has been able to launch a new product (across) the world. So he’s gone beyond football. He’s the (leader) and the others are followers.”

Since joining Al-Nassr, Fienga has seen at first hand the passion for the game that has existed well before the influx of foreign players that Ronaldo sparked.

“It is real football,” he said. “Saudi’s a real football country, Middle East is a real football region. Here, people live every day talking and chatting and watching and discussing football. It’s kind of like Italy, I come from another country of football. It is real football, the competition (SPL) is a real competition.

“If you see our matches, the matches of Al-Nassr, but also many matches of the Saudi League, the show is at the level of top championships. The program (SPL project) is a long-term program. So it’s not a bubble like some want to believe, or want to say. It is not a temporary project. There is a clear project with a budget, and with a vision more importantly. This program is at least 10 years because this country will host the Asian Cup in 2027, the World Cup in 2034, and we need to build a strong Saudi football movement with strong Saudi players.

“We have many of Saudi players in our team that are very good, but most important, who are growing very fast,” Fienga said. “So the idea to combine the international players with the Saudi players in the Saudi Pro League now is working because I’m recording how fast the improvement of our Saudi players is, not only the national team players, but all Saudi players. According to the assessment of our coach, Luis Castro, who by the way is a top coach, he was the most (successful) coach in 2023. So the words of Luis are important, he has been impressed by the evolution of the Saudi players. So the feeling is very good, but also the expectations are very high.”

Fienga says that the perception of Saudi football across the world, and in particular in Europe, has changed rapidly since last summer.

“People at first had been shocked by the entrance of a new actor, then they start to say, maybe it’s another bubble. Then they move onto something that for me is totally wrong, the big concern that Saudi football wants to compete with European football.

“The reality is different,” Fienga said. “Saudi football is a new product. It’s addressing a market that is not Europe. Saudi football became the (top) product in all Middle East. But more important it became the second product in a vast region that (covers) North African countries, Western African countries, a large part of Asia. So definitely Saudi fooball is the first or second product watched in an area that attracts more than 3.5 billion people, so eight times Europe.

“Europe cannot be concerned that we want to compete with them, we want to develop our own strategy, but at the end to serve a region that is much larger than Europe. We are taking care about ourself and and developing our strategy without feeling competition with anyone.”


Sunrisers Hyderabad down Rajasthan Royals to set up IPL final with Kolkata Knight Riders

Sunrisers Hyderabad down Rajasthan Royals to set up IPL final with Kolkata Knight Riders
Updated 24 May 2024
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Sunrisers Hyderabad down Rajasthan Royals to set up IPL final with Kolkata Knight Riders

Sunrisers Hyderabad down Rajasthan Royals to set up IPL final with Kolkata Knight Riders
  • Spinner Shahbaz Ahmed starred with three wickets

CHENNAI: Sunrisers Hyderabad beat Rajasthan Royals by 36 runs on Friday to set up an IPL final against Kolkata Knight Riders, as spinner Shahbaz Ahmed starred with three wickets.
Heinrich Klaasen smashed 50 off 34 balls to help Sunrisers post 175-9 and their bowlers combined to restrict Rajasthan to 139-7 as they reached their third IPL final, to be played in Chennai on Sunday.
Ahmed came in as an impact substitute in Hyderabad’s batting innings to score 18 runs and then returned figures of 3-23 with his left-arm spin to flatten the opposition chase.
Kolkata, who thrashed Hyderabad in the first play-off game to reach their fourth final, will meet Pat Cummins’ side again in the decider.
Cummins, who cost Hyderabad $2.5 million at the auction, remains on the cusp of another title after he led Australia to the Test championship trophy and then to the ODI World Cup in India last year.
“You’ve seen that in the way we played,” Cummins said on his team’s turnaround from last year when they ended bottom of the 10-team table. “The finals was the goal and we’ve made it.”
Ahmed was named player of the match and Cummins said it was coach Daniel Vettori’s call to have the all-rounder come in as impact sub.
It took time to fill the 36,000-capacity M.A. Chidambaram Stadium, with local fans still missing the presence of home team Chennai Super Kings.
Chennai veteran M.S. Dhoni remains a hero in the south Indian city and many fans wore his number 7 jersey during the third play-off contest.
The IPL was in the grip of a heatwave in the last two play-off matches in Ahmedabad, where temperatures soared to over 44 degrees Celsius (111 degrees Fahrenheit), but Chennai remained much cooler at 32 degrees.
Rajasthan faltered in their chase despite Yashasvi Jaiswal’s quickfire 42 before the opener fell to Ahmed and skipper Sanju Samson soon departed for 10.
Ahmed strick twice in one over, including the in-form Riyan Parag for six, and despite Dhruv Jurel’s late unbeaten 56, inaugural champions Rajasthan fell well short.
“We’ve had some brilliant games, we’ve had a great project as a franchise,” said Samson. “We’ve produced some great talent for the country. Parag, Jurel, exciting not only for RR but for India team too.”
Hyderabad’s Abhishek Sharma scored 12 but returned with his part-time spin to take two wickets including the big-hitting Shimron Hetmyer, bowled for four.
Earlier Sunrisers, who had racked up record IPL totals of 277 and 287 this season, lacked firepower in their batting until Klaasen boosted the score with his fourth fifty of the season.
Rajasthan’s Trent Boult made early inroads when he got Abhishek in the first over and struck twice in the fifth to send back Rahul Tripathi, for 37, and Aiden Markram, for one.
Fast bowler Avesh Khan took two wickets in two balls, prompting Hyderabad, who won the IPL in 2016 under Australia’s David Warner, to bring in Ahmed.
South Africa’s Klaasen stood firm to reach his fifty from 33 balls and put on a key seventh-wicket stand of 43 with Ahmed in a total which proved enough.


Pakistan retains pacer Haris Rauf in T20 World Cup squad

Pakistan retains pacer Haris Rauf in T20 World Cup squad
Updated 24 May 2024
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Pakistan retains pacer Haris Rauf in T20 World Cup squad

Pakistan retains pacer Haris Rauf in T20 World Cup squad
  • The tournament will run from June 1 to June 29 and be jointly hosted by the United States and West Indies
  • Pakistan’s Group A includes arch rivals India, and the team will face the United States in their first match

KARACHI: Pakistan retained fast bowler Haris Rauf when announcing on Friday their 15-man squad for the Twenty20 World Cup, despite doubts over his fitness and lack of match practice.

The 30-year-old injured his shoulder during Pakistan Super League in February and is expected to play in the second Twenty20 international in Birmingham on Saturday – his first outing since recovery.

Pakistan Cricket Board’s selection committee said Rauf is fit and raring to go.

“Rauf is full fit and bowling well in the nets,” said a PCB release. “It would have been nice if he had gotten an outing in the first match at Headingley but we remain confident that he will continue to maintain an upward trajectory in the coming matches.”

The Headingley match between Pakistan and England was abandoned due to rain.

Pakistan is the 20th and the last team to announce the squad as they continued to search for combination since their 2-2 series draw at home against New Zealand last month.

Babar Azam will lead the squad in the World Cup, his third T20 World Cup as skipper.

The tournament will run from June 1 to June 29 and be jointly hosted by the United States and West Indies.

Teams are divided in four groups of five with the top two teams qualifying for the Super Eight Stage in which all matches will be played in the West Indies.

Pakistan’s Group A includes arch rivals India as well as Canada and Ireland.

Pakistan will face United States in their first match in Dallas on June 6.

Fast bowler Hasan Ali, as well as batters Agha Salman and Muhammad Irfan Khan were left off the squad.

Fast bowler Mohammad Amir – the only survivor of Pakistan’s 2009 Twenty20 World Cup triumph – is meanwhile staging a comeback after coming out of retirement two months ago.

He is part of a strong pace attack spearheaded by Shaheen Shah Afridi, Rauf, Naseem Shah and Abbas Afridi.

Pakistan lost in the semifinal of the 2021 Twenty20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates and in the final in Australia in 2022.

Squad: Babar Azam (captain), Mohammad Rizwan, Saim Ayub, Fakhar Zaman, Usman Khan, Azam Khan, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah, Abbas Afridi, Haris Rauf, Abrar Ahmed.


Man Utd to sack Ten Hag even if they win FA Cup: reports

Man Utd to sack Ten Hag even if they win FA Cup: reports
Updated 24 May 2024
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Man Utd to sack Ten Hag even if they win FA Cup: reports

Man Utd to sack Ten Hag even if they win FA Cup: reports
  • Britain’s The Guardian newspaper said the Premier League club had decided to take the ruthless step after a dismal season
  • Van Gaal was fired just two days after United’s FA Cup final victory against Crystal Palace in 2016

LONDON: Manchester United will sack embattled manager Erik ten Hag after the FA Cup final against Manchester City regardless of the result at Wembley, it was reported on Friday.
Britain’s The Guardian newspaper said the Premier League club had decided to take the ruthless step after a dismal season.
If Ten Hag’s two-year reign does end following the City clash, his exit would provoke memories of fellow Dutchman Louis van Gaal’s Old Trafford departure.
Van Gaal was fired just two days after United’s FA Cup final victory against Crystal Palace in 2016.
United finished an embarrassing eighth in the Premier League this season — their lowest final position since 1990 — and crashed out of the Champions League in the group stage.
Ten Hag has been the subject of intense speculation over his future, months after British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe took a minority stake in the club and assumed control of football operations.
United insist no decision has been made on the Dutchman’s future and say a full review will take place after Saturday’s showpiece against the Premier League champions, who are chasing their second straight league and FA Cup double.
The club have been linked with a list of names including Thomas Tuchel, Mauricio Pochettino, England’s Gareth Southgate and Ipswich boss Kieran McKenna, who has previously coached at Old Trafford.
Speaking before the latest report emerged, United goalkeeper Andre Onana said the final was “extra motivation” after an injury-hit season in which many of their star players flopped.
“We lost twice against City already (in the Premier League),” he said. “We know how good they are. Best team at the moment — all of our respect — but we go there to win. A final.”
Onana, who also played under Ten Hag at Ajax, stood up for his manager, describing him as a “good guy, a good coach.”
“Tactically he’s very good and he showed it last season,” said the Cameroon international. “I was not here last season and they got top four.
“This season a lot of things happened. I’m not here to back him. He is big enough to back himself. But he is a really good guy, he is a positive coach and tactically he’s good.
“If he had all his squad it would probably be different. This season is difficult for him, for us, for the club, for the fans.”
Saturday’s match offers United a shot at silverware against their bitter rivals and a route to Europa League qualification.
“It would make things look better,” said Onana, who has had an inconsistent first season at Old Trafford.
“It’s important to end well and winning this game would mean we’re in the Europa League.”


‘Happy I’m not playing Nadal,’ says Medvedev

‘Happy I’m not playing Nadal,’ says Medvedev
Updated 24 May 2024
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‘Happy I’m not playing Nadal,’ says Medvedev

‘Happy I’m not playing Nadal,’ says Medvedev

PARIS: Daniil Medvedev said he was “happy” not to have been drawn to face 14-time champion Rafael Nadal in the French Open first round as the great Spaniard prepares to bid an emotional farewell to the tournament.
Nadal, who has only lost three times in 115 matches at Roland Garros since his title-winning debut in 2005, is playing the French Open for the last time.
In a blockbuster first match, unseeded Nadal will face fourth-ranked Alexander Zverev and world number five Medvedev could not be more delighted.
“I’m not shy to say I’m happy it’s not me playing against him first round,” admitted Medvedev on Friday, a day after practicing with Nadal.
Former world number one and 22-time Grand Slam title winner Nadal, whose ranking has slumped to 276 after featuring in just four tournaments since January last year, will turn 38 on June 3.
However, Medvedev warned Zverev that Nadal is far from a fading force.
“There’s a lot of hard work, a lot of mental effort. Sometimes people forget he has a lot of talent in his hands also,” said the Russian.
“We were warming up serves and then he did three in a row, volley, dropshots, banana ones, with backspin, and it was funny.
“We were saying, ‘Yeah, no talent, just hard work!’“
Nadal holds a 7-3 winning head-to-head record against Zverev with five of those victories coming on clay.
The last time they met was in the 2022 semifinals in Paris when the German was forced to retire after suffering a serious ankle injury.
“It’s tough to play Rafa,” added Medvedev.
“He has the capability to spin the ball not like other players, get these high balls especially on clay, is not easy.
“Then we go to where he fights for every point, he brings intensity to every point. You know you’re going to be tired, you know it’s going to be tough. It’s not easy.”


Barcelona say Xavi will not return as coach next season

Barcelona say Xavi will not return as coach next season
Updated 24 May 2024
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Barcelona say Xavi will not return as coach next season

Barcelona say Xavi will not return as coach next season
  • The club said Laporta “has informed Xavi Hernández that he will not be continuing as first team coach in the 2024-25 season”
  • His departure comes a month after Xavi had reversed a previous decision made in January to leave the club this summer

BARCELONA: Barcelona say coach Xavi Hernandez is leaving the club at the end of the season.
The Spanish club made the announcement Friday after a meeting between club president Joan Laporta, Xavi and several other senior figures at the team’s training ground.
The club said Laporta “has informed Xavi Hernández that he will not be continuing as first team coach in the 2024-25 season.”
Xavi’s last game in charge will be Sunday’s away game against Sevilla on the final day of the league season.
His departure comes a month after Xavi had reversed a previous decision made in January to leave the club this summer. In April, the 44-year-old Xavi said that he had changed his mind after his players showed him that they believed in the team’s potential and had improved their performances.
But Laporta had reportedly been displeased by Xavi’s recent comments in a news conference that Barcelona’s poor financial situation would make it nearly impossible to compete against Real Madrid and Europe’s other top clubs.
The former midfielder led Barcelona to the Spanish league title last year, but the team are eight points behind already crowned champion Madrid going into the last round.
As a player, Xavi left Barcelona in 2015 after helping the club win 25 titles, including four Champions Leagues and eight Spanish leagues in 17 seasons while forming a formidable trio with Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta. He was also key to Spain’s streak of titles when they won the 2010 World Cup and European Championships in 2008 and 2012.
Laporta brought Xavi back from his only prior coaching job in Qatar in November 2021 to lead his rebuilding project of a club that had just lost Messi amid a financial crisis.
The following summer the club sold off future television revenues and other club assets, which Laporta dubbed financial “levers,” to sign Robert Lewandowski and other players. Xavi was able to win the club’s first titles since Messi’s departure and the future looked bright.
This season, however, Barcelona lost all three ‘clasico’ matches against Madrid and were thumped twice by upstart Catalan rival Girona, losing both of their league matchups 4-2. They also lost in the quarterfinals of both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.