‘Al-Hilal have broken all the records possible’: Jorge Jesus and Yassine Bounou celebrate SPL Manager and Goalkeeper of the Season awards

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Updated 04 June 2024
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‘Al-Hilal have broken all the records possible’: Jorge Jesus and Yassine Bounou celebrate SPL Manager and Goalkeeper of the Season awards

‘Al-Hilal have broken all the records possible’: Jorge Jesus and Yassine Bounou celebrate SPL Manager and Goalkeeper of the Season awards
  • Riyadh club claimed an invincible title after winning 31 out of 34 league matches, with Bounou keeping 15 clean sheets

RIYADH: Al-Hilal duo Jorge Jesus and Yassine Bounou have spoken of their pride at receiving the Roshn Saudi League 2023/24 Manager and Goalkeeper of the Season awards.

An incredible campaign for Al-Hilal saw the Riyadh club claim an invincible title after winning 31 out of 34 league matches.

Jesus’ men also created football history, and global headlines, by setting a world, top-flight record for the number of successive victories — winning 34 games in a row across all competitions between September and April.

Appointed last summer for his second stint in charge of Al-Hilal, Jesus said: “It was a fantastic season. When I arrived in Saudi Arabia, I was thinking that we could be champions of the league, but not breaking all those records. Beyond being champions, we broke so many records — most goals scored, most wins, best defense, biggest points difference with the second-ranked team. In Saudi football history, Al-Hilal have broken all the records possible.

“I am very proud of my players, they have so much quality. We made a very strong group; beyond the technical ability, they first thought about the team. This made the successes appear more easily.”

The spine of Al-Hilal’s team was a major factor in their success over the season. At the base, goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, the Moroccan World Cup hero signed from Sevilla in the summer, was a constant reassuring presence. By earning 15 clean sheets and conceding the least number of goals, 20, Bounou was a deserved winner of the Roshn Saudi League 2023-24 Goalkeeper of the Season award. He played in 31 of Al-Hilal’s 34 league matches during the season.

Bounou said: “I’m really pleased to win the award. We had a very, very good season. And it was a very good experience for me too. I’m very happy. I think all the saves I have made are important. After that, I think it’s thanks to the whole team, to all the people who work around me. It’s really a group effort.

“It’s a great pleasure to be goalkeeper of the season. It’s not always easy to be consistent in football. This year, more or less, I’ve been able to find that consistency and now, as I said, I’m really pleased and it’s mainly thanks to those around me.”

Edouard Mendy, the Al-Ahli goalkeeper who also achieved 15 clean sheets, conceding 33 goals in the league season from the same number of games, ran Bounou very close for the award.

Speaking about the quality of the goalkeepers in the league, Bounou said: “It’s clear there are some very good goalkeepers out there. This year, Edouard showed that he was a top goalkeeper, a very great goalkeeper. He confirmed that throughout the season.”

Al-Hilal’s Guinness World Record, run between September and April, made news across the globe. Winning 28 games in a row — which was then increased to 34 — overtook Welsh club The News Saints’ run of 27 wins achieved in season 2016-17. Prior to that, the record stood for 44 years after Dutch giants Ajax’s 26-game winning streak between 1971 and 1972.

“At the beginning of the season, we weren’t thinking about it. It happened naturally,” Jesus said. “We were then told about this Guinness World Record — and then told that we could break this record of 27 consecutive wins. It was a motivation that we transmitted to the players, and they loved the idea. It was one of the keys to our success this season. Not only the Guinness World Record but the motivation, the objective of winning more than 27 consecutive matches. And we did more than 27, we won 34 consecutive matches.”

Asked if there was one specific match that stood out across the season, Jesus elected for a game before the winning run — the 4-3 victory in Jeddah over Al-Ittihad on Sept. 1 aided by Aleksandar Mitrovic’s hat-trick.

Jesus said: “Yes, there are always some games that make the difference during the season. The game which launched us on our path was the one against Al-Ittihad. Our 4-3 victory gave us huge confidence to keep believing in our objectives in the process of our training, and in the process of our games. And then, the objective of the Guinness World Record: ‘You have to keep winning, you have to keep winning.’ That put the players in a winning mentality. It was one of the key points for the team.”

Jesus previously managed Al-Hilal in season 2018-19, where he guided the club to Saudi Super Cup success. In between his two stints, Jesus also managed Flamengo in Brazil and Fenerbahce in Turkiye. He won trophies at both, much to the delight of each team’s supporters, and his triumphs at Al-Hilal have resulted in similar adoration from the club’s legions of followers.

Jesus said: “Coming from Flamengo, where 70,000 fans in every game were yelling for me — and coming from Turkiye, same thing, 50,000 fans, yelling my name in every game. So, I was used to this during my first year in Al-Hilal — ‘I love you, Jesus. I love you, Jesus.’ This is a mark of affection, and this is very important for me to feel that the fans love me.”

The 2023-24 campaign was a game-changing season for the Roshn Saudi League. It began with major internationals signings, such as Bounou joining the likes of Neymar, Ruben Neves and Mitrovic at Al-Hilal, with players such as Karim Benzema, Riyad Mahrez, Sadio Mane, N’Golo Kante and Georgino Wijnaldum joining other clubs. Some 156 players from 54 countries provided a crucial part of the game-changing Roshn Saudi League season.

Jesus said: “During my first stay in Al-Hilal, there was not such a quality of great players coming from Europe like now. Today, the Roshn Saudi League has a very high level, it is a top five league for me. Year after year, more great players will come to the league, and great managers will come as well. It will become a league that is very tough to win.”


Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season

Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season
Updated 20 July 2024
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Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season

Al-Ittihad unveils new kit for 2024-25 season
  • The classic striped design in yellow and black is based on the Nike shirt, with its authentic heritage
  • The kit’s new design represents the architectural style “Rawashin”

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad FC has unveiled its kit for the 2024/25 season in collaboration with Nike.

Al-Ittihad presented its distinctive new kit in photo sessions in the center of historic Jeddah, among its alleys and ancient buildings, in cooperation with Al-Balad Development Company, the club’s official sponsor.

The classic striped design in yellow and black is based on the Nike shirt, with its authentic heritage, which fans have loved and celebrated for 97 years.

The kit’s new design represents the architectural style, “Rawashin,” the prominent traditional wooden panels used to cover windows and external openings at the old houses of Jeddah — considered an icon of the city’s heritage.

Domingos De Oliveira, CEO of Al-Ittihad Club, described the new kit as a symbol of the club’s history: “We worked closely with Nike in order to ensure access to the best that can be presented in the new kit, while preserving the established values of the basic kit, which represents a unique identity, after maintaining it for nearly a century.

“In the new kit, we worked to blend the heritage of Al-Ittihad Club with the history of the region from which it started, with a modern spirit that creates innovation in order to emerge with a product that reflects the club’s vision of starting from the base of its great history toward more glory and development in the current era and the future.

“Attention was paid to all the details in terms of the degree of color and their overlapping in the dividing line between them in the same way that the wooden columns in the Rawashin buildings of Jeddah are intertwined.”

For the first time, the home kit will be presented in three categories — the official home kit, which the players will wear, the stadium category, and the fans category.


Al-Nassr Women discover opponents for prelim stage of first AFC Women’s Champions League

Al-Nassr Women discover opponents for prelim stage of first AFC Women’s Champions League
Updated 18 July 2024
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Al-Nassr Women discover opponents for prelim stage of first AFC Women’s Champions League

Al-Nassr Women discover opponents for prelim stage of first AFC Women’s Champions League
  • Saudi Arabia will host the preliminary stage of the tournament next month

RIYADH: Saudi champions Al-Nassr Women have been drawn against Myawady Women from Myanmar, the UAE’s Abu Dhabi Country Club and Young Elephants FC of Laos in the inaugural AFC Women’s Champions League.

Saudi Arabia will host the preliminary stage of the tournament next month, it was also confirmed on Thursday.

The first edition of the tournament will welcome the 21 domestic champions from AFC member associations, and the preliminary stage in the Kingdom — which will be played Aug. 25 to 31 — will feature 13 teams competing in four round-robin groups.

The winner of each will progress to the group stage, where eight top-seeded clubs await.

The Kingdom’s selection as hosts for the preliminary stage follows the successful hosting of the West Asian Football Federation Women’s Championship and the growth of the Women’s Premier League ahead of its third season.


Al-Ittihad sign Algerian midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract

Karim Benzema welcomes Houssem Aouar to Al-Ittihad’s training camp in Alicante, Spain. (X/@ittihad_en)
Karim Benzema welcomes Houssem Aouar to Al-Ittihad’s training camp in Alicante, Spain. (X/@ittihad_en)
Updated 17 July 2024
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Al-Ittihad sign Algerian midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract

Karim Benzema welcomes Houssem Aouar to Al-Ittihad’s training camp in Alicante, Spain. (X/@ittihad_en)
  • Aouar joins from Roma, where he scored four goals in 16 appearances last season
  • Midfielder previously played for hometown club Lyon in France’s Ligue 1, scoring 30 goals in seven seasons

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad have signed French-born Algerian international midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract.

Aouar joins from Roma, where he scored four goals in 16 appearances last season.

The 26-year-old midfielder previously played for hometown club Lyon in France’s Ligue 1, scoring 30 goals in seven seasons.

The signing ceremony took place at the team’s training camp in Alicante, Spain on Tuesday.

The event was officiated by the club’s CEO, Domingos Oliveira, and witnessed by sporting director Ramon Planes, following Aouar’s successful medical examination this morning.

Domingos Oliveira expressed his warm welcome to Aouar, noting that this move marks a significant new chapter in Aouar’s career. He emphasized that Aouar will contribute significantly alongside his teammates to achieving the high standards and results anticipated by the club’s fans and supporters.

Oliveira highlighted that Aouar’s signing aligns with the team’s technical requirements for a player possessing specific qualities that enhance the squad. This strategy is based on the technical needs identified by the sports committee and reviewed by the coach.

Houssem Aouar shared his enthusiasm about joining Al-Ittihad Club, recognizing its rich history, passionate fan base, distinguished players, and experienced coaching staff. He is motivated to deliver his best performance to represent the club and bring joy to its supporters.


SPL unveils exciting 2024-25 RSL fixtures list

SPL unveils exciting 2024-25 RSL fixtures list
Updated 15 July 2024
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SPL unveils exciting 2024-25 RSL fixtures list

SPL unveils exciting 2024-25 RSL fixtures list
  • Opening round of games takes place from Aug. 22, with champions Al-Hilal starting title defence at Al-Okhdood
  • New ‘Magic Rounds’ will feature derbies across Riyadh, Jeddah and the Eastern Province in weeks 9 and 26

Riyadh: The Saudi Pro League’s competitions department has officially announced the fixtures for the upcoming 2024-25 Roshn Saudi League season, which is set to kick off from Aug. 22-24.

The opening weekend will see reigning champions Al-Hilal beginning their title defense away against Al-Okhdood.

This season will feature 306 matches, meticulously scheduled to accommodate international breaks, continental competitions, and Saudi Arabian Football Federation tournaments. Notably, no fixtures will be held during the last 10 days of Ramadan, ensuring respect for the holy month.

The league has also prioritized player welfare by ensuring a minimum two-day rest between matches.

One of the highlights of this season is the introduction of “Magic Rounds.” Scheduled for Matchweeks 9 and 26, these special weekends will host thrilling derbies across Riyadh, Jeddah, and the Eastern Province, showcasing rivalries such as Al-Ahli versus Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal against Al-Nassr.

The league’s fixture list is designed to ensure a balanced competition. Each team will play nine home matches and eight away matches in the first half, mirroring the same structure in the second half. Teams will avoid playing more than two consecutive matches at home or away, with a maximum of two such occurrences permitted per half of the season.

Clubs from the same city will be paired to guarantee that when one team is at home, the other is away, promoting exciting local derbies. Additionally, the season’s start and end are synchronized; a team playing at home in Matchweek 1 will play away in Matchweek 34, and vice versa. The final four rounds will feature each team playing two home and two away matches, ensuring an electrifying conclusion to the season.

The season opens with a series of compelling matchups.

Al-Shabab will host Al-Ettifaq, while 2023-24 runners-up Al-Nassr will face Al-Raed at home. Newly promoted Al-Orobah will travel to Jeddah to challenge Al-Ahli, and Al-Taawoun will welcome Al-Fayha. In Ar Rass, Al-Ittihad will take on newcomers Al-Kholood. The 2023-24 First Division League champions, Al-Qadsiah, will host Al-Fateh, and Damac will begin their campaign at home against Al-Khaleej, with Al-Riyadh traveling to Makkah to meet Al-Wehda.

The Roshn Saudi League fixtures list. photo credit: @SPL_EN

The SPL will announce match dates and kick-off times in a phased manner:
July 18: breakdown for Matchweeks 1 and 2.
Aug. 18: (Subject to AFC draw date) breakdown for Matchweeks 3 to 8.
Sept. 30: (Subject to King’s Cup Round of 16 draw date) breakdown for Matchweeks 9 to 13.
Oct. 31: (Subject to King’s Cup quarter-final draw date) breakdown for Matchweeks 14 to 22.
Feb. 22: (Subject to AFC Round of 16 draw date) breakdown for Matchweeks 23 to 34.

These announcements will depend on confirmation from the AFC and SAFF regarding their respective competition draw dates.

As the league prepares for another thrilling season, fans can look forward to a calendar packed with drama, excitement, and unforgettable moments in Saudi football.


Former France boss Laurent Blanc takes over at Saudi club Al-Ittihad

Former France boss Laurent Blanc takes over at Saudi club Al-Ittihad
Updated 13 July 2024
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Former France boss Laurent Blanc takes over at Saudi club Al-Ittihad

Former France boss Laurent Blanc takes over at Saudi club Al-Ittihad
  • Frenchman will be reunited in Jeddah with one star from his 2012 Euro squad Karim Benzema

PARIS: Former France manager Laurent Blanc has been hired as coach of Al-Ittihad, the Saudi Arabian club announced on Saturday.
Blanc, who had been out of work since being fired by Lyon last September, will be reunited in Jeddah with one star from his 2012 Euro squad Karim Benzema.
After the team finished fifth in the Saudi league last season, the 36-year-old striker, the club’s star recruit, reportedly campaigned for a French-speaking coach.
This prompted the resignation of club president Louay Nazer, who had reportedly reached an agreement with Italian Stefano Pioli, who had left AC Milan.
The Al-Ittihad squad also includes N’Golo Kante, a starter in the France team that reached the last four at the current Euros, and former Monaco and Liverpool Brazilian Fabinho.
The 58-year-old Blanc was at the heart of the France defense as they won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.
In his second season as a manager he led Bordeaux to a League 1 title. He coached France from 2010-12.
He guided Qatari-own Paris Saint-Germain to three Ligue 1 titles and five domestic cups between 2013 and 2016, had a stint in Qatar with Al-Rayyan from December 2020 to February 2022 and a painful 11 months from October 2022 when he was unable to reverse Lyon’s decline.
Al-Ittihad have not specified the length of Blanc’s contract.
He will be the club’s third coach in a year following Nuno Espirito Santo, who led the club to a ninth Saudi title in 2023, and Marcelo Gallardo.
Last season the club finished only fifth in the table, 42 points behind runaway champions Al-Hilal. They failed to qualify for the Asian Champions League.
Argentine Gallardo, who dropped the misfiring Benzema for a time, was fired in July after less than seven months in the job.