Al-Nassr eyeing Zidane as new coach, reports Marca – Arab News
Al-Nassr could be set for a sensational swoop for Zinedine Zidane to replace departed coach Rudi Garcia, according to reports from Spanish sports daily Marca.
The report says that the three-time Champions League-winning French coach, one of the most successful managers in the world, would be in line to pocket almost $132 million for a two-year contract with the Riyadh giants.
Earlier, the publication had referred to a report by American broadcasters CBS Sports that claimed Zidane is Cristiano Ronaldo’s preferred choice as new coach at Al-Nassr.
The Portuguese international, who made the move to Riyadh in December, and Zidane enjoyed a successful partnership during the latter’s reign as coach at the Bernabeu from 2016 until 2018.
Other big-name coaches linked with the Al-Nassr job include Ronaldo’s compatriot and former Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester United coach Jose Mourinho.
Garcia was sacked last week following inconsistent performances and rumors of dressing room unrest at Al-Nassr, with some of the senior players, including Ronaldo, believed to be unhappy with the French coach’s methods.
Al-Nassr were second in the Roshn Saudi League table, only three points behind leaders Al-Ittihad when Garcia was let go following a 0-0 draw with Feiha.
Interim coach Dinko Jelicic is set to take over coaching duties for the key Riyadh derby against Al-Hilal on Tuesday night. Al-Nassr did not comment on the reports before the kick off at 110pm KSA.
ABU DHABI: The Formula One season came to a close in Abu Dhabi with one last Max Verstappen win of the year — his 19th in 2023 — and Mercedes edging Ferrari to P2 in the Constructors’ Championship by just three points.
It has been a busy four days at Yas Marina Circuit with lots of takeaways from the conversations we have had with the drivers and team principals, as well as numerous celebrity sightings around the paddock all weekend.
Here’s what you may have missed from some of the action off the track.
Tennis players rock the paddock
The F1 paddock is always a popular destination for celebrities and Abu Dhabi this year has been no exception with the likes of Chris and Liam Hemsworth, Priyanka Chopra, Naomi Campbell, and Jason Statham among the A-listers making an appearance at Yas Marina Circuit.
From the football world, Sergio Aguero rocked a custom-made Manchester City race suit and presented the DHL Fastest Lap award to Verstappen on Saturday, while Patrice Evra was in an all-white linen suit when he turned up to the paddock on Sunday.
However, what stood out the most was the number of tennis stars in the house this weekend. Tunisian Ons Jabeur attended both qualifying and the race as a guest of title sponsors Etihad Airways.
The three-time Grand Slam finalist got to catch up with retired Russian ace Maria Sharapova, who walked into the paddock with the Hemsworths, Chopra and Statham before going up to the stands to watch the race.
Photo of the weekend courtesy of @Ons_Jabeur and @MariaSharapova #abudhabiGP #F1Finale
Poland’s world No. 9 Hubert Hurkacz is a big fan of the sport and came to the track from Friday to Sunday. A guest of F1, Hurkacz told me he has always loved cars and was thrilled to attend his first grand prix.
Danish world No. 8 Holger Rune was spotted at the Ferrari hospitality villa and had a quick catch-up with Charles Leclerc before the race, while tennis pair Denis Shapovalov and his fiancee Mirjam Bjorklund arrived just in time for the action as guests of Aston Martin.
“It’s that Canadian connection,” said Shapovalov with a laugh, referring to his compatriot Lance Stroll, who drives for Aston Martin.
Other tennis players in attendance included Hemsworth look-alike Karen Khachanov and Alexander Zverev.
Also in the house:

Denis Shapovalov and fiancee Mirjam Bjorklund#AbuDhabiGP #F1
Gasly not interested in entertainment and sport debate
The Las Vegas Grand Prix last weekend reopened the debate of how much of a spectacle a sport is allowed to be. Several drivers said the inaugural race in Vegas was more of a “show” than anything else, and many complained about the tough scheduling that made them see no sunlight for the whole weekend.
Sport, of course, is a business and is entertainment and it cannot survive without generating a great deal of interest from fans around the world.
Alpine driver Pierre Gasly was asked to weigh in on the debate and whether he felt F1 got the balance right between putting on a show and highlighting the sport.
“I love the sport and personally I’m quite fine with the entertainment side of things,” said Gasly.
“I think it’s very personal and it depends how you can cope with it. I know I’m not someone that is really disturbed with that side of the sport. Obviously the priority needs to always remain on the actual sport.
“What I’d like is to almost have more priority on the driver side of things, where I feel at the minute it’s too much driven by car performance. So that’s more something that I’ll be focusing on as a sport rather than entertainment, sport, blah, blah, blah. At the end of the day we survive and everyone is paid here because people are watching us, so it’s a balance you need to find.
“But what I care the most about is that all drivers will be given fair chances to fight for the best positions, where at the minute there’s clearly a sort of imbalance in the performance of all 10 teams. It’s always been the case in F1, I’m fine with it, but I do see a lot of talk of this entertainment versus sport balance kind of thing and I think it’s really personal how you deal with it.”
Toto Wolff: Sport is a meritocracy
Speaking of “fair chances,” Mercedes’ team principal Toto Wolff was asked about the massive gap between Red Bull and the rest of the field, and whether the Austrian team’s dominance is hurting F1.
“The numbers that we are seeing are strong. When we go on social we see races that are packed and sold out,” said Wolff on Sunday.
“But as a matter of fact it is all around the spectacle and if the spectacle is not good, fans are going to follow us less. What I always say is that the spectacle follows the sport. And the sport is a meritocracy; whoever is doing the best job wins and if somebody is doing a much better job than everybody else, then they’re winning 19 races.
“It is us and Ferrari and all the other teams that have to do a better job in order to compete with Red Bull Racing.”
Hamilton focused on growing his legacy
So much of Lewis Hamilton’s pre-race press conference was dominated by Christian Horner’s claims that the British driver had reached out to Red Bull to see if they had a seat for him.
As Hamilton clarified, it was in fact the Red Bull team principal who had contacted him and not the other way round, but something way more interesting caught my attention in what he said.
One of the journalists asked Hamilton — a seven-time world champion — if driving for Red Bull was an appealing prospect for him, given he would be racing in a winning car. The 38-year-old said building toward beating Red Bull with Mercedes would be much better for his legacy in the sport.
“Let’s be realistic. Every single driver that’s racing here dreams of being in a winning car. I think probably in my younger days when I hadn’t maybe had a lot of success, maybe in those McLaren days, it would have been a lot more attractive,” he explained.
“When I think about (it), just from a racing perspective and my viewpoint of things, when I moved to this team I enjoyed moving from a more successful team to a team that hadn’t had success, with the vision of growing and building on the team. Because when we did then win, it was such a better feeling.
“Whilst every driver here looks at the Red Bull and would love to drive that car, and I’m not saying I wouldn’t love to drive that car and experience how good that car (is), every driver would want to feel that. I feel that we’ve had two very difficult years and if we work towards beating that car that’s going to be a way better feeling than just stepping into the best car.
“It wouldn’t do much for me in the sense of just stepping into the car that’s been the most dominant car of all time. Working with my team to build, to be able to beat them, I think would be better for my legacy, for sure.”
It is fascinating to see how clear his perspective is on the matter.
Alonso welcomes added pressure in 2024
Fernando Alonso deemed his 2023 campaign a “dream season” for himself and his Aston Martin team after securing fourth in the Drivers’ Championship with an impressive eight podiums.
No one expected the 42-year-old could pull off a season like that at the start of the year, and the Spanish two-time world champion acknowledges the pressure will be much higher in 2024. It is something he is welcoming with open arms.
“It has been a historic season for Aston Martin and for myself. Eight podiums, 300 points nearly for the team. Twelve months ago this was unthinkable,” said Alonso on Sunday following his P7 finish in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
“This is the best season ever for the team as well, with whatever name they had before. It’s an incredible year to remember. The expectations were low, so we exceeded the expectations this year. Maybe next year is the opposite, expectations will be very high, so we have some pressure on our shoulders.
“This is Formula One, this is not a charity event. We have to have the pressure, we have to deliver. Fifth in the constructors’ hurts a little bit because I think we were better than that. We were hoping for better than that at the beginning of the year.
“To finish fourth in the drivers’ is a little bit unreal. Fighting with the guys that we were fighting with, in fact, if we are fifth in the constructors’ you should be ninth or 10th.
“So, it’s a dream season for many people in Aston Martin, including myself.”
LONDON: Ollie Watkins fired Aston Villa into fourth place in the Premier League as they came from behind to win 2-1 at Tottenham on a day the hosts paid tribute to former boss Terry Venables. 
Unai Emery’s side trailed to Giovani Lo Celso’s first goal of the season in the first half in north London. But Pau Torres equalized just before the break and Watkins’ 12th goal this term wrapped up an impressive result for revitalized Villa. 
Villa moved above Tottenham into fourth, with Ange Postecoglou’s team falling two points behind them in fifth after a third successive defeat stalled their early-season momentum. 
Tottenham have squandered the lead in all three of their defeats, but Postecoglou could point to the injuries that have robbed him of several key players including James Maddison. 
Villa’s resilient third away win in their last 11 league games underlined the improvements made by Emery since he replaced the sacked Steven Gerrard last season. 
Sitting just two points behind leaders Arsenal, Villa have won four of their last five league games to spark genuine hopes of a top four challenge. 
As a innovative former manager of England, Barcelona and Tottenham, where he won the FA Cup in 1991, Venables would have appreciated the attacking quality of both teams on the day he passed away aged 80. 
With both teams wearing black armbands, a picture of Venables was displayed on each of the big screens during a minute of applause in celebration of his life before kick-off. 
Tottenham were on top in the opening stages and Dejan Kulusevski blasted against the post after showing nimble footwork to prise open the Villa defense. 
Postecoglou’s men were back on the offensive as Bryan Gil was denied by a fine save from Emiliano Martinez. 
Their enterprising play reaped a deserved reward in the 22nd minute when Villa could only clear a corner to the edge of the area, where Lo Celso hammered a powerful strike that deflected in off Carlos. 
Villa thought they had mustered an immediate response as Watkins glanced his header past Guglielmo Vicario from Lucas Digne’s cross. 
But, after a VAR check of almost three minutes, the goal was disallowed for a tight offside against Watkins. 
Kulusevski was inches away from doubling Tottenham’s lead with a curler before Son Heung-min’s goal was chalked off for another offside. 
For all their dashing play in attack, Tottenham were vulnerable at the back and Villa took advantage in first half stoppage-time. 
Douglas Luiz’s free-kick found Torres unmarked 10 yards out and the Spanish defender thumped his header past Vicario, with the goal surviving another extended VAR check. 
Villa were nearly gifted the lead early in the second half when Vicario allowed Leon Bailey’s shot to squirm under him before gratefully grabbing the ball after it rebounded off the post. 
Emery’s men exposed the flaws in Tottenham’s defense again to take the lead in the 61st minute. 
A neat move climaxed with Watkins playing a one-two with Youri Tielemans to open up the creaky Tottenham rearguard before the England striker guided a clinical finish into the far corner from 12 yards.
LONDON: The stars of the Next Gen ATP Finals visited Al-Balad, the historic old town of Jeddah, for this year’s official group photo on Sunday.
Ahead of the first ATP-sanctioned event to be held in Saudi Arabia, the players took time to visit the historical site, which was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014.
“We’ve had a really fun time,” said 19-year-old American Alex Michelsen. “Everyone’s been having a lot of laughs. People were great and to see the old city was really, really cool.”
On the tour, the players met local Saudi graffiti artist Maajed Ahmed who has designed a bespoke ATP Next Gen piece of street art on Al-Balad’s walls.
Jordanian Abdullah Shelbayh, who received a wildcard for the event, said he enjoyed spending time with his competitors in Jeddah ahead of the tournament, which starts on Tuesday.
“It was exciting to do this with the players, they are pretty funny guys,” he said. “It was good to spend some time together outside of competition.”
Frenchman Arthur Fils, who won his maiden tour-level title in Lyon earlier this season, said Jeddah was a “great city,” adding the “people are very welcoming, I am liking it.”
Fils’ countryman Luca Van Assche practised for the first time in Jeddah on Saturday before visiting the city.
“It is an incredible experience for us,” he said. “I have never been here so it is a new country for me and civilisation and I am happy to be here to see some of the city. It is very beautiful.”
Two Italians, Luca Nardi and Flavio Cobolli, will make their debuts at the 21-and-under event. Both had fun sightseeing and playing rooftop tennis.
“It is very nice here,” Nardi said. “We are having a very good day visiting the city. I like it and the people are very nice. My first time playing tennis on a roof. It was very nice and seeing kids come. It was a nice atmosphere.”
Cobolli said: “It was a great day and I’m very happy to be here with the Next Gen class.”
Seven of the eight competitors are tournament debutants, with the exception of 2022 semifinalist Dominic Stricker.
“It was a great tour,” Stricker said. “We saw a few things of Jeddah. Seeing the old buildings and taking pictures. It is a good event and I am looking forward to playing.”
ABU DHABI: Max Verstappen completed a majestic and record-breaking season in familiar style on Sunday when he cruised to a record-increasing 19th win of the year for Red Bull at an action-packed Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The three-time world champion came home 17.993 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc whose bold drive was not enough for the Italian team to claim the runners-up place in the constructors’ championship.
That went, finally, to Mercedes by just three points as although Sergio Perez came home second behind Verstappen on the road he was relegated to fourth with a five-second penalty, for a mid-race clash with McLaren’s Lando Norris, which promoted George Russell to third.
Norris was fifth ahead of his McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri, Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, Yuki Tsunoda of Alpha Tauri and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton in the second Mercedes.
Verstappen ended the season as the only driver to complete every lap of the season, more than 1000 laps led, and also broke Jim Clark’s 1963 record for the highest percentage of laps led in a season.
“An incredible season,” said Verstappen, who also paid tribute to retirement-bound Alpha Tauri boss Franz Tost who nurtured his early F1 career. “I felt quite emotional on the in-lap as it’s the last time in this car that has given me such a lot.
Russell said: “It was really tense at the end as the tires were dropping off, but it’s a massive relief to bring the car home P3. It means a huge amount to so many people back at the factory.”
Leclerc, who slowed to allow Perez to pass him in the closing laps, said: “He had a penalty and we had to help him finish in front of George with the five seconds… but, unfortunately, it wasn’t enough… It’s a shame we finished third.”
The race began in hot conditions, with an air temperature of 27 degrees Celsius and the track cooling rapidly as the sun went down and the floodlights blazed on the Yas Marina Circuit. The top 12 cars started on medium compound tires.
The Dutchman led from pole and fended off three early challenges from Leclerc to open up a one second lead before Drag Reduction System (DRS) was enabled on lap three when Perez swept inside Hamilton for ninth and Norris passed Piastri for third, having already passed Russell.
As the leaders all pitted for hards, Yuki Tsunoda took over on lap 18, giving Alpha Tauri and Tost a memorable moment, only the second time a Japanese driver had led a Formula One race.
He stayed there as Verstappen weaved his way back to the front, finally taking control again on lap 23 when Tsunoda pitted, returning in 12th behind Hamilton, who survived an early bump into the rear of Pierre Gasly’s Alpine with front wing damage.
By lap 30, it was a familiar story. Verstappen led Leclerc by 6.5 seconds with Russell 2.1 behind in third and Norris fourth. Hamilton was eighth and Sainz 14th.
As the second stops began, Norris pitted again on lap 34, taking fresh hards. He re-joined 10th. Mercedes responded, bringing Russell in — and he came out in P9 while Hamilton battled Alonso for ninth and Sainz, on an aggressive strategy, rose to eighth.
As it stood, it was advantage Ferrari again while, at the front, Verstappen came in again on lap 44, retaining his lead to emerge with a 15-lap cruise to the flag before Hamilton passed Sainz for ninth with 10 laps to go.
It was advantage Mercedes again, but when Russell was passed by Perez, for third, the ‘silver arrows’ hopes hung on the five-second penalty the Mexican was given for an earlier clash with Norris as the flag came out for Verstappen.
ABU DHABI: After 22 races, the 10 teams who started in Bahrain have experienced mixed fortunes.
All except Red Bull Racing, of course. But for some of the others, what looked like early-season promise has melted away, while others who started less-than-optimally have found performance and points as the calendar has unfolded.
Aston Martin flew out of the traps in the first six races, with Fernando Alonso’s five podiums seeming to signal a change in fortunes for the Silverstone-based outfit. The next eight races, however, saw them slipping slightly as the season moved to tracks that rewarded more efficient aero packages.
Formula 1 car development is a constant battle, and despite bringing upgrades throughout the season, by the time Abu Dhabi has rolled around, Alonso is down to fifth in the driver’s standings, and the team is facing a fourth-place constructor’s showdown at Yas Marina Circuit with McLaren.
On the other side of the coin is McLaren. Following a comparatively poor start with 17 points from the first eight races, the papaya team has scored consistently since Austria and currently sits on 284 points – 11 ahead of Aston Martin.
Key highlights of the season have included a sprint victory for Oscar Piastri in Qatar (currently P9 in the driver’s standings), as well as six second-place finishes for Lando Norris, who is now only five points behind Carlos Sainz and Alonso – both on 200 points in fourth and fifth place, respectively.
Despite Mercedes’ second-place spot in the constructor’s title, the Brackley team’s performances have proven uneven over the 22 races to date. Even with one of the strongest driver line-ups on the grid, its W14E package has been one of the most inconsistent – with seven-time F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton calling it “the hardest car” he had “ever driven to get right.”
Although, apart from a did not finish in Qatar, and disqualification in Austin, Hamilton has not finished outside the top 10 all season, putting him in P3 on the 2023 leaderboard.
His teammate, George Russell has fared less well, and is currently in P8, following four DNFs and a couple of forgettable performances (with Zandvoort in the Netherlands being a particular low point).
Having one of the fastest cars and strongest qualifiers on the grid has not massively impacted Ferrari’s fortunes.
None of Charles Leclerc’s five pole positions have been converted to wins in 2023, and his teammate Sainz has the only non-Red Bull win of the season, putting the Spaniard in fourth, while Leclerc sits in seventh in the driver’s table. They trail Mercedes by only four points going into the season finale and will be hoping that their recent improved fortunes hold out for the final race.
Thanks to the steady hand of James Vowles on the tiller at Williams, and increased investment, its showing in 2023 has been an improvement on last year’s 10th-place finish. Alex Albon has carried most of the load as rookie Logan Sargeant continues to search for a consistent run of form.
Currently in seventh, the Grove team has recently added Paddy Fry to its technical department and things should look even rosier in 2024.







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