Marcelo Brozovic becomes the latest player leaving Europe for … – Arab News Pakistan
RIYADH: Croatia midfielder Marcelo Brozovic is the latest elite player to join the Saudi Arabian league by joining Cristiano Ronaldo at Al-Nassr.
Brozovic moves to the Saudi Pro League having played in the Champions League final in his last match with Inter Milan — as team captain.
“Everyone wanted him. He wanted only us,” Al-Nassr said in a tweet announcing Brozovic’s arrival Monday.
— AlNassr FC (@AlNassrFC_EN) July 3, 2023
Media reports said the transfer fee was 18 million euros ($20 million) and that Brozovic has agreed to a three-year deal worth more than 25 million euros (nearly $30 million) per season.
Inter could use the money from the sale to help it re-purchase Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea.
Ronaldo joined Al-Nassr in December with a deal reportedly worth up to $200 million a year.
More recently, Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, Ruben Neves, Kalidou Koulibali and Edouard Mendy have also moved to the Saudi Arabian league.
Al-Nassr also announced Nike as its new uniform sponsor for next season, with the club to start wearing the swoosh during a tour of Japan at the end of the month.
The 30-year-old Brozovic is a versatile midfielder who spent the last nine seasons at Inter.
DUBAI: Baseball United, the first-ever professional baseball league focused on the Middle East and Indian subcontinent, officially brought the game to the region for the first time with an entertaining two-match series between its two All-Star teams.
In a weekend full of firsts, the Baseball United East All-Stars swept the series, winning Friday night’s opening game against the West All-Stars 3-2, and Saturday night’s match 9-5.
The teams, whose batters combined for four home runs and six stolen bases during two games, played in front of diverse, family-oriented crowds each night on a custom-made playing field built by Baseball United’s experts on the grounds of Dubai International Stadium.
More than 10,000 people attended the games and Baseball United’s Fan Fest over the two days.
Baseball United chairman, CEO, and majority owner, Kash Shaikh, launched the festivities on the opening night by welcoming fans in the stadium and those watching in more than 120 countries around the world through the league’s broadcast partnerships.
Shaikh then welcomed several of the Major League Baseball legends who serve as co-owners for Baseball United, including Barry Larkin, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Felix Hernandez, Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano, Bartolo Colon, and Robinson Chirinos. Cano, 41, and Colon, 50, also played in the two-game series.
Dr. Tayeb Kamali, representing the Emirates Cricket Board, as the guest of honor threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Local product, Chris Beyers, selected in the Baseball United Draft earlier this year, received the pitch from Kamali.
Shaikh said: “We turned a big dream into a bigger reality. I spent hundreds of nights at that stadium over the past two years, and hundreds more all across this city, trying to help paint the picture of what we could create together. But nothing tells the story better than being able to see it for yourself.
“To have all our local partners, sponsors, and fans all together to finally witness a Baseball United experience – it was incredible.
“I had the opportunity to speak with so many fans from so many countries as I walked around the stadium over the weekend, and all of them had such a great time. That’s what is most important to us. We want families to come for the baseball and stay for the experience,” he added.
The night opened and ended with the national anthems of the UAE, performed by Ahmed Al Hosani, and the US, performed by Julia Cole, followed by a surprise fireworks display.
Baseball United transformed the stadium’s traditional cricket grand lounge into upscale diamond and gold clubs, complete with five-course buffets, carving stations, premium bars, and full renovation to the lounge decor.
Other innovations included on-field VVIP cabanas, which placed fans field-side to watch a baseball game for the first time in history of the region, as well as two giant LED walls that displayed graphics, statistics, and imagery.
Shaikh said: “Building something from nothing is the most difficult and most beautiful thing you can do. And we felt every millimeter of that spectrum during this journey. We were not only bringing a new game to the region for the first time, but we were adding new elements to that game.
“A lot of people questioned if it was possible. So, to see fans loving our cabanas, adults enjoying our diamond club, and, best of all, kids having such close access to our players for autographs and pictures, all of it was amazing.
“And then to cap it all off with a Money Ball Home Run was surreal. I had visualized that moment for a long time, and to see Pablo Sandoval transport the Baseball United Money Ball into sports culture with one great swing – just incredible.
“Building a fan base for a new sport and a new league takes time. But this is how you start. I am so proud of our team and so grateful to our partners, players, and coaches who all worked so hard to make all this possible.
“Thank you to the city of Dubai and all our government partners for giving us an opportunity to show what we can do. There is a bright future for baseball in this region.”
The league is planning for a full season with multiple franchises beginning in November of 2024.
Argentina legend Hernan Crespo enjoyed an emphatic winning debut as Al-Ain boss, Andres Iniesta’s sinking Emirates Club fell into the drop zone and Frank de Boer felt frustration at Al-Jazira during ADNOC Pro League’s memorable resumption.
The result of the round was saved for last, Crespo witnessing eight-goal leading scorer Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba net twice in Sunday’s commanding 3-0 victory at then-unbeaten champions Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club.
Al-Wasl remained top, however, after more influential displays from UAE forward Fabio De Lima and naturalized playmaker Nicolas Gimenez imposed Saturday’s 4-2 defeat on De Boer’s eighth-placed Al-Jazira.
Thursday’s recommencement after the international break saw a masterclass from ex-Roma, Juventus and Barcelona midfielder Miralem Pjanic, who helped Sharjah salvage an unforgettable 3-3 derby draw with Al-Bataeh, from 3-0 down. Elsewhere in matchweek eight, Al-Wahda — post Pitso Mosimane’s swift removal — inflicted a 4-1 thrashing on now-second-bottom Emirates, and Albania forward Taulant Seferi slotted home the 94th-minute clincher in Baniyas’ heart-breaking 1-0 defeat of 14th-placed Hatta.
Tunisia midfielder Haykeul Chikhaoui’s second-half effort ended Ajman’s 10-match winless opening to the season in all competitions, with this 2-1 triumph against fellow strugglers Khor Fakkan also propelling them out of the bottom two.
Managerless Al-Nasr — for whom ex-Ajax supremo Alfred Schreuder is tipped to make an instant return to the dugout after exiting Al-Ain — drew 0-0 with ADIB Cup semifinalists Ittihad Kalba.
Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the latest action.
Player of the week: Miralem Pjanic (Sharjah)
Elite performers have the ability to impose their will on a fixture.
Thursday’s frantic derby was such an occasion for Sharjah superstar Pjanic.
An ADNOC Pro League season-high eight key passes, according to statisticians SofaScore, were delivered by the heralded Bosnia and Herzegovina center midfielder. This output was essential to turning the tide on a game that had appeared far beyond once-insipid Sharjah’s reach.
Experienced visiting manager Cosmin Olaroiu was outthought and outfought by “apprentice” Mirel Radoi — the ex-Romania defensive midfielder excelled under him at Steaua Bucharest, Al-Hilal, Al-Ain and Al-Ahli in his playing days — when much-improved Bataeh raced into a 3-0 advantage by 35 minutes. Coveted Malian youngster Sekou Gassama netted the opener and added two assists, moving onto six goal contributions in eight league run-outs.
Sharjah required inspiration. Especially with recriminations still fresh from this month’s ADIB Cup quarterfinal exit to Kalba, as holders.
They found it through Pjanic.
An assist followed for UAE midfielder Mohammed Abdulbasit’s deflected drive, which made it 3-1 on 39 minutes, and he was involved in the move winger Luan Pereira completed with a clinical header to reduce the deficit to 3-2 in first-half injury time.
Determination from Pjanic after the interval was exemplified by a shot that hit ex-Ivory Coast youth midfielder Ulrich Meleke’s outstretched arm for the spot-kick converted by six-goal Brazilian forward Caio to level up.
Sharjah could not find another, this epic stalemate dropping them to fifth. But Pjanic’s belief should be vital in defining AFC Champions League Group B clashes to come versus Qatar’s Al-Sadd and Jordan’s Al-Faisaly.
Goal of the week: Taulant Seferi (Baniyas)
A quiet return to form is being recorded by Baniyas.
Little was expected after the departure of Gimenez to Wasl in the wake of descending ninth and 11th-placed finishes, following a surprise run to second in 2020-21.
This last-gasp victory versus Hatta, however, sent the Sky Blues up to a solid sixth spot. Seferi’s nerveless, late finish — with 17 seconds left of four minutes added time — made it 10 points from the last-available 15, a figure only bettered by pacesetting Wasl.
A poised low pass from substitute left-back Khalaf Al-Hosani sent Seferi in behind Hatta’s dangerously high defensive line. There was still plenty to do for the Albanian when he swiveled, 30 yards out from goal.
The Vorskla Poltava loanee smartly kept onside with a checked run, took two touches to steady himself and then found the bottom corner on 93:43.
Coach of the week: Hernan Crespo (Al-Ain)
Eyebrows were raised when Schreuder departed Al-Ain, despite Nov. 7’s victory against Saudi Arabia’s Al-Fayha returning Al-Ain to the AFC Champions League knockouts after a five-year absence.
The intransigent Dutchman had, though, made more enemies than friends in his brief stint at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.
A call was swiftly made to amiable former Al-Duhail coach Crespo. The ex-Lazio, Internazionale, Chelsea and AC Milan center forward passed this first test, in purple and white, with flying colors.
Outcasts Matias Palacios and Omer Atzili provided goal contributions upon their comebacks to the starting XI. Al-Ain also registered a gargantuan 24 attempts to Shabab Al-Ahli’s 14, plus edged possession percentage 54-46.
A two-point gap in second to first-placed Wasl appears tantalizing for record 14-time champions.
Pressure builds ahead of decisive December
A breathless run awaits in ADNOC Pro League.
International breaks in October and November, allied with an imminent AFC Asian Cup, have produced a bottleneck. This congested run of four top-flight matchweeks until late December’s lengthy pause — plus, for those eligible, an AFC Champions League group-stage finale and remaining ADIB Cup quarterfinal, second legs — has created an intense pressure of its own.
Downturns in form can soon become deadly in a division that has already seen eight managerial changes. This is one more than Roshn Saudi League, despite that competition boasting four more clubs.
The same can be applied to ADNOC Pro League’s foreign players, ahead of the opening of the winter transfer window on Jan. 22.
Strong performances should negate the desire for change. Underwhelm, however, and clubs may find an urge to shake things up impossible to resist before Feb. 16’s preliminary restart.
RIYADH: The Next Gen ATP Finals is set to make history as the first international tennis event hosted in Saudi Arabia when it takes place at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah from Nov. 28 to Dec. 2.
The ground-breaking tournament not only showcases the prowess of men’s under-21 tennis players but also promises a fusion of talent, culture, and innovation.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News, two promising young players, Luca Van Assche and Arthur Fils, both from France, shared their excitement ahead of the tournament and their eagerness to compete in Saudi Arabia.
Van Assche said: “I am delighted to participate in the Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah, as it introduces me to a part of the world I have yet to explore. I am also eager to immerse myself in a new culture. What intrigues me the most is the weather and the modernity of the city.”
Fils felt the Jeddah event could be a catalyst for a surge in tennis interest in the region.
He said: “I believe it’s a prime location, offering a new sport to the country. Consequently, I anticipate a significant turnout of fans who will come to watch and understand this sport.”
Van Assche noted that participating in Jeddah offered a golden opportunity for players to gain worldwide recognition.
“It is a great opportunity for each player to be known by the whole world. It teaches us how to deal with very big events,” he added.
On the impact of Saudi Arabia hosting the event, Van Assche said: “There will be a lot of people watching this tournament; it’s a worldwide event, so it will, of course, have a big influence on this region. And I hope it will follow the same path as football, for example, and become a very popular sport there.”
Inspired by the success stories of current tennis champions who emerged from the Next Gen ATP Finals, Fils viewed the tournament as a crucial milestone.
“It’s very nice to play this tournament because a lot of champions now played like Alcaraz, Tiafoe, Sinner, De Minaur, and all these guys. So, let’s try to have the path of progress like these players.
“I think that a lot of young people will come and like this sport, so maybe there will be new players and champions from this region in the world,” Fils added.
With some rules set to be changed for the 2023 Next Gen ATP Finals, the event continues to lead in tennis innovation, aiming to enhance the experience for players and fans.
“Of course, it will change a lot from the ATP tournaments. These rules are not easy, and it complicates the game a lot. But I will try to understand them well and do my best,” Van Assche added.
Keeping an open mind, Fils welcomed the new rules cautiously.
He said: “It’s funny and nice to have new rules. I don’t know if it’ll be a good idea to change the game in this way, but let’s see how it is because it’s my first time.”
The tournament, traditionally held in Milan since 2017, will see the prize money for the hardcourt competition increased to a record $2 million — up from $1.4 million last year — in the Saudi edition.
The record prize money for the 2023 tournament was “another source of motivation” for Van Assche, while Fils pointed out that while money itself did not directly influence his motivation, “it can help young players to fund their year or a part of the year.”
Van Assche and Fils will be joined by a lineup of accomplished players at the 2023 Next Gen ATP Finals. The roster includes American Alex Michelsen, Serbian Hamad Medjedovic, and Luca Nardi and Flavio Cobolli from Italy. Swiss player Dominic Stricker and Abedallah Shelbayh from Jordan will also be part of the ensemble.
RIYADH: Al-Shabab Club FC have signed a sponsorship contract with Swiss sports drink company KA-EX for the remainder of the 2023 to 2024 Saudi Women’s Premier League season.
The deal was inked on Sunday by the Executive Director of the Women’s Football Department at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation Princess Reem bint Abdullah bin Mosaad, and the CEO of KA-EX Pedro Schmidt.
Princess Reem told Arab News: “I think bringing in sponsorships, not just nationally, but internationally, is very important. (First) to advocate for women’s football in Saudi, but also to provide opportunities for female players around the world to come and play here in Saudi.”
Schmidt said that Al-Shabab was the first club in the Middle East and North Africa region to sign a sponsorship deal with KA-EX.
“Saudi Arabia is the first Middle Eastern country to collaborate with KA-EX … if you think of it, it’s not a surprise. Just looking at what kind of talents you have attracted over the last few years. So, it probably makes sense that you also attracted maybe the best recovery drink out there,” he added.
KA-EX is considered one of the leading companies in the field of sports drinks, using a patented formula to relieve physical exhaustion.
“What it actually does is to accelerate recovery, especially within athletes, but also the general public. By improving the recovery of those athletes, they can obviously go from training day to training day more to their limits, also, thereby mitigating the risk of injuries.”
Princess Reem pointed out that with sponsorships and governmental support, the future of football in the Kingdom was bright.
She said: “We are developing football. Some might say we’re still in the beginning. But I think the pace that we’re going, the support that we’ve been receiving from the Ministry (of Sport) and from our government is going to help us reach our goals.”
RIYADH: Although most Arab eyes are on the west Asian half of the AFC Champions League group stage, there is representation in the east too.
Bangkok United are currently top of Group F, having been propelled by the performances of Palestine’s Mahmoud Eid and new summer arrival, Lebanon forward Bassel Jradi.
Jradi told Arab News: “I had interest from Asia for a little while, but I wanted to go to a top team here that was competing in the AFC Champions League and challenging for the title.
“Bangkok United is a huge team in Asia and it has been amazing so far as we haven’t lost a game; it feels like we are doing something special this season.”
Jradi and his teammates are undefeated in 14 matches across all competitions so far and sit at the summit of both the Thai Premier League and their AFC Champions League group. In the latter tournament, a milestone victory over South Korean heavyweights Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors has put Bangkok on the brink of a place in the last-16.
“We have to dream that we can go all the way but of course we are humble as well and take it game by game. First, we have to pass out of the group but of course then it is interesting to see who you draw.
“I’d be lying if I said we haven’t all thought about the potential that we play later against Cristiano Ronaldo or Karim Benzema. These are players who all of us look up to, generational talents,” Jradi said.
It is a first foray into Asia for Denmark-born Jradi, who had previously spent his entire career in Europe. He played for B.93, AB, and FC Nordsjaelland in Denmark before seeing the precocious talent of Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard first-hand at Norwegian club Stromsgodset.
“He (Odegaard) is comfortably the best player I have ever played with. He was very young but in the Norwegian league he was doing the kind of things you see him do now every week in the Premier League.
“Every day seeing him on the training ground, his talent was so obvious, even aged 16. I’m very happy he’s doing so well now because you see many big talents that start off well and fade away, but he is still at the top,” Jradi added.
Jradi would later swap Stromsgodset for Croatian side Hajduk Split and then Cypriots Apollon Limassol, with whom he won the domestic league title in the 2021 to 2022 season.
Jradi said: “There are differences with playing in Europe but for me the standard is as good here as I experienced in my last clubs in Croatia and Cyprus.
“Also, there is a level of professionalism and respect for players here that sometimes doesn’t exist in clubs in Europe. At Hajduk Split, they made me train with the reserves for six months because I didn’t sign a new contract. I could never see that happening here.
“Bangkok is a good place for me to be and I thank some of the other Lebanese players who have played in Southeast Asia; they have done well so there are good opinions about us here. Soony Saad (in Malaysia), Jihad Ayoub and Majed Osman (both in Indonesia) – these guys have all been playing well out here.”
Jradi represented Denmark internationally at every youth level up to U-21s but never made his senior debut for the country of his birth. When Lebanon came calling, he switched his allegiance.
“My parents are Lebanese, and I had been to Lebanon many times throughout my life, so I always felt it has been my country as much as Denmark. For me it’s an honor to play for Lebanon.
“Right now, we have a really good coaching staff and a really good group of players. There used to be a lot of politics around the national team but now there is more positivity, better training, and so much more professionalism. It is a different vibe in the team, and I have a good feeling about what is ahead,” he added.
Jradi has enjoyed plenty of highs playing for Lebanon but there have been some notable lows too. In September 2019, he was excluded from selection after turning down a call-up, something he later apologized for. That came a few months after his most difficult moment. While Lebanon agonisingly exited the 2019 Asian Cup at the group stage by a solitary goal, Jradi had already departed prematurely.
The forward left the squad after a disagreement with coach Miodrag Radulovic and while he maintained that the situation was handled poorly by his former boss, he also admitted that he reacted badly and that it remained a source of regret.
Jradi said: “After the first game I went to the coach and said we were good defensively but that I needed more support in attack as we were struggling to create chances.
“It was just a normal conversation, but he took it the wrong way and decided to bench me for the next game, and I didn’t take that well either.
“Then it escalated, and it ended up with me going. I asked him to say that I was injured but he came out and made a big thing out of it, saying I’d left the team.
“It still hurts but really it gives me huge motivation for this next Asian Cup in Qatar. The last one didn’t end well and to be honest I really feel as though I need to give something back for what has happened before. I want to give my absolute best and help Lebanon make it through the group.”
Jradi has come through a temporary international exile and a series of injury setbacks to get back to a place where he is enjoying playing again. Last year saw him have three surgeries in quick succession, but he is now optimistic about his football future.
“Last year was hell to be honest, just six months of really bad luck. It felt like every time I played, I would get injured. I took nearly three months off in the summer and when I moved to Bangkok I just felt like a new player.
“Now I feel my body is back to where it was before and I am ready to show that in the (AFC) Champions League and the Asian Cup,” he added.







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