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Saudi Professional League aligns women’s football with AFC criteria

Abu Dhabi hoping to welcome more live audiences after successful hosting of major sporting events DUBAI: It was the fight event everybody wanted to be at. In the famous Octagon, UFC 257 reached its dramatic conclusion with American underdog Dustin Poirier stunning crowd-favorite Conor McGregor with a second round TKO. Yes, there was a crowd,…

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Saudi Professional League aligns women’s football with AFC criteria

Abu Dhabi hoping to welcome more live audiences after successful hosting of major sporting events

DUBAI: It was the fight event everybody wanted to be at.

In the famous Octagon, UFC 257 reached its dramatic conclusion with American underdog Dustin Poirier stunning crowd-favorite Conor McGregor with a second round TKO.

Yes, there was a crowd, a lucky 2000 after Abu Dhabi’s newly opened Etihad Arena had welcomed back live audiences for the third edition of UFC Fight Island.

For Salem Al-Sulaimani, operations director of Flash Entertainment, the presence of fight fans back on Yas Island’s in January, after the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, was a credit to all those involved in the event’s organization.

“Bringing the public to the arena was result of a great collaboration between Flash Entertainment, Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism and all the government stakeholders in Abu Dhabi,” he said. “It was about making sure health and safety were a priority, making sure to implement very strict safety measures to allow the fighters, the teams and the public to feel safe in one place.”

The first Fight Island, which kicked off with UFC 251 on July 11, 2020, set the bar high. It was the first post-coronavirus international sporting event to attract athletes from around the world. Fight Island 2 followed in late September and October with UFC 253 and UFC 254, at which Khabib Nurmagomedov memorably called time on a peerless career after defeating Justin Gaethje. 

“Over the past seven months we have successfully hosted three UFC events in a row, which shows the success of the collaboration with all the government entities that put together a role-model Fight Island,” said Al-Sulaimani. “It showed how they managed to put on the safest place possible in hosting these kinds of international events.”

“Abu Dhabi became the first city outside Las Vegas to hold two consecutive UFC numbered events.”

UFC President Dana White, the fighters and their teams all expressed a willingness to return each time.

“The main difference wasn’t just repeating the events after each other,” said Al-Sulaimani. “In each one, we wanted to make it bigger, we wanted to make it better. Ultimately we wanted to bring the public to the events, to bring it live, while also maintaining high standards of health and safety.”

Now the hope is that more fans will slowly return to major sporting events in the UAE’s capital. Creating a consistently safe zone, or the “bubble model,” has played a major part in making that possible, as has the launch of the spectacular 20,000-capacity venue on the Yas Bay Waterfront.

“With the Etihad Arena, it showed the capability of such a great venue to adapt to the current pandemic and host such an event,” Al-Sulaimani said. “The last event, Fight Island 3, created so much vibe. Not only was it the first event that saw UFC have the public back since the Covid-19 outbreak, it was also the first public-attended event in Abu Dhabi. It ticked so many boxes, and it was the perfect way of showing the world Etihad Arena.”

Al-Sulaimani believes Abu Dhabi’s travel measures and the country’s successful vaccination program has opened the genuine possibility to even more fans returning to sporting spectacles this year.

“It provides us with great hope,” he said. “The UAE’s proactive, coordinated response in tackling the global pandemic has put the country on the right track. The high rates of vaccinated citizens and residents gives a massive hope in returning to normal and having more public-attended events. Other sporting organizations are looking at the Emirates as a model for their events.”

Already, talk has turned to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in December and the possibility of having fans back at Yas Marina Circuit.

“We’re observing the global situation with the Grand Prix, making sure that we watch the pandemic on the horizon, and working with federal and local authorities here in Abu Dhabi,” said Al-Sulaimani. “Looking at what fans want, we are very aware of their appetite now, and the thrill of coming back to live events.”

The 2020 edition was held successfully without an audience, but this year there is even the tantalizing possibility of post-race entertainment making a comeback.

“Interestingly, usually with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, we approach artists to come and participate, but we already have had inquiries from very big artists,” he added. “So it’s them reaching out to us as opposed to us trying to chase them.”

Thanks to the success of the recent competitions in the capital, Al-Sulaimani and Flash Entertainment are looking to organize more events in Abu Dhabi and, potentially, further afield.

“In general that’s what we are always doing, that’s what we do on daily basis. As part of our growth strategy, we have ambitions to expand further into the region, and into the markets in the UAE,” he said. “We want to build on the previous work we did in Dubai, bringing in world-class entertainment. It’s a market that’s just an hour away from the capital. We have over the past few years managed to put more than 8.5 million smiles among the people, and we want to keep that going.”

And sports fans can look forward to more than just Formula 1 later this year.

“In December we will be hosting the 15th FINA World Swimming Championship at the Etihad Arena, and we also have the Mubadala Tennis Championship back this year, so there’s a lot to look forward to,” Al-Sulaimani said. “We are ready to bring all these international events to Abu Dhabi. Our goal here is to support Abu Dhabi’s Vision 2030. Flash entertainment will continue providing that platform for emerging talent, and inspiring the next generations.”

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Nuggets eliminate Trail Blazers in Game 6 of NBA playoff

Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak proud of his team’s achievements despite Champions League disappointment DUBAI: Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak has declared his pride in Pep Guardiola and his players after a season that brought two domestic trophies but ended in the 1-0 Champions League final defeat to Chelsea last Saturday. Kai Havertz’s first-half goal…

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Nuggets eliminate Trail Blazers in Game 6 of NBA playoff

Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak proud of his team’s achievements despite Champions League disappointment

DUBAI: Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak has declared his pride in Pep Guardiola and his players after a season that brought two domestic trophies but ended in the 1-0 Champions League final defeat to Chelsea last Saturday.

Kai Havertz’s first-half goal meant the newly crowned English champions could not complete a historic treble, but Al-Mubarak said he was “very, very proud” of what the club achieved in a difficult season.

“When you reach the Champions League final, which is the pinnacle in football and sport, I think it’s an incredible achievement,” he said. “We’ve been working hard for so many years to get to this point. It’s about building blocks, it’s about growing and achieving our targets. And to achieve targets, you’re going to miss targets. It’s part of life, it’s part of football. You win, you lose in a final, that’s football.”

Mubarak conceded that Manchester City’s involvement in the proposed European Super League was a mistake that he regretted, one that the club has learned form.

“It was a decision based on a view, which was a mistaken view, that this will improve and strengthen our position as a club,” he said. “What it missed was an important aspect which is how the fans felt about it.

“We will learn from it, I have no doubt. Our fans appreciate the heart and spirit of everything we do.”

Despite the disappointment in Porto, the season still delivered the Premier League and Carabao Cup triumphs.

“It’s been a remarkable season by any description but it’s also the culmination of years of hard work to reach a level of consistency, a level of expectation, that this club has reached now, which is a club that will compete year in, year out,” Al-Mubarak said. “You can’t win every year, but year in, year out, we’re going to be there. For 10 years in a row, we’ve been in the Champions League, no other English team has done that. Five Premier League titles in the last 10 years.”

Ten years ago, Al-Mubarak had set a target of winning five league titles in the next decade, and he now says that it wasn’t just hyperbole.

“It’s easy to say that now, but you’ve seen it happen over the last 10 years and that conviction wasn’t based on a prayer, it was based on clarity and planning, knowledge and the people we have in this club, a clear strategy and confidence in everyone to execute on it,” he said. “And then the talent. You need all of that. In a league the best team normally wins, and I think we’ve had the best team most of the time.”

“I know Sheikh Mansoor is immensely proud. His vision, going back to 2008 and what he wanted and expected over the next 10 to 12 years, has been achieved,” Al-Mubarak added. “And as we look at the next 10 years, his vision of what he hopes to achieve, I believe we are well positioned to achieve that.”

Manchester City started the 2020-21 campaign without fans and in relatively poor form, and had lost the league title to Liverpool the previous season, which for Al-Mubarak made it far more challenging one than previous years.

“It was a hybrid of two seasons because we were in the quarter-finals of last season’s Champions League in August, and we had no break,” he said. “There was a short period with almost no pre-season. You come back and start the news season, still in the midst of the Covid period. I remember very clearly, the Lyon loss gave us a big missing feeling. Losing the Premier League to Liverpool, in the way we lost it, then losing the Champions League, we needed to be mentally very strong to recover and come back.”

“Even at the lowest point I had no doubts that we would get it right.”

This summer club legend Sergio Aguero is leaving the Etihad for Barcelona and City’s chairman is already planning to strengthen the squad ahead of next season.

“We need to constantly bring in talent, refresh and particularly when you are at a high level, at the top,” Al-Mubarak said. “Having won the league it’s not the time to sit back and be content, that would be a big mistake. This is the time to send a message that you’re committed and bring in talent, not just for the squad but for the starting 11. We lose a legend in Sergio Aguero. Very big shoes to fill but I’m confident we will find the right player, and there are other areas of the team which need investment. Not too many, it’s not about numbers, it’s about quality.”

One thing City’s management has never wavered from is their full support for Guardiola, who has now been longer at the Etihad than at any of his other previous clubs.

“His record here, seeing his work ethic and his passion, you can’t not be confident,” said Al-Mubarak. “Another thing to note with Pep is the humanity that comes with him. He’s a very special human being. I knew he was in a tough spot, at a low point, probably back in November before he signed his contract, and I look back at our meeting when we sat together, had long discussions and really had a refresh, a realignment. I saw a man that was so disappointed, in his mind, for not delivering what he felt he needed to deliver for this club, a man who had so much hunger but felt he’d let us down.

“But he hadn’t, and that’s what I needed to make clear to him. I told Sheikh Mansoor I felt we would win the league, and I said I thought we would go far in the Champions League. I didn’t know if we were going to win it, but I thought we would go far.”

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Bahrain and UAE lead the way as Arab teams seal World Cup qualifying wins

Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak proud of his team’s achievements despite Champions League disappointment DUBAI: Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak has declared his pride in Pep Guardiola and his players after a season that brought two domestic trophies but ended in the 1-0 Champions League final defeat to Chelsea last Saturday. Kai Havertz’s first-half goal…

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Bahrain and UAE lead the way as Arab teams seal World Cup qualifying wins

Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak proud of his team’s achievements despite Champions League disappointment

DUBAI: Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak has declared his pride in Pep Guardiola and his players after a season that brought two domestic trophies but ended in the 1-0 Champions League final defeat to Chelsea last Saturday.

Kai Havertz’s first-half goal meant the newly crowned English champions could not complete a historic treble, but Al-Mubarak said he was “very, very proud” of what the club achieved in a difficult season.

“When you reach the Champions League final, which is the pinnacle in football and sport, I think it’s an incredible achievement,” he said. “We’ve been working hard for so many years to get to this point. It’s about building blocks, it’s about growing and achieving our targets. And to achieve targets, you’re going to miss targets. It’s part of life, it’s part of football. You win, you lose in a final, that’s football.”

Mubarak conceded that Manchester City’s involvement in the proposed European Super League was a mistake that he regretted, one that the club has learned form.

“It was a decision based on a view, which was a mistaken view, that this will improve and strengthen our position as a club,” he said. “What it missed was an important aspect which is how the fans felt about it.

“We will learn from it, I have no doubt. Our fans appreciate the heart and spirit of everything we do.”

Despite the disappointment in Porto, the season still delivered the Premier League and Carabao Cup triumphs.

“It’s been a remarkable season by any description but it’s also the culmination of years of hard work to reach a level of consistency, a level of expectation, that this club has reached now, which is a club that will compete year in, year out,” Al-Mubarak said. “You can’t win every year, but year in, year out, we’re going to be there. For 10 years in a row, we’ve been in the Champions League, no other English team has done that. Five Premier League titles in the last 10 years.”

Ten years ago, Al-Mubarak had set a target of winning five league titles in the next decade, and he now says that it wasn’t just hyperbole.

“It’s easy to say that now, but you’ve seen it happen over the last 10 years and that conviction wasn’t based on a prayer, it was based on clarity and planning, knowledge and the people we have in this club, a clear strategy and confidence in everyone to execute on it,” he said. “And then the talent. You need all of that. In a league the best team normally wins, and I think we’ve had the best team most of the time.”

“I know Sheikh Mansoor is immensely proud. His vision, going back to 2008 and what he wanted and expected over the next 10 to 12 years, has been achieved,” Al-Mubarak added. “And as we look at the next 10 years, his vision of what he hopes to achieve, I believe we are well positioned to achieve that.”

Manchester City started the 2020-21 campaign without fans and in relatively poor form, and had lost the league title to Liverpool the previous season, which for Al-Mubarak made it far more challenging one than previous years.

“It was a hybrid of two seasons because we were in the quarter-finals of last season’s Champions League in August, and we had no break,” he said. “There was a short period with almost no pre-season. You come back and start the news season, still in the midst of the Covid period. I remember very clearly, the Lyon loss gave us a big missing feeling. Losing the Premier League to Liverpool, in the way we lost it, then losing the Champions League, we needed to be mentally very strong to recover and come back.”

“Even at the lowest point I had no doubts that we would get it right.”

This summer club legend Sergio Aguero is leaving the Etihad for Barcelona and City’s chairman is already planning to strengthen the squad ahead of next season.

“We need to constantly bring in talent, refresh and particularly when you are at a high level, at the top,” Al-Mubarak said. “Having won the league it’s not the time to sit back and be content, that would be a big mistake. This is the time to send a message that you’re committed and bring in talent, not just for the squad but for the starting 11. We lose a legend in Sergio Aguero. Very big shoes to fill but I’m confident we will find the right player, and there are other areas of the team which need investment. Not too many, it’s not about numbers, it’s about quality.”

One thing City’s management has never wavered from is their full support for Guardiola, who has now been longer at the Etihad than at any of his other previous clubs.

“His record here, seeing his work ethic and his passion, you can’t not be confident,” said Al-Mubarak. “Another thing to note with Pep is the humanity that comes with him. He’s a very special human being. I knew he was in a tough spot, at a low point, probably back in November before he signed his contract, and I look back at our meeting when we sat together, had long discussions and really had a refresh, a realignment. I saw a man that was so disappointed, in his mind, for not delivering what he felt he needed to deliver for this club, a man who had so much hunger but felt he’d let us down.

“But he hadn’t, and that’s what I needed to make clear to him. I told Sheikh Mansoor I felt we would win the league, and I said I thought we would go far in the Champions League. I didn’t know if we were going to win it, but I thought we would go far.”

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Sixers, Hawks advance in NBA playoffs

Leonardo Jardim looks to recreate Monaco-style success after taking over at Al-Hilal  LONDON: Al-Hilal fans have had a bewildering few months. The Riyadh giants celebrated Saudi Pro League title number 17 just last week and on Tuesday appointed their fourth coach in less than four months. In February Razvan Lucescu was dismissed after 18 months…

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Sixers, Hawks advance in NBA playoffs

Leonardo Jardim looks to recreate Monaco-style success after taking over at Al-Hilal 

LONDON: Al-Hilal fans have had a bewildering few months.

The Riyadh giants celebrated Saudi Pro League title number 17 just last week and on Tuesday appointed their fourth coach in less than four months.

In February Razvan Lucescu was dismissed after 18 months in the job and the Romanian was replaced by Rogerio Micale.

The Brazilian led the Riyadh giants through the group stage of the AFC Champions League – just – but was replaced by Jose Morais at the start of May.

A month later and there is a new man, also Portuguese, at the helm.

Leonardo Jardim has the most impressive CV out of all of them.

He will need all of his experience as he prepares to occupy one of the hottest seats in the world of football, but if he can get comfortable then this could be an interesting appointment. 

The 46-year-old, who has been handed a one-year contract with the option of an extension for a further 12 months, had been linked with a number of jobs in Europe since leaving Monaco in December 2019.

The reasons are clear as his first spell in charge of the French club was seriously impressive.

After stints in charge of Braga, Olympiacos and Sporting Lisbon, he was appointed to take over at Monaco in the summer of 2014 with the club a shadow of the one that had won the French league in 2000 and reached the final of the UEFA Champions League four years later.

Despite selling influential players such as Rademal Falcao and James Rodriguez, Jardim steered Monaco to third and the quarter-finals of the Champions League in his first season.

And he won the Ligue 1 title in 2017, the first in 17 years, playing exciting football with a new group of exciting players such as Kylian Mbappe.

No doubt that this has been noted by the powers that be in Riyadh.

Here is a coach who has won major trophies in Europe and competed at the top table – but it is not just about results.

Jardim’s record in the transfer market was impressive and that bodes well as the team looks to build ahead for next season as well as the knockout stages of the AFC Champions League that are scheduled to start in September. 

Some of Hilal’s foreign contingent such as Peruvian winger Andre Carrillo, Luciano Vietto of Argentina, Italy’s Sebastian Giovinco, Gustavo Cuellar of Colombia and French goal machine Bafetimbi Gomis will leave.

With Jardim’s contacts and past deal-making abilities, he has a lot to contribute in this area. 

It is not just about buying and selling players, however.

In Monaco, the coach demonstrated that he could get the most out of the players he had.

If he is afforded time, Jardim should be able to improve the existing squad and help take the players, especially the local stars, to the next level.

That would also be a major benefit for the national team and would surely be appreciated by Saudi Arabia boss Herve Renard.

Jardim played a big part in the development of Mbappe, giving the forward a debut at the age of 16, though the boss always knew he was going to lose the young star for big money to a mega club sooner rather than later.

Other talents such as Thomas Lemar of Atletico Madrid and Manchester City duo Bernando Silva and Benjamin Mendy thrived under the Venezuelan-born boss. 

At Monaco he was able to adapt his style to the players.

At the start of his first tenure, some of the football was functional and reactive but over time, as new talent such as Mbappe came in, Jardim was able to switch and Monaco became a thrilling team to watch.

In that 2016-17 title-winning season, no team in any of Europe’s big five leagues outscored the French champions. 

As it tends to do, unlikely and spectacular success attracts attention from richer clubs and after Monaco lost a number of their stars to bigger clubs, the results suffered.

Jardim may have been fired and out of work but if he had continued with such success then he would be now coaching at the top of La Liga or the English Premier League.

All in all, Jardim is a promising appointment: he is a coach who has helped develop some of the best players in the world, knows the transfer market, is tactically flexible and can also build a team if given time.

The Ligue 1 manager of the year in 2017 is coming into a club that has just won a second successive championship, and while the pressure and expectations are at a high level, so is the talent and the resources,

The most precious resource is time however.

Al-Hilal are going through a period of success but if the club and Jardim can work well together then they may be able to move to the next — and exciting — level.

 

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