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SAUDI PRO LEAGUE

Nigerian-born Saudi Pro League Director of football Emenalo ‘intrigued by audacity & ambition’ of project

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The Saudi Pro League’s new director of football Michael Emenalo is “intrigued by the audacity” of its new acquisition and youth development strategy.

Emenalo will lead a player acquisition centre of excellence to provide a centralised approach to luring more “world-class international players”.

The former Chelsea technical director will also assist with “squad mapping”.

“I believe this is a role that I’ve spent the last 45 years preparing for,” said the 57-year-old Nigerian.

“I am intrigued by the audacity of the project and the ambition.”

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The league says it has appointed Emenalo, who oversaw Chelsea’s recruitment and restructured the club’s academy and scouting system while technical director from 2011 to 2017, to “ensure a dynamic, young yet sustainable future”.

High-profile players such as Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante and Ruben Neves have followed Cristiano Ronaldo to Saudi Arabia this summer, while Steven Gerrard has been named manager of Al-Ettifaq.

The country’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has also taken over four of the SPL’s leading clubs as the league aims to become one of the top five in the world.

“This project has been in the making for a while,” added former Nigeria defender Emenalo, who was sporting director at French side Monaco from 2017 to 2019.

“It’s not a spur-of-the-moment decision, it’s well thought out. I’m impressed by the knowledge and input that’s gone into this.

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“The Saudi Pro League offers a new opportunity first and foremost for the entire industry, and I think will create avenues for good competition and for more development of young talent.”

All clubs can benefit from ‘innovative new model’

The new strategy aligns with the Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s youth programme and aims to “foster young Saudi talent alongside securing the best international talent and improving the governance of all clubs for long-term success”.

Among a number of new regulations to be implemented from the 2023-24 season, the SPL will reduce the age of eligibility for Saudi players from 18 years old to 16, and reduce squad sizes from 35 overall to 25 senior players plus 10 under the age of 21, from 2025-26.

Saad Allazeez, the SPL’s interim chief executive and vice chairman, said: “There is much potential for new talent arriving in Saudi Arabia and a central function providing control and strong governance will ensure our investments are smart and benefit all in the league moving forward.

“Every club in the Saudi Pro League will get the opportunity to improve their squad through this innovative new model, and Michael is the perfect man for the job.”

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-BBC

 

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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SAUDI PRO LEAGUE

Ronaldo breaks Saudi League’s single-season scoring record

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Saudi Pro League - Al Nassr v Al Ittihad - Al-Awwal Stadium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - May 27, 2024 Al Nassr's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their second goal REUTERS/Stringer

Al Nasr’s Cristiano Ronaldo capped his first full Saudi Pro League season in style as he broke the record for the most goals scored in one campaign on Monday.

The Portuguese 39-year-old scored a brace in his side’s 4-2 win over Al Ittihad on the final matchday to bring his league tally this season to 35 goals.

The previous record was held by former Al Nasr forward and Moroccan international Abderrazak Hamdallah, who scored 34 goals in 2018-19.

Ronaldo, who played for Sporting, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus, joined Al Nasr in January 2023.

-Reuters

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Ighalo’s former club, Al-Hilal secure Saudi League title

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Saudi Pro League - Al Hilal v Al Hazem - Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Stadium, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - May 11, 2024 Al Hilal fans display banners in the stands as the celebrate after winning the Saudi Pro League REUTERS/Stringer

Undefeated Al-Hilal won a record-extending 19th Saudi Pro League title on Saturday with a 4-1 victory over Al-Hazem to reclaim the trophy from Al-Ittihad who won it last season.

Jorge Jesus’ side hold a 12-point advantage over Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr in second with three matches remaining.

Aleksandar Mitrovic gave Al-Hilal the lead from the penalty spot after 15 minutes but Faiz Selemani netted the equaliser for Al-Hazem in the 34th minute.

However, Jesus’s side took the lead again with an own goal from Ahmed Al-Juwaid in the 39th minute.

Mitrovic scored again in first-half stoppage time and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic scored three minutes later to make it 4-1.

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Al-Hilal are chasing the treble having clinched the Saudi Super Cup title in April, and having reached the Saudi King’s Cup final where they will play Al-Nassr.

-Reuters

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SAUDI PRO LEAGUE

Morocco’s Hamdallah whipped by fan  after Saudi Super Cup final

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A fan at the Saudi Super Cup final lashed an Al-Ittihad player with a whip during a confrontation moments after the match Thursday night.

The incident occurred following Al-Ittihad’s 4-1 loss to Al-Hilal in the final played at Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium.

A video circulating on social media shows striker Abderrazak Hamdallah throwing water from a bottle at the fan, who responds by pulling out a long whip and lashing at the Morocco international twice — appearing to hit the player’s back the second time.

The 33-year-old Hamdallah, who had missed a penalty but later scored his team’s only goal during the game, did not appear to be injured.

As Hamdallah’s teammates stepped in, the fan was guided away by another spectator and a security official. In the video, the fan did not appear to be detained.

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A young fan in a wheelchair was nearly caught in the middle of the altercation. Former Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema plays for Al-Ittihad but was not close to the incident. Injured Al-Hilal star Neymar didn’t play in the game but helped his team lift the trophy during the celebrations.

In 2023, the Super Cup was expanded from a single game between the league champions and King’s Cup winners to include the runners-up from both competitions. It was also moved to Abu Dhabi.

Al-Ittihad did not respond to a request for comment.

Hamdallah played on the Morroco team that reached the semifinals of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. He came on as a substitute in three group-stage games.

He is in his sixth season playing in Saudi Arabia.

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-AP

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