RIYADH: The summer time of 2023 marked 40 years because the most memorable second within the historical past of Al-Ettifaq, the inexperienced and pink membership based mostly in Dammam on the jap shores of Saudi Arabia.
It was within the 1982-83 season that Al-Ettifaq made Saudi soccer historical past, turning into the primary workforce within the nation’s historical past to win the league with no single defeat. It was the primary league triumph for a membership that was till that time not thought of one among Saudi Arabia’s powerhouses, and it could be adopted by just one extra league title, 4 years later.
The success of the Nineteen Eighties formed the identification of the membership nicknamed “Al-Nawkhada,” a nod to the traditional career of Nawkhada, captains of the standard dhow boats that roamed the waters of the Arabian Gulf for hundreds of years, transporting items between the Arabian Peninsula and locations like India, Iran and East Africa in addition to carrying skilled pearl divers on whose shoulders the fortunes of the area had been constructed lengthy earlier than the invention of oil.
Coach Khalil Al-Zayani was the unique Nawkhada, main Al-Ettifaq to their two league titles in addition to guiding Saudi Arabia to their maiden AFC Asian Cup trophy in 1984.
4 a long time later, Steven Gerrard, a person who established his legendary standing in two iconic port cities 1000’s of miles away, in Liverpool as a participant after which in Glasgow as a coach, is hoping to change into the brand new Nawkhada in Saudi Arabia’s essential port metropolis of Dammam.
The previous Liverpool captain says his journey to the Center East started six months earlier than placing pen to paper on the Prince Mohammed bin Fahd Stadium, when an icon of his former membership’s fiercest rivals, Manchester United, arrived within the Kingdom.
“The arrival of ‘The GOAT’ as we name him, Cristiano (Ronaldo), in January (was) an enormous signing. He nonetheless had a variety of soccer to supply,” mentioned Gerrard as he sat in entrance of the Roshn Saudi League cameras.
“So, from afar, for six months, I used to be wanting in at Ronaldo’s outcomes, on the league, watching outcomes and highlights. I believe from that second, the league all over the world had change into a preferred speaking level for everybody. After Ronaldo’s arrival, much more big-name signings, skills and skillsets had been becoming a member of the league.
“On the time, it coincided with me being out of the sport and on the lookout for my subsequent alternative, so I used to be fascinated from afar wanting in, and when my brokers introduced a few alternatives from the Gulf space on the time, I used to be fascinated to discover them.”
After a brief journey to the Jap Province the place he explored the membership amenities, mentioned with the board and discovered in regards to the historical past and ambitions of the membership hoping to revive their glory days and compete with the established elite of the RSL, Gerrard’s thoughts was made up.
“The Ettifaq proposal and alternative was essentially the most thrilling for me as a result of I’ve signed as much as a membership the place the board are very passionate. They perceive the place the membership are, they perceive it’s one thing that’s going to wish constructing, and it’s going to take time. That’s the explanation why I used to be very to research this one as a result of in my job you want time, particularly when a membership has completed seventh within the league and so many factors behind the highest 4, that’s not a simple repair; it’s not one thing you repair in every week, a month, or six months. It’s a challenge to construct on the pitch, which is clearly the precedence, but additionally a variety of issues wanted to vary round it to provide the primary workforce the assist it wants.”
In a summer time when the RSL title challengers introduced within the likes of Neymar, Karim Benzema, Riyad Mahrez and Sadio Mane, Gerrard had the duty of rebuilding his squad, albeit not with the identical sources or promise of quick success that the likes of Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr or Al-Ittihad might supply.
The primary port of name for the Scouser was the person who succeeded him in sporting the Liverpool captain’s armband, Jordan Henderson, and for Gerrard, the choice to deliver his former teammate was a no brainer.
“I believe if you’re the coach, the supervisor, you need gamers going into video games that may be an prolonged model of the employees. Individuals, who can actually assist on-pitch teaching, the place the workforce must be by way of distances, to make on-field choices.
“Myself and Jordan (Henderson), we now have that belief. We performed collectively and he’s a unbelievable participant nonetheless, a unbelievable human being. For us, to execute that signing was key and crucial and I believe a variety of the opposite signings we made got here on the again of Jordan agreeing to come back right here. I believe he wished to nonetheless play, I believe that was the important thing.
“He was at Liverpool on the time. He’s had a unbelievable profession, he’s achieved the whole lot at that membership, he’s been a unbelievable servant to Liverpool Soccer Membership, however I believe within the earlier months, possibly him not being an everyday starter within the workforce, if you get to that age.
“I’ve been there myself below Brendan Rodgers. Whenever you’re the captain, you play all of the video games, then hastily you’re on the bench otherwise you’re not getting as many minutes as you’d like, and that’s if you analyze and take into consideration the completely different challenges, and after we knew it was a risk, I wished to be aggressive and wished that to be my first signing, as a result of for me it was a no brainer.
“Nonetheless a unbelievable participant, he’s a frontrunner, an on-pitch coach,” Gerrard added. “His requirements on how he lives his each day life on and off the pitch is nice for our younger gamers to see, watch and study. Jordan understands the dimensions of the challenge, that it’s not a fast repair. He needs to be a part of the journey and constructing it with us, however he was an important signing at a key time.”
With one former Liverpool participant signed, consideration turned to a different member of the 2019 UEFA Champions League profitable facet’s midfield. Dutchman Giorgino Wijnaldum had simply returned to Paris Saint-Germain following a disappointing mortgage spell at AS Roma the place his single season below Jose Mourinho was affected by an damage that stored him out of the facet for over half of the 2022-23 marketing campaign.
“Gini (Wijnaldum) not too long ago hasn’t performed as a lot soccer as he would have preferred,” mentioned Gerrard. “He had an damage the place he broke his leg, and his final couple of experiences haven’t introduced him soccer happiness, so he was trying to play common soccer, he wished to smile once more, to really feel an vital a part of the workforce and we might give him that platform.
“He’s bought many similarities to Jordan by way of management, professionalism. He’s a winner, a special kind to Jordan by way of model, however they complement one another very nicely and I’ve seen that firsthand being a Liverpool fan for a few years. We’re on the lookout for that mixture, we’re on the lookout for that management and we’re on the lookout for them to play these key roles by way of presence and contribution on the pitch.
On the lookout for additional additions to allow his squad to compete on the prime, Gerrard was in pursuit of a longtime goalscorer and he seemed no additional than a person with connections to his former Outdated Agency rivals Celtic.
“I watched Moussa Dembele for a few years up in Scotland when he performed for Celtic and competed towards him, so I’ve seen him reside and up shut a variety of occasions. He’s a goalscorer, he scores vital objectives. He’s a field participant, he provides you profile, he provides you energy, construction and I believe it’s vital to have a focus in your workforce as your ahead and Moussa provides us that.
“Bringing the likes of Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum, Moussa Dembele and Jack Hendry, it was vital they had been the fitting characters. The appropriate folks to additionally assist us and provides us a very good core energy within the dressing room.”