New York Times: The Saudis moving to La Liga

Last year I heard about an intriguing plan that had been hatched in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia had qualified for the World Cup. This isn’t that surprising. Until recently, the Saudi’s were the powerhouse of Asian football. The Saudi Pro League attracts big crowds and pays big wages. But there was always one big issue, one that is the same for almost all Gulf nations (with the recent exception of Qatar): Saudi players didn’t play in Europe.

OK, Saudi legend Sami al Jaber did play for Wolves very briefly in 2000 (he didn’t score a goal and Al Hilal terminated his loan agreement) … but still. A mixture of high wages, home comforts and a cultural suspicion of the west meant that some of Asia’s best players never moved to Europe’s best leagues.

That, it seems, was about to change. The Saudi federation announced that it was loaning out its World Cup squad ahead of Russia 2018 to give them the best possible chance. A deal was signed with La Liga and nine players were loaned to various first, second and third division sides in Spain.

It was a unique experiment. Not to mention a controversial one. So I went to Spain to meet some of the players, see how they were getting on, and write this story about it. 

You can also hear a bit more about this on the BBC World Service’s World Football podcast.

Tifo: The Glazers & Manchester United

 

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Sir Alex Ferguson. Illustration © @LWIMTH

For the past few months I have been writing scripts for Tifo, a great new football website that has made a name for themselves by designing and publishing amazing YouTube videos illustrating tactics, owners and players, amongst other topics.

After my book The Billionaires Club was published I have been working on a videos which illuminate who the owners of some of the world’s biggest football clubs are, how they made their money and how they came to owning a football club in the first place.

This video tells the story of the Glazer family and their take over of Manchester United in 2005. It is an intriguing tale. Malcolm Glazer, the family’s late patriarch, was never really a sports fan but managed to first buy an NFL franchise (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and then purchased arguably the most popular football club in the world without putting much of his family’s own money in.

It is an intriguing tale involving politics, greed and, at the centre, a tug-of-love over a famous racehorse’s sperm. Really.

 

And if you want more of that kind of stuff, we recorded a podcast to talk all about…

Tifo: The Story of World Cup qualification

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World Cup qualification in Europe. Illustration ©Philippe Fenner for Tifo.

After writing Thirty One Nil, the story of World Cup qualification told by the underdogs, I have found it quite hard not to keep following the minutiae of the Road to Russia 2018.

It was, again, a vast and colourful campaign across the globe full of intrigue, goals and political controversy. So, for Tifo, I helped put together three YouTube videos that told the story of qualification for the 2018 World Cup finals.

Part one covers qualification in Asia, Oceania and CONCACAF:

Part two covers the tough route teams have to take in Africa and South America:

Finally, part three focuses on qualification in Europe: