October 11 – Arsene Wenger has a new gig. The former Arsenal coach and current FIFA director of development is to coach the Saudi select that will play Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain in a friendly in the Riyadh Season, a larger-than-life entertainment festival in the capital of Saudi Arabia.
Wenger will lead an XI from Al-Hilal SFC and Al-Nassr FC, two of Saudi Arabia’s biggest clubs, in a friendly that will be part of the festival. The high-profile encounter will be PSG’s maiden visit to the Arab kingdom. No French club has ever played on Saudi soil.
The friendly was announced in September and marked a further thawing of relations between the two neighbouring countries after Saudi Arabia led a blockade against Qatar, accusing the Gulf state of embracing “various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region.” Qatar always denied the allegations but remained isolated by its neighbours in the Gulf region from 2017 to early 2021.
However, Wenger’s timing comes at a sensitive moment. In the UK, a storm of protest has erupted following the takeover of Newcastle United by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is chaired by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Premier League approved the takeover after receiving “legally binding assurances” that the Saudi state would not control the club.
Saudi Arabia also played a fundamental part in FIFA’s plans to stage the World Cup every two years. At congress, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) requested a feasibility study be conducted, but even before the completion of such study FIFA has rolled out a PR offensive to try and popularise the idea, which is opposed by both UEFA and Conmebol.
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