The 2020-21 QNB Stars League begins today – a week after the previous season ended – as sport continues to adapt to a changed world order forced upon it by the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s an unprecedented situation that brought death, misery and poverty; upending economies, threatening governments and making presidents and prime ministers suddenly look like lesser mortals, although political compulsions mean that is something they’d still be loath to admit.
But there’s no doubt that the free-spiritedness of sport has somewhat disappeared and caution has become the new byword.
In the past, sport was always a matter of life for professional sportsmen, but not in the literal sense as it is now.
So we are in a scenario where blood, sweat, tears and the much maligned respiratory droplets – without which no sporting saga is ever complete – are now objects of unmitigated revulsion.
Bio-bubbles have become sport’s equivalent of nuclear bunkers these days where a kiss or a hug on the sporting field would earn you a fine or detention, which is now respectfully referred to as “quarantine.”
Many top names in sport have got a taste of that, including Xavi Hernandez, the current coach of Al Sadd.
In fact, Xavi was also fined as a punishment for breaking quarantine after having tested positive for the deadly bug a few weeks ago.
But having recovered well and putting the heartbreak of finishing third in the past season behind him, the Spain and Barcelona legend was looking forward to the new challenge.
“We are excited to be in the new season and are ready to compete,” Xavi said ahead of his team’s first match against Al Kharaitiyat today at the brand new Education City Stadium.
“We want to start perfectly and we know that we have a difficult match against Al Kharaitiyat, who are returning to the league this season. They are a good team with distinguished professional players and a good coach in Yousef Adam.”
Al Kharaitiyat were promoted to the top flight after winning the Second Division league and they’d be surely keen to impress.
“The league has developed a lot and we look at Al Kharaitiyat’s matches in the same way we look at those of Al Duhail. We got some rest and regained the services of some players who were on loan and they will support the team. We have hired new professional players who have the ability to win us matches,” said Xavi.
“We are talking about outstanding players (Santi Cazorla and Guilherme Torres) who played in Europe in the Spanish, English and Greek Leagues, and they will certainly help the team. I know Cazorla and Guilherme well and they have the potential to lead the team to victories. Of course, they will be a big plus because they are two special players.”
Al Sadd’s Akram Afif was adjudged the best player of the last season while rising start Tarek Salman was named the best under-23 player.
Al Kharaitiyat coach Adam was under no illusions about the challenges his team face.
“This match will not be easy because Al Sadd are a big team having distinguished players and we respect them just as we respect all teams we play against. We study the Al Sadd team well and each team has its strengths and weaknesses,” said Adam
“Our team is always ready and we do not say excuses because of absences or injuries because we play with the available players. Sometimes, some national players make better efforts than foreigners.
“We will enter the stadium to provide our best possible level to achieve a positive result.”
He said his players are raring to go despite a busy past season.
“Despite playing matches continuously in the Second Division, we do not feel tired, but all players are eager to play in the First Division. That is a positive thing. Enthusiasm and determination are important factors in football.
“Our ambition in the new season is to get stabilised first and gradually develop in the following seasons.
We seek to satisfy everyone in terms of level and positive results,” said Adam.
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