Celtic attack provides edge over Rangers, says Scott Brown, as Alan Hutton sees narrowed gap

Scott Brown and Alan Hutton
Scotland team-mates Scott Brown and Alan Hutton were domestic rivals in the 2000s

Former Celtic captain Scott Brown – never one to shy away from a confrontation – claims the gap in quality between the Old Firm is “quite big”.

Ex-Rangers full-back Alan Hutton is having none of it. He insists the gap is “closing” as Scottish football’s big two vie for the title. An Old Firm disagreement? Who’d have thought it.

What we know for certain is the difference between the sides is eight points, with second-placed Rangers holding two games in hand.

Brown’s confidence in Brendan Rodgers’ Hoops side has been reinforced by the derby triumph at Celtic Park late last year, the fallout from which rumbled on for what felt like weeks.

The 2-1 victory on December 30 was Celtic’s second win over Rangers this season and ended Philippe Clement’s unbeaten start at the Ibrox helm.

Brown believes Celtic’s attack and lack of European action will give them the edge in the title race.

“As you’ve seen, the gap when they played just the other day there, it was quite big,” said Brown.

“When you play in big games at home, you are expected to win and put on a show and that’s what Celtic did.

“The way the Celtic front three press, the way they get after the ball, the quality they’ve got – I think that’s the difference.

“The club are probably are going to go a lot of Saturday to Saturday not having the European football. You get a lot more rest time.

“The [Scottish Cup] competition and league competition is going to be huge for them.”

Viaplay Cup winners Rangers will have European participation in the second half of the season, having reached the last 16 of the Europa League.

Hutton is hugely impressed by the transformative effect Clement has had on Rangers’ fortunes since taking the reins from Michael Beale.

Looking at the difference between the Glasgow giants, Hutton said: “I don’t think it’s as big as it’s been in previous seasons, I think Rangers are closing the gap.

“You’d rather have the points, there’s no getting away from that, but Rangers have an opportunity to close the gap and hopefully they can take that, but I think it’s close now, it’s small margins between them as we saw in the Old Firm game so I think it is closer.”

One issue that Brown and Hutton agree on is that Celtic currently have better forwards at their disposal. Hence, Hutton is urging Rangers to strengthen that area in the January window.

“I think that’s the difference between the two teams at this moment in time,” Hutton added. https://darsalas.com “You see the likes of Kyogo [Furuhashi], he’s a big-time player. He gets those opportunities and he puts them in the back of the net more than not.

“If Rangers can get someone in who can do that, then I think they’ll be in a good place.”

Daniel Senda banned from football for four years for sexually assaulting women on coaching course

Danny Senda playing for Millwall in 2008
Senda made more than 400 appearances for Wycombe and Millwall

Former footballer Daniel Senda has been banned from the game for four years after he sexually assaulted two women while on a coaching course.

The Football Association said it was “deeply sorry” to the women, who were on an overseas course in June 2023.

Senda, 42, who was Charlton Athletic assistant manager at the time and made more than 400 appearances for Wycombe and Millwall as a player, has apologised but maintains he has no recollection of the incidents, which took place in a bar.

The women did not report the incidents to police and, because they took place overseas, UK authorities had no jurisdiction to take action.

An FA spokesperson said: “Women deserve to be involved in professional football without the fear of any form of abuse. This was a shocking case, and we investigated the very serious allegations as soon as we were made aware of them.

“We thank the victims for reporting the incidents to us, and supporting the investigation through to its conclusion, and we are deeply sorry that they endured such a terrible experience.

“The behaviour shown by Daniel Senda in June 2023 will not be tolerated. We will investigate all allegations of sexual assault in a football environment which are reported to us – usually working with the police, but in this case, the incidents happened overseas so were not within the jurisdiction of UK law enforcement.

We hope that the very lengthy ban serves as a strong deterrent, and a clear signal that women in football will be supported and protected and offenders will be severely punished.”

In written reasons released on Tuesday, the FA’s regulatory commission panel said that while socialising in a bar with other course participants, Senda touched both women in an intimate area in separate incidents.

The women reported the incidents to course leaders the following day and Senda was asked to leave the event. Before flying home, he requested to meet the women and apologise, which one complainant said she felt “railroaded” into attending.

After being charged by the FA, Senda said in an interview that although he had no recollection of committing the offences – which he attributed to his alcohol consumption – he did not deny them.

The FA panel said Senda “perpetrated a criminal, sexual assault” on both women, and viewed his drunkenness as an aggravating factor.

In its written reasons, the panel added: “Both [women] report a sense of guilt for reporting the matter and a concern about the effects of reporting on their own future career prospects.

“Finally, there is a fear of how they will be perceived by others, even though they have done nothing. The entire process left one woman feeling she had ‘never been made to feel as bad in her entire career’.”

The panel initially wanted to give Senda a six-year ban but it was reduced to four to reflect his https://surinamecop.com early admission and apology.

Senda also played for Torquay United, Bristol Rovers and Barnet during his career and was assistant head coach at Leyton Orient from July 2020 to June 2021.

He left Charlton in August after the sacking of head coach Dean Holden.

Ian Maatsen: Chelsea defender agrees loan transfer to Borussia Dortmund

Ian Maatsen
Ian Maatsen made 42 appearances on loan at Burnley last season, helping the club win the Championship title

Chelsea full-back Ian Maatsen has agreed to join Borussia Dortmund on loan until the end of the season.

The 21-year-old will sign a two-year contract extension with Chelsea before linking up with the Bundesliga club.

The deal does not include an option for Dortmund to make the deal permanent.

The Blues are likely to be open to selling the 21-year-old in the summer as they look to comply with Financial Fair Play rules after heavy investment in the past three transfer windows.

Chelsea accepted a £31.5m bid from Burnley for Maatsen last summer, but he did not want to make the move.

The Netherlands Under-21s defender has made just three starts this season, with a further 12 appearances from the bench.

During a loan stint at Burnley last season, Maatsen played an important role in the Clarets winning the Championship and was named in the league’s team of the season.

Chelsea are open to signing a striker in this window but are unlikely to spend the https://clasicccop.com money it would take to bring in Victor Osimhen from Napoli or Brentford’s Ivan Toney.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side take on Middlesbrough in their Carabao Cup semi-final first leg on Tuesday.

Afcon 2023: Bayer Leverkusen’s Victor Boniface ruled out as Nigeria suffer another injury blow

Victor Boniface of Nigeria and Bayer Leverkusen
Image caption,Nigeria’s Victor Boniface has been in good form for his German club Bayer Leverkusen with 10 goals and seven assists so far this season

By Isaiah Akinremi and Emmanuel Akindubuwa

BBC Sport Africa, Lagos

Bayer Leverkusen striker Victor Boniface has been ruled out of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) through injury, in another blow to Nigeria’s preparations.

The 23-year-old is the latest member of the Super Eagles squad to suffer an injury ahead of the tournament, which kicks off on 13 January in Abidjan.

Nice striker Terem Moffi has been called up to replace Boniface, pending the approval of the Confederation of African Football (Caf) and agreement with the player’s French Ligue 1 club.

Boniface now joins a growing list of Nigeria players who have been forced to miss Afcon 2023 through injury, including Nottingham Forest striker Taiwo Awoniyi and Leicester City midfielder Wilfred Ndidi.

Ndidi’s Leicester team-mate Kelechi Iheanacho, who missed the Super Eagles training camp, is expected to join up with the rest of the squad in Ivory Coast.

Huge miss for Nigeria

Boniface has been in good form for his German club with 10 goals and seven assists in the Bundesliga this season, and is in the running to be named the Bundesliga rookie of the month for a fifth consecutive time.

He picked up the injury in Nigeria’s training camp in Abu Dhabi and was absent from the Super Eagles 2-0 friendly loss to Guinea on Monday.

He shared his disappointment with his followers on X, having also previously missed the Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations through injury., external

Nigeria begin their quest for https://masurip.org a fourth Afcon title in a Group A game against Equatorial Guinea on 14 January.

The West Africans will also face hosts Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau in the group stage.

Chinese Super League: From bidding for Bale to selling the team bus

Hulk smiles as he walks through a crowded airport, carrying a bouquet of flowers while wearing a Shanghai SIPG scarf
Hulk, who had enjoyed prolific spells with Zenit St Petersburg and Porto, was a marquee signing for Shanghai SIPG

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In June 2016, hundreds of fans gathered at Shanghai airport to watch one of the most famous footballers in the world make the city his home.

Hulk, a 29-year-old Brazil international at the peak of his powers, had been signed by Shanghai SIPG manager Sven-Goran Eriksson for more than £46m and would earn reported wages of £320,000 a week.

As he strode through arrivals, a welcoming bouquet of flowers was thrust into his arms and a Shanghai SIPG scarf draped over his neck.

Over the next three years, he was joined by other big names, signed for even bigger price tags.

Chelsea star Oscar arrived six months later. The transfer fee was about £60m, while his wages were believed to be £400,000 a week.

Carlos Tevez, who had won the Premier League with Manchester United and City, reportedly earned even more when he joined.

Paris St-Germain star Ezequiel Lavezzi,Liverpool target Alex Teixeira and Colombia striker Jackson Martinez were also lured with astronomical transfer fees and bumper pay cheques.

The rise of the Super League came alongside President Xi Jinping’s wish to turn the country into a footballing nation. In 2011, he announced plans for the men’s national team to qualify for a World Cup and for China to eventually host the tournament.

As the Chinese Super League began spending large sums of money, his ambition to turn the nation into a football super power started to look very real.

“The Chinese market is a danger for all teams in the world, not only for Chelsea,” said the Blues manager Antonio Conte at the time on seeing Oscar head east.

“China looks to have the financial power to move a whole European league to China,” said Arsenal counterpart Arsene Wenger.

Less than a decade on, though, and the movement is in the opposite direction, with the bubble bursting and players leaving.Short presentational grey line

Jack Sealy was not one of the big-name arrivals. The son of former QPR striker Tony Sealy, he signed for CSL’s Changchun Yatai in December 2015.

Sealy, then 28, had been playing in Hong Kong and was drawn to the Super League by the big names, the higher standard of football and the money that came with it.

“I went out there while it was still growing so it was very exciting to be around,” he told the BBC.

“People had kind of heard about it before but no one really knew about it. And then as soon as you said to someone who knew football, they were like: ‘Oh wow, you’re going to the Super League.’

“I have no regrets about it at all. It was amazing.”

Sealy, in white, pursues Oscar in a match against Shanghai SIPG in March 2017
Sealy, in white, pursues Oscar in a match against Shanghai SIPG in March 2017

Amazing, but also strange.

“You kind of have to just completely forget who they are,” he added of some of his big-name opposition.

“I’ve made the step up or they made the step down, however you see it, and you just have to see them as equals and try your best. But it was pretty surreal.

“Oscar – I’ve watched him play with Chelsea – and obviously from playing Fifa, you know all of the players. It was pretty incredible.”

By 2019, the league had become so big that Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale – at one point the most expensive player in the world – was tipped for a move to Jiangsu Suning on a three-year, £1m-a-week contract.

Less than two years later, Jiangsu Suning ceased operating with their financial situation so bad that they even auctioned off the team’s bus for cash.

How did the Chinese football scene implode so spectacularly?

Things went downhill when China’s Football Association, which had already introduced a ‘luxury tax’ that made big-money transfers prohibitively expensive and banned sponsors from naming teams after themselves, announced a salary cap in December 2020.

At the time, the CFA said it hoped the move would “curb money football” and provide an “investment bubble” in the Chinese national team.

For some time, China’s sport administration had been wary of the league’s spending. In 2017, it vowed to curb spending and control “irrational investment”, accusing clubs of “burning money” and paying foreign players with “excessive salaries”.

The salary cap certainly had the desired effect. The limit meant overseas players would only be able to earn a maximum of £52,000 a week, far lower than the contracts previously offered to star names.

Some teams needed such restraints having piled up debts via their big spending.

A large number of clubs’ troubles were also exacerbated by their owners’ growing problems in China’ real estate sector with several home-building giants running into cash flow problems.

On top of everything, the Covid pandemic hit.

China’s strict containment policies reduced fixture lists and kept whatever games were staged behind closed doors for more than two years. Broadcast and sponsorship revenues duly plunged.

Carlos Tevez argues with the referee in a match against Brisbane Road
Tevez, who signed for Shanghai Shenhua from Boca Juniors, later described his year in the Chinese Super League as ‘a holiday’

Bosnia-Herzegovina defender Samir Memisevic played for Hebei FC from February 2020 – but by his second season at the club, could tell there were issues behind the scenes.

“The second season, I thought that something was wrong,” he told the BBC.

“After a few months, financial problems started. Then they had a big problem with the Chinese players – they didn’t pay them for a lot of months and I was sure that at the end of that year Hebei would not exist any more.”

Memisevic received and accepted an offer to go on loan to Beijing Guoan, one of the top clubs in the league.

Hebei, who had signed Lavezzi https://sayurkana.com and former Premier League regulars Javier Mascherano and Gervinho during the CSL’s boom times, scrapped their youth teams in a desperate bid to survive.

Some employees, furloughed without pay for months, offered to work for free as the club, owned by a debt-ridden real estate company, struggled to pay its utility bills.

It was all in vain though. Earlier this year, Hebei disbanded.

“I just feel so sorry for Hebei and what happened because they were one of the biggest teams with loads of big names and money,” said Memisevic, who now plays for Al-Nasr in Dubai.

“Now it’s just disappeared.

“It’s really sad but it’s been a thing at a lot of Chinese clubs. I’ve seen that Guangzhou and Wuhan are also disappearing. It’s just really sad.

“I hope that Chinese football will get better because they put a lot of money into it. But I don’t think it will be the same like before.”

For John Hassett, the Chinese Super League will not be the same without his favourite team, Guangzhou City. The club, which has been managed by Eriksson and former Arsenal and Rangers star Giovanni van Bronckhorst in the past, also disbanded in March.

Every home game, Hassett looked forward to meeting fellow fans and joining them to cheer on the team.

“For lots of people, the social side was as important as the football,” he told the BBC.

“We had this tiny little shop outside the ground, so we’d drink there before and after the game. It had also become the haunt of the local Chinese fan group after the game. It became quite a spot.

“We were all gutted. We did a little wake for the club at our beer shop after it closed down. We met up with a couple of other groups and had a beer outside the stadium. It was good fun.

“Part of the problem is that none of the clubs had set themselves up to make money.

“Tickets are very cheap. Our season ticket was £50 or £60. Some of the student groups were buying tickets cheaper than that. Most people don’t buy the official shirts, they got them outside the stadium for £3.

“Revenue generation for clubs is the biggest problem the Super League will have. As the economy tightens, where does the money come from?”

Late last year, as the countdown to reopening stadiums to fans began, another question was being asked; where has the money gone?

A corruption scandal spread through the highest offices of the domestic game.

Former Everton midfielder and ex-head coach of China’s men’s team, Li Tie, was investigated for “serious violations of the law”, with charges of bribery brought in August.

Chen Xuyuan, the Chinese Football Association’s former chairman, is facing similar accusations while South Korea midfielder Son Jun-ho, who played for Shandong Taishan, has been detained since May on suspicion of accepting bribes.

Now, only a small number of foreign players remain in the league. Those currently playing in China, both local and foreign players, did not respond to interview requests from the BBC.

But despite the league’s problems, there is still a demand for domestic football.

When tickets for Beijing Guoan’s first match back in front of a crowd went on sale in April, they sold out within five minutes.

Beijing Guoan fans sing and jump with their backs to the pitch during a Chinese Super League game
Beijing Guoan are one of the clubs at the forefront of China’s ‘ultra’ football culture

Alberto Doldan, who has worked in China with La Liga and made deals in Asia as an agent, said that the aggressive acquisition of talent by top teams in Saudi Arabia currently is reminiscent of the CSL’s peak.

But he insists that the Chinese league still has a future, even if it is different from the one that once seemed possible.

“Many teams in China have disappeared due to financial problems,” he told the BBC.

“But I think the future will be better because they’ve been working with young players. I think in the next five, six or seven years, we’ll get more local players with a higher level.

“China is still a good place. I think the future is in the local players.”

Now with fewer, flown-in superstars, the focus is on producing more homegrown superstars to grow the league and improve China’s prospects at the World Cup, a tournament which, on the men’s side, they have qualified for only once.

FA Cup draw: Tottenham to face holders Man City in fourth round

Son Heung-min and Jeremy Doku
Tottenham and Manchester City played out a 3-3 draw in their last meeting at Etihad Stadium in December

Tottenham will host holders Manchester City in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Chelsea face title contenders Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge in another all-Premier League meeting.

Manchester United, who defeated Wigan Athletic on Monday, will be away either to League Two Newport County or National League side Eastleigh.

Maidstone United, the lowest-ranked club left in the cup, visit Ipswich of the Championship. Ties will take place on the weekend of Saturday, 27 January.

George Elokobi’s side, who play in the sixth-tier National League South, beat League One Stevenage 1-0 on Saturday.

Fifth-placed Spurs trail by City by one point in the Premier League table but they have beaten Pep Guardiola’s side on all five of their visits to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Their meeting is one of four guaranteed all-Premier League ties, with Fulham hosting Newcastle and Brighton travelling to Sheffield United. There is the potential for a further two – West Ham will host Nottingham Forest if both win their third-round replays, while Luton will travel to Crystal Palace or Everton if they overcome Bolton.

The reward for Wolves if they win their third-round replay with fellow Premier League side Brentford is a trip to local rivals West Brom, who are chasing promotion from the Championship.

Either Bristol Rovers, 10th in League One, or Championship side Norwich will travel to Liverpool.

FA Cup fourth-round draw

Watford v Southampton

Blackburn Rovers v Wrexham

Bournemouth v Swansea City

West Brom v Brentford or Wolves

West Ham or Bristol City v Nottingham Forest or Blackpool

Leicester City v Hull City or Birmingham City

Sheffield Wednesday v Coventry City

Chelsea v Aston Villa

Ipswich Town v Maidstone United

Liverpool v Norwich City or Bristol Rovers

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City

Leeds United v Plymouth Argyle

Crystal Palace or Everton v Luton Town or Bolton Wanderers

Newport County or https://kolechai.com Eastleigh v Manchester United

Sheffield United v Brighton & Hove Albion

Fulham v Newcastle United

A rivalry heated by history – the significance of Morocco’s World Cup win over Spain

Achraf Hakimi celebrates with his Morocco team-mates while a dejected Unai Simon looks on
Achraf Hakimi’s match-winning penalty in Morocco’s last-16 victory over Spain on 6 December triggered celebrations in cities around Europe

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A Panenka penalty straight down the middle of the goal.

Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon dives to his right and gets nowhere near the ball. Achraf Hakimi, born in Madrid but belonging to Morocco, sets off in celebration.

His manager and team-mates stream on to the pitch in pursuit. And, around the world, the celebrations begin.

On London’s Edgware Road, the car horns blare long and loud. Smoke from the flares cloaks the Christmas lights. Flags flap in the cold December air.

In Paris, in Berlin, in Rotterdam, the images are the same.

However, in the Spanish city of Valencia, it is a little more complicated. Morocco’s last-16 win over Spain at the 2022 World Cup brought the past and present into conflict.

Short presentational grey line

Lina Chafik is a student. Born in Casablanca, she studies at the Polytechnic University of Valencia.

“For me personally when we won against Spain, I could not go to uni the next day,” she said.

“The uni chat groups were not looking good. There was a lot of hate and I did not feel safe to go.

“The game against Spain was a little bit different because of the history that we have.

“Whether we won or lost, we were going to take it very personally. And so were they. The hateful comments from the chat had nothing to do with the game.

“It was more about the colonisation, the fact that we come here to take their opportunities and stuff like that.

“It’s very heated.”

Student Lina Achafik posing in front of flowers
Chafik’s studies have taken her from Morocco to Spain, a journey replicated by about 800,000 of her compatriots

The heat comes from a tangled history.

The present-day tension between the two nations is most clear in the twin coastal towns of Ceuta and Melilla. They have been pockets of Spanish territory on African soil for about 500 years.

Morocco, on whose northern Mediterranean coast they are situated, claim Ceuta and Melilla should revert to its control.

The border between Morocco and the two towns has become a flashpoint in relations – with African migrants attempting to cross into Ceuta and Melilla as a route into Europe.

In June 2022, at least 37 migrants died, crushed to death between six-metre-high fences as the Moroccan border guards used tear gas and batons to hold back crowds attempting to enter Melilla.

Morocco’s influence spreads far across the Mediterranean Sea and back into Spain’s history.

In Andalusia, there is an enormous Islamic, Berber and Moorish influence that has shaped Spanish culture, language and architecture.

Valencia, where Chafik studies, was once known as Medina al-Turab – the city of sand – and monuments that can trace their history back to 14th century Arab rule dot the city.

Today, more than 800,000 Moroccans live in Spain, making them the largest expatriate population.

“It’s the closest European country to Morocco so it’s the easiest to go to,” explained Chafik.

Taoufiq M is another Moroccan who moved to Spain, though he has since returned to the capital Rabat, where he watched that last-16 win at the World Cup.

“It was an emotional rollercoaster,” he said. “The drama was very intense. Luckily it had a happy ending for us which gave us lot of satisfaction and a lot of hope to believe in miracles.

“It was very satisfying to beat Spain because of the long history, the long rivalry between us and them, not only in the sports, but also militarily, politically and economically. It was an extremely sweet result to get one back on them.”

Morocco fans in the Spanish city of Crevillent celebrate their team's victory over Spain at the World Cup
Morocco fans in the Spanish city of Crevillent celebrate their team’s victory over Spain at the World Cup

In Valencia, where Chafik watched the match, there was a heavy police presence during every game of the Atlas Lions’ campaign.

“Whenever there was a game with Morocco there was a lot of police outside because they know that there was a lot of Moroccans here,” she said.

“It’s not a good feeling that the police were only out when Morocco was playing, but I cannot say that I was where anything bad happened.”

Not everywhere was as peaceful.

Arrests were made in the Spanish city of Granada, while footage posted on social media allegedly showed a confrontation between police and female Morocco fans in Ceuta.Short presentational grey line

Many of the Morocco team, like Chafik and Taoufiq, are, or have been, expatriates.

Fourteen players in last year’s World Cup squad were born outside Morocco, and the Atlas Lions have close ties to countries such as France, Spain and the Netherlands.

Coach Walid Regragui embodied this. Born in France, he also played club football in Spain, but, internationally and emotionally, he was only ever Moroccan.

“We didn’t like the fact that previous coaches weren’t Moroccan,” explained Chafik.

“So it felt different this time from the beginning. It felt like he wanted to win as much as the players and the fans because it would mean as much to him.”

She saw the Moroccan roots in the way the team spoke, as well as played.

“A lot of them did grow up in other countries but I feel that they still hold on to their Moroccan side,” said Chafik.

“For example, Tamazight [North African language]. It’s a very old language, translated from generation to generation. They don’t teach it in schools.

“Your parents would have to teach it to you and a lot of the players only speak Tamazight.

“So it was very heart-warming to see that even though they grew up in other countries they still had Morocco in them.”

On the pitch, the victory did away with an inferiority complex that had held back Morocco on the international stage.

“I think sometimes a Moroccan or African player has a complex when they have to play against European or South American teams,” goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, who saved three penalties in the shootout win over Spain, told BBC World Service’s Sportsworld.

“Morocco has shown that it is possible at the next World Cup for other African teams to emulate our performance.

“We opened a door as a https://jusnarte.com team and showed that it is possible for everybody to beat big teams and big players.”

Spain and Morocco’s rivalry on the pitch has reached a new level. Off it though, they are working together.

Morocco is part of a joint bid to stage the 2030 World Cup, alongside Spain and Portugal, and are set to be ratified as hosts at a Fifa congress next year.

“I believe that Spain and Morocco joint bid will bring them closer. I think that the two countries will be close for as long as they have shared interests,” said Taoufiq.

“But at the end of the day, they are competitors – and that competition will never go away.”

Ian Foster: How Saudi Pro League improved Plymouth Argyle’s new head coach

Ian Foster
Ian Foster has agreed a three-and-a-half-year deal after succeeding Steven Schumacher at the helm at Plymouth Argyle

“We organised training sessions around prayer times, we trained at nine o’clock at night because it’s roasting hot,” Ian Foster recalls of his recent time in the Saudi Pro League.

The 47-year-old has left the well-documented money and global stars to return to England and become the new head coach of Championship side Plymouth Argyle.

Foster, who guided England Under-19s to European Championship glory in 2022 and was assistant to Steve Cooper’s under-17 World Cup winners in 2017, had been Steven Gerrard’s assistant at Al-Ettifaq before the move to Home Park.

And he says his time in the Saudi Pro League – balancing 45C temperatures and bringing together domestic and international players – has improved him as a coach.

“Those types of challenges as a coach are brilliant, because it makes you better,” he tells BBC Sport.

“It’s not players arrive at 09:00 for breakfast, train at 10:30. You have to think differently, you have to be on your toes with it.

“You’re playing against some of the best players to have ever graced the game.

“You go against Al-Nassr and it’s [Alex] Telles and [Sadio] Mane and [Cristiano] Ronaldo, you go against Al-Ahli and it’s [Allan] Saint-Maximin, [Roberto] Firmino and [Riyad] Mahrez, Al-Hilal is Neymar, [Aleksandar] Mitrovic and Malcom.

“It’s challenging as a coach, which is brilliant, because if you don’t get it right they’ll expose you.”

Saudi Pro League ‘not going away’

Ian Foster (left) and Steven Gerrard
Foster had worked alongside Steven Gerrard since the pair joined Al-Ettifaq last summer

Foster’s appointment in the summer, alongside Gerrard, came amid a wave of spending which saw Saudi government-backed clubs spend tens of millions on global superstars – many from the Premier League.

Some have questioned the impact the league has had on the European game, with players able to earn riches in Saudi they perhaps could only dream of in Europe.

“I’m a football fan and you want to see the best players on your shores, and I think in the Premier League over recent history we’ve been fortunate enough to have that,” says Foster.

“When I was growing up it was more Serie A, all the players seemed to go to Italy at the time, and the two big Spanish clubs have always had the best players to ever grace the game, and still do have.

“But the Saudi Pro League is there, it’s not going away, and it is a wonderful experience for players, staff and families to go out and experience a different culture and a different league.”

Ian Foster (left) and Jordan Henderson
Former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson was part of the squad under Foster’s guidance in Saudi Arabia

Jordan Henderson has been the highest-profile English player to go out to Saudi – moving to Foster’s Al-Ettifaq during the summer.

The former Liverpool captain came in for criticism for the move due to his previous support for LGBTQ causes, and was booed when he played for England in a friendly win over Australia in October.

But Foster says the 33-year-old – who has been linked with a move back to England – is one of the best https://kueceng.com professionals he has ever worked with.

“He’s immaculate in everything he does.

“From the the minute he walks into the football club to the minute he leaves – and he’s normally the first and last one in those instances – he is an example to all of us in his behaviours.

“It allows me to speak to the young players in the building and say ‘this is what elite behaviours look like, I’ve witnessed it from a player who’s captained his country at the highest level’.

“It does benefit you as a coach because you get to see what elite looks like.”

Argyle ‘ticked every single box’

Ian Foster
Foster is the third successive boss at Plymouth Argyle to have come from the city of Liverpool

Now that Foster has seen what elite looks like, he is hoping to use that to help improve a Plymouth Argyle side who have started their first season back in the Championship since 2010.

The Pilgrims have surprised some with their form – their 43 goals is the highest outside the top four, and seven wins and eight draws in 26 games has them seven points and four places above the relegation zone.

His first game was a 3-1 win over Sutton United in the FA Cup third round and he takes his side to struggling Huddersfield Town on Saturday, after a first week of training which he hopes can inspire a first away victory of the season for Argyle.

“I only heard really positive things about the ownership, about the board, and about how they treat their staff, about the feel of the football club in terms of the culture and the environment,” he said of his new employers.

“Having experienced it before I know it’s a really passionate football club with a wonderful fanbase.

“The opportunity to be a head coach in the Championship is not to be sniffed at, for any coach, and it just ticked every single box for me.”