MENA Sports Wrap: Sun, sea, sand, and Saudi for ex-Man Utd star Jesse Lingard

MENA Sports Wrap: Sun, sea, sand, and Saudi for ex-Man Utd star Jesse Lingard
MENA Sports Wrap: Could one of England's best 'free agents' be preparing for a move to Saudi Arabia, and link up with Jordan Henderson?
5 min read
29 September, 2023
All eyes are on Algeria for the Africa Cup of Nations [Getty]

Former Manchester United star Jesse Lingard has for a decade been tipped as one of England's best footballing hopes. Since being shown the door at Manchester United in 2022, the forward has struggled to find a club bar a brief one-season spell at Nottingham Forest.

Now aged 30 and a 'free agent', the former England international has been seen training with Steven Gerrard's Saudi club Al-Ettifaq - ready to get back into peak fitness and open a final chapter in his career.

Does a high-paying swan song beckon in the Saudi Pro League or can the Warrington lad finally fulfil his potential at another Premier League club? We will have to wait until January for an answer.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on the Africa Cup of Nations which begins in January, with Algeria finally announcing the recruitment of one of France's best youngsters who could make an appearance for the Greens in the tournament.

Sun, sea, sand, and Saudi

Jesse Lingard, now without a club, has been spotted training in Dammam with Saudi Pro League side Al-Ettifaq, sparking rumours he is poised for a permanent move to the kingdom.

The 30-year-old forward donned an El-Ettifaq training kit as he warmed up alongside the likes of former Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson, who now plays for the club.

The free agent is not only making good use of the facilities in Dammam but also likely enjoying the sun, sea, and sand of the Saudi East Coast after a career in Manchester, London, and Nottingham. 

With foreign players making millions of riyals a month in the Saudi Pro League, could Lingard be the next England star to make the move to the Saudi Pro League, one journalist asked El-Ettifaq Manager Steve Gerrard.

"I’ve watched him for many years so I'm aware of the talent," the former Liverpool star told Al-Arabiya's sports programme FilMarma.

"Jesse is out of a club at the moment, he is not contracted, so he's free to train with anyone else. So he's coming to use our facilities, he’s coming to train with our players, to maintain his fitness."


A post shared by JLingz (@jesselingard)

While Gerrard didn't reveal his cards, Lingard would be a great addition to the team, linking up with fellow England international Henderson.

Previously, Lingard had an 11-year career at Manchester United, never quite achieving his potential. He signed a one-year contract with Nottingham Forest for the 2022-23 season, where he was the club's highest-paid player, but this was not renewed in July making him a free agent. 

With the Saudi transfer window closed until 1 January, Lingard would have plenty of time to acclimatise to Saudi Arabia and get to know other Al-Ettifaq players.

But the Saudi Pro League side could face stiff competition from West Ham in recruiting the player - a team Lingard had a successful loan period with during the 2020-21 season and also trained with recently.

Earlier this year, Lingard said he'd be open to a move to Saudi Arabia, provided he was given ample playing time.

"I’m not really surprised that the big names are moving out there… it’s something I would consider as well - I’ve not ruled that out either," he said.

If successful in the kingdom, it might also open a new market for his JLingz clothing line.

France youngster is Algeria's big hope

Amine Gouiri, a French Under-21 star, could represent his ancestral home of Algeria in the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations.

The striker announced this week he will represent Algeria at an international level, after a successful stretch in France's youth teams.

Although he has represented France from age 16 upward, he was never given a chance with the men's senior team, despite scoring an impressive 16 goals in 39 games for Rennes.

"With pride, I announce my decision to join the Algerian national team," Gouiri wrote on Instagram.

"I will put my body and soul on the line for the Fennecs jersey to fly the country's flag and contribute to writing the next pages of its rich history."

The news was long expected with Algeria's football federation announcing in January he intended to make the switch.

The announcement means that Gouiri can represent Algeria in the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations and hopefully help the Greens regain the title.

Morocco to host 2025 Africa Cup of Nations

A series of freak incidents saw Morocco finally win its bid to host the Africa Cup of Nations in 2025.

Zambia, Nigeria, and Benin agreed to step aside to allow Morocco to organise the tournament, with the North African side boasting one of the most well-developed football infrastructures on the continent.

With the clock ticking down for the 2025 edition, the president of the Confederation for African Football (CAF), Patrice Motsepe, made a last-minute call for unity ahead of a vote.

Rabat's geopolitical rival Algeria, which also sought to host the tournament, agreed to withdraw from the race handing Morocco the baton.

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"The decision that was taken today was to focus on African unity, development, and growth, in the context of those countries withdrawing," Motsepe said.

"A huge amount of money is being spent on Morocco for 2025. The bid from Morocco to host the World Cup is not just for Morocco, but for the whole of Africa."

Guinea was announced as the host of the tournament for 2025 but disqualified last October when the CAF ruled their facilities were below par.

The CAF also announced this week that Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania would host the 2027 edition. African nations will play in the Ivory Coast for this year's tournament.