Mancini reveals Saudi players' refusal to join national team ahead of Oman match

January 15, 2024
 Roberto Mancini
Roberto Mancini

Saudi Gazette report

— After much anticipation and debate, Saudi national team coach Roberto Mancini dropped some heavy surprises when he revealed that the absence of several Saudi players from the Saudi Green's roster was due to their refusal and not his decision.

Mancini, speaking on Monday to the media before the Oman match, said: "All these players did not want to play and join the training camp. They were all with us in previous periods."

Delving into details, he said: "Salman Al Faraj said he did not want to play in the first friendly during the first camp. As for the other players, I asked them if they were happy to join the national team. Sultan Al Ghanam told me he was not happy," explaining, "Also, no player, no matter who, can decide whether to play or not."

Specifically about goalkeeper Nawaf Al Aqidi, he said: "Nawaf told me he would come to the camp, but in Riyadh, he said he didn't want to come. I tried talking to him and put him on the list, and he joined us in the Celine camp. But three days ago, he went to the goalkeeping coach and said he didn't want to stay in the national team."

Mancini expressed his surprise: "No one knows the list; this is my approach. I want everyone to fight for their country." He added: "Now we are done, I don't want to talk about Salman, Sultan, and Al Aqidi. We have an important match ahead."

Regarding the Oman match, he said: "I think we are well prepared because the Omani team is strong, and the first match is always the toughest."

On the issue of Saudi players playing fewer minutes, he said: "We know that players in the Saudi league play little. There are many foreign players. There might have been problems with Saudi players because they don't play many matches," adding, "After two weeks of training together, I'm happy with the players and confident we will do well in the Asian Cup."

About some players leaving his list, like Mohammed Maran and Khaled Al Ghanam, he said: "I think this is the first tournament we're together. True, I went with thirty players, but I told them we have a 50-player list, and we came here with thirty. We don't know; we might have injuries, and I informed them that the final list would be announced later. But Mohammed Maran and Al Ghanam said they didn't want to stay, the same with the other three players."

Regarding the reaction of the Saudi Football Federation, specifically its president Yasser Al Mishal, he said: "I spoke with the president of the Saudi federation and told him Nawaf wanted to leave, and this is the third time he's told us he doesn't want to come to the camp," adding, "I think it wasn't the right time to even think. We were focused on the Oman match and other more important things."

About the Oman team, he said: "Matches against Oman are tough. They have a good team, good players, and they are dangerous in attack, so this will be a difficult match."

On changing his strategy to three defenders, he said: "I don't know if I will play with three defenders or four."

About his ambitions in the tournament, he said: "If we want to achieve results, we have to be strong. Football is strange sometimes; you may not start strongly, but as the tournament progresses, things change. When I was in Italy, we started in sixth place and then became champions. We must believe in ourselves."

Mancini concluded by talking about the excluded players and their future chances in the national team. "I understand that veteran players do this. I can understand them, but I don't understand a young player refusing to join or come. The national team is not a club," he said.

"It's a strange situation, it's the first time I've faced this. But I respect all positions if they don't want to come. We asked them repeatedly, Nawaf three times and Sultan twice. It's strange for me," he added.

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