Alfa Semedo adapting to managerial changes as he recalls hectic 12 months at Al-Tai
Alfa Semedo is not used to watching from the sidelines.
But a straight red card against Al-Ahli a few weeks ago means Al-Tai’s midfielder has missed his team’s much-needed 1-0 victory over Al-Abha and last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Al-Hazm.
They are rare absences for Semedo, who played 28 of a possible 29 games for Al-Tai last season after moving from Portuguese side Vitoria Guimaraes.
The Guinea-Bissau international, who has played in the UEFA Champions League for Benfica and in the English Championship for Nottingham Forest and Reading, has become a valued presence in Al-Tai’s midfield.
He has impressively maintained that role despite playing for four different head coaches in less than 12 months. Semedo’s experience of the Al-Tai managerial merry-go-round began last summer with Pepa, the Portuguese coach for whom Semedo had previously played at Vitoria.
Pepa was replaced in January by Romanian Mirel Radoi, who lasted just four months. Jose Pedro Barreto then took caretaker charge at the end of the 2022-23 season, with Croatian Kresimir Rezic currently at the helm after arriving from Damac.
“It is always challenging when you work with someone you know really well, and then he goes,” Semedo told Arab News. “You feel sad but this is football. We have friends and teammates that come and go always so we must be ready for anything.
“In football you just have to look the other way and keep going because if the coach leaves and you stop doing your thing, you stop playing well, you stop performing, you will lose your place in the team. That’s it. It’s football.”
Rezic has brought yet another new approach to Al-Tai but Semedo insists it is up to the players to fit into his system.
“It can be difficult because a new coach can come with another idea, another way he wants to play. You never know what he is thinking and sometimes there is very little time for you to try to get it.
“Some coaches will play three at the back, others five at the back — tactics can be very different but you have to be ready for that as a footballer — you need to adapt. “He (Rezic) is a good coach who is young and has good ideas,” Semedo said.
“We’ve had some struggles in the beginning (of the season) but the last game we won and now we have confidence and motivation. We will come back fresh with the energy to go again.”
Semedo’s own high-energy game was forged in the academy of one of Europe’s most prestigious clubs, Benfica. After moving from his native Guinea-Bissau to Portugal aged 17, the midfielder counted the likes of current Barcelona forward Joao Felix and Manchester City’s Ruben Dias as teammates.
“This is a school that builds some of the best players in the world at this moment in time and you can feel it when you are there,” Semedo said. “This helped me improve a lot and then playing in the first team too, you understand then that this is a huge football club. They do such a good job.”
While Benfica can boast myriad successful academy graduates over the years, it is Felix and Dias who are perhaps the most notable more recently. Semedo says the ability of both was clear to see from a young age.
“Early on we could see Ruben Dias was going to be someone who is a leader because this guy even at 18/19, he had this spirit, this leader’s spirit,” Semedo recalled. “The way he spoke on the pitch and the way he played the game; you could see this guy is going to be a big center-back in football.
“Then with Joao Felix, I think everyone saw it — we knew he was a special player because of his touch, the relationship he has with the ball was just different. He has so much quality.”
It seemed at one stage this summer that Felix would be joining Semedo in Saudi Arabia after he was linked with a move to Al-Hilal. While the Portugal forward ended up at Barcelona on loan, Semedo could see him moving to the Kingdom in the future.
“If you had asked me last year if he would come to Saudi Arabia, I’d have never thought it,” Semedo laughed. “But football is crazy and now anything can happen. You see the numbers they are putting on the table to get these players, it messes with your mind — so you never know.”
Like many in the Saudi Pro League, Semedo has been enjoying the competition’s newly elevated global status and insists he is relishing the challenge provided by the recent influx of talented opponents.
“We played against Al-Ittihad — against Benzema, Kante, Fabinho — recently. It was a tough game of course because they are players with a lot of quality and a very good team together too.
“The way they play is so intense, but these are the games you want to play, that every footballer wants to play.
“Of course, it is just three points available like any game but you know when you play these teams that more people are watching and that there is going to be extra motivation playing the best players in the world. It is a different level.”