Is N’Golo Kante’s France Career at Risk after Leaving European Football?
The Saudi Pro League has been dominating headlines this summer with the notable signings of Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, and Ruben Neves, who join Cristiano Ronaldo in the country.
Four of Saudi Arabia’s top teams, namely Al-Ittihad, Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal, and Al-Ahli, have recently come under the ownership of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Additionally, the remaining 14 clubs in the top-flight also boast significant names in their squads.
While you may have heard about the players and managers making moves to Saudi Arabia, you may not be familiar with the teams they’ve joined or the other players in the league. In this article, we’ll provide an overview of the prominent teams and the star players representing them.
Abha, hailing from the city of the same name, rose through the ranks in recent years. They were playing in the third tier as recently as 2017-18 before achieving back-to-back promotions. However, they have yet to win a major trophy. Managed by Czeslaw Michniewicz, the former coach of Poland’s national team during the last winter’s World Cup in Qatar, Abha’s notable player is Felipe Caicedo, a 34-year-old Ecuadorian striker who had previously played for Manchester City.
Al-Ahli, one of the country’s largest teams, is among the four clubs taken over by the Public Investment Fund. Last season, they secured promotion as champions from the second tier. Currently, they are on the lookout for a new manager. Al-Ahli recently finalized a £30m deal to bring Manchester City forward Riyad Mahrez to their ranks. Other significant signings for the team include former Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino, former Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, Ezgjan Alioski, and Modou Barrow, who have previously played in the Premier League for Leeds and Swansea respectively. Bastos, a former Lazio defender, is also part of their squad.
Former Rangers and Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard will now manage Al-Ettifaq. After his success in Scotland and England, Gerrard ventures into his third country. He will be joined by England and Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson, following a £12m plus add-ons deal agreed between the clubs. Al-Ettifaq’s squad also features winger Amin Younes, who has earned eight senior caps for Germany, and forward Robin Quaison, a Sweden international. Their last major title victory dates back to the 1980s.
Managed by former West Ham boss Slaven Bilic, Al-Fateh’s sole title win came in 2013. Bilic was appointed in July to replace Georgios Donis, a former midfielder for Blackburn Rovers, who has moved on to manage Al-Wehda. The team boasts ex-Barcelona winger Cristian Tello, who has one cap for Spain, along with fellow Spaniard Fran Velez and former Monaco left-back Tristan Dingome.
Al-Fayha secured the Saudi title in 2017 and the King Cup in 2022. Their manager is former Yugoslavia international Vuk Rasovic. Their stadium, Al Majma’ah Sports City, holds a capacity of 7,000, making it the smallest in the league. The team features veteran goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic, a former Serbia international who has played for Wigan and Nottingham Forest. Striker Milan Pavkov, who also played for Serbia, and Aleksandar Trajkovski from North Macedonia, known for scoring the goal that denied Italy a place in the 2022 World Cup, contribute to the squad’s strength.
Promoted to the top flight last season, Al-Hazem is yet to secure a major trophy. Managed by Filipe Gouveia, who has played for and managed several Portuguese teams, Al-Hazem lacks well-known players compared to some of the other teams. However, goalkeeper Aymen Dahmen has represented Tunisia at the international level.
Al-Hilal boasts a record four Asian Champions League titles and 18 Saudi titles. This summer, they appointed former Benfica boss Jorge Jesus to replace Ramon Diaz, the former manager of Oxford United. As another club owned by the Public Investment Fund, Al-Hilal made significant signings, spending £47m to acquire Wolves captain Ruben Neves. They also secured the services of Kalidou Koulibaly from Chelsea and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic from Lazio for substantial fees. The team further features Moussa Marega, a former Porto striker, Matheus Pereira, a former West Brom playmaker, and Andre Carrillo, a winger from Peru who previously played for Watford.
Al-Ittihad, another club owned by the Public Investment Fund, is Al-Hilal’s primary rival in the league’s famed derby known as Saudi’s Clasico. They are the reigning champions, thanks to the guidance of manager Nuno Espirito Santo, formerly of Wolves and Tottenham. The team’s coaching staff also includes Scot Ian Cathro. Al-Ittihad, founded in 1927, holds the distinction of being Saudi Arabia’s oldest football club. Their noteworthy signings this summer include Real Madrid’s Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, formerly of Chelsea, and Celtic forward Jota, secured for £25m. Additional players of significance in their squad are ex-Brazilian keeper Marcelo Grohe, former West Brom defender Ahmed Hegazi, and Brazilian midfielder Igor Coronado, who had previously played for Banbury United in 2012 after progressing through the MK Dons youth setup.
Al-Nassr, nine-time champions, made global headlines months ago when they secured the services of five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo after his departure from Manchester United. Ronaldo scored 14 goals as Al-Nassr finished second in the Pro League. This summer, former Valencia and Argentina midfielder Luis Castro took over as manager, joining the ranks of the Public Investment Fund-owned clubs. Inter Milan captain Marcelo Brozovic and Lens midfielder Seko Fofana are recent additions to the team, alongside David Ospina, a former Arsenal goalkeeper, Gonzalo Martinez, a former Argentina international, Talisca, a forward formerly with Benfica, and Ghislain Konan, a defender from Ivory Coast. Mukhtar Ali, a Saudi international, represented England at the Under-16 and U17 levels.
Al-Okhdood, a team that has yet to secure a major trophy, was in the third tier just five years ago. Their manager, Jorge Mendonca, previously served as Reading’s assistant boss from 2018 to 2019. Although lacking household names, the Najran-based team recently acquired veteran Brazilian goalkeeper Paulo Vitor from Portuguese side Chaves.
Al-Raed, one of the smaller teams in the top flight, has not achieved significant silverware to date. Managed by ex-Shakhtar Donetsk boss Igor Jovicevic, Al-Raed shares a ground with Buraidah rivals Al-Taawoun. Brazilian defender Pablo Santos, who has experience in the top leagues of Portugal, Russia, and Turkey, is a notable player in their squad.
Al-Riyadh’s most successful season was in 1993-94 when they finished second in the league and won the Crown Prince Cup. Following their promotion last season, they recently hired Belgian manager Yannick Ferrera. Uruguay goalkeeper Martin Campana, with nine caps to his name, is part of their squad.
Six-time champions Al-Shabab are currently in search of a new manager. The team’s most renowned player is former Valencia and Argentina midfielder Ever Banega. They also have Colombia international Gustavo Cuellar and goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu, who has represented South Korea in three World Cups.
Al-Taawoun, winners of the 2019 King Cup, are managed by Brazilian Pericles Chamusca. Chamusca has taken charge of an impressive 30 managerial positions despite being only 57 years old. Spanish midfielder Alvaro Medran, who made five appearances for Real Madrid in the 2015-16 season, is part of their squad.
Al-Tai, yet to secure a major trophy, appointed Croat Kresimir Rezic as their manager this summer. Midfielder Alfa Semedo from Guinea-Bissau previously had loan spells in the English Championship with Nottingham Forest and Reading between 2019 and 2021.
Formed 88 years ago, Al-Wehda last lifted a trophy in 1966 when they won the King Cup. Former Greece midfielder Georgios Donis now manages the team after moving from Al-Fateh to replace Jose Luis Sierra. Costa Rica defender Oscar Duarte, who scored at the 2014 World Cup against Uruguay, and midfielder Faycal Fajr, as well as goalkeeper Munir Mohamedi, who both featured for Morocco in the 2018 World Cup, are notable players in their squad.
Damac, a club without any major silverware, appointed former AC Milan, Atletico Madrid, West Brom, and Romanian player Cosmin Contra as their manager earlier this year. Among their notable players are Domagoj Antolic, who earned six caps for Croatia, and Adam Maher, who has represented the Netherlands.
Khaleej narrowly avoided relegation last season after their promotion the previous year. Managed by Portuguese Pedro Emanuel, the team includes veteran defender Lisandro Lopez, who earned four caps for Argentina and has played for Benfica and Inter Milan. Fabio Martins is another standout player in their squad, with four former Portugal youth internationals representing the team.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Saudi Pro League
Q: What are some of the notable teams and players in the Saudi Pro League?
A: The Saudi Pro League features prominent teams such as Al-Ittihad, Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal, and Al-Ahli. Notable players in the league include Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, Ruben Neves, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Riyad Mahrez.
Q: Which teams in the Saudi Pro League are owned by the Public Investment Fund?
A: The Public Investment Fund owns four teams in the Saudi Pro League: Al-Ittihad, Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal, and Al-Ahli.
Q: Who are some of the high-profile managers in the league?
A: The league boasts renowned managers such as Steven Gerrard at Al-Ettifaq, Slaven Bilic at Al-Fateh, and Jorge Jesus at Al-Hilal.
Q: Have there been any significant transfers in the league recently?
Q: Are there any Saudi national team players participating in the league?
A: Yes, several Saudi national team players are part of the league, representing different clubs in the competition.
Q: How successful are the teams in terms of major trophies?
A: Teams like Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr, and Al-Fayha have enjoyed success in the past, winning Saudi titles, King Cups, and Asian Champions Leagues.
Q: Are there any foreign players of note in the league?
A: Yes, the league attracts foreign talents such as Ever Banega, Robin Quaison, Cristian Tello, Ruben Neves, and Kalidou Koulibaly, to name a few.
Q: Who are some of the well-known managers in the league?
A: The league features experienced managers like Steven Gerrard, Slaven Bilic, and Jorge Jesus, bringing their expertise to the Saudi Pro League.
Q: How competitive is the Saudi Pro League compared to other leagues?
A: The Saudi Pro League has been gaining attention due to the influx of star players and high-profile managers, making it an increasingly competitive league in recent years.
Q: What is the role of the Public Investment Fund in Saudi football?
A: The Public Investment Fund has taken ownership of several top teams in the Saudi Pro League, providing financial support and contributing to the development of football in Saudi Arabia.
More about Saudi Pro League
- Saudi Pro League Official Website
- Saudi Pro League – Wikipedia
- Saudi Pro League News – Sport News Center
- Public Investment Fund – Official Website
- Al-Ittihad Football Club Official Website
- Al-Nassr Football Club Official Website
- Al-Hilal Football Club Official Website
- Al-Ahli Football Club Official Website