The summer transfer window in the Saudi Pro League has witnessed several high-profile moves, with notable stars such as Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, and Ruben Neves joining Cristiano Ronaldo in the country. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund recently took over four top teams, including Al-Ittihad, Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal, and Al-Ahli, while the remaining 14 top-flight clubs have also secured big-name players. If you’ve been following these developments but are unfamiliar with the teams and players involved, allow us to provide you with an overview of the major teams and their star players.
Abha, hailing from the city of the same name, experienced a remarkable rise from the third tier in the 2017-18 season to back-to-back promotions. Although they have never won a major trophy, Abha is managed by Czeslaw Michniewicz, the former boss of Poland’s national team during last winter’s World Cup in Qatar. Their most recognizable player is Felipe Caicedo, a 34-year-old Ecuadorian striker who had previously played for Manchester City 14 years ago.
Al-Ahli is one of the country’s most prominent teams and one of the four recently acquired by the PIF. As three-time champions, they were in the second tier last season but earned promotion as champions. Currently without a manager, Al-Ahli boasts two significant signings this summer: former Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino and former Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy. Additionally, Ezgjan Alioski and Modou Barrow, who have both featured in the Premier League for Leeds and Swansea respectively, joined the team, along with Bastos, a former Lazio defender.
Former Rangers and Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard has embarked on his third managerial adventure, taking charge of Al-Ettifaq this season. The team’s last silverware was secured in the 1980s. Winger Amin Younes, who has earned eight senior caps for Germany, is set to return to their squad after a loan spell with Utrecht. Forward Robin Quaison represents Sweden at the international level.
Al-Fateh’s sole title triumph occurred back in 2013. Managed by former West Ham boss Slaven Bilic, who was appointed in June, they aim to succeed former Blackburn Rovers midfielder Georgios Donis, who has taken over Al-Wehda. Their notable players include ex-Barcelona winger Cristian Tello, who has won a cap for Spain, as well as fellow Spaniard Fran Velez and former Monaco left-back Tristan Dingome.
Winners of the Saudi title in 2017 and the King Cup in 2022, Al-Fayha is led by former Yugoslavia international Vuk Rasovic. Their Al Majma’ah Sports City stadium, with a capacity of 7,000, is the smallest in the league. Noteworthy players include veteran goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic, a former Serbia international who has previously played for Wigan and Nottingham Forest, and striker Milan Pavkov, who also featured for Serbia.
Having been promoted last season, Al-Hazem is yet to secure a major trophy. Manager Filipe Gouveia has played for and managed several Portuguese teams throughout his career. While they lack well-known players, goalkeeper Aymen Dahmen has represented Tunisia at the international level.
With a record four Asian Champions League titles and 18 Saudi titles, Al-Hilal is a force to be reckoned with. Former Benfica boss Jorge Jesus has taken charge this summer, replacing former Oxford manager Ramon Diaz. Notably, the club spent £47m to sign Wolves captain Ruben Neves and also acquired Kalidou Koulibaly from Chelsea. Additional talents include ex-Porto striker Moussa Marega, former West Brom playmaker Matheus Pereira, and Peru winger Andre Carrillo, who had previously played for Watford.
Al-Ittihad, also owned by the PIF, is Al-Hilal’s fierce rival in the Saudi Clasico derby. As the defending champions, they were led to last season’s title by manager Nuno Espirito Santo, formerly of Wolves and Tottenham. Notable signings this summer include Real Madrid’s Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante from Chelsea, and Celtic forward Jota, for whom they paid £25m. They are further strengthened by the presence of ex-Brazil goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe, former West Brom defender Ahmed Hegazi, and Brazilian midfielder Igor Coronado, who had played for Banbury United in 2012 after emerging from the MK Dons youth set-up.
Al-Nassr, nine-time champions, grabbed headlines globally several months ago when they secured the signing of five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo following his departure from Manchester United. They finished second in the Pro League last season, with Ronaldo netting 14 goals. Former Portugal international Luis Castro has taken over as the manager this summer, and Al-Nassr is the other PIF-owned club. Inter Milan captain Marcelo Brozovic has also recently made the move, while ex-Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina, former Argentina international Gonzalo Martinez, and Ivory Coast defender Ghislain Konan are among the notable players. Saudi international Mukhtar Ali has represented England at the U-16 and U-17 levels.
Al-Okhdood, a team that has never won a major trophy, was in the third tier just five years ago. Manager Jorge Mendonca previously served as Reading’s assistant boss from 2018 to 2019. The Najran-based team lacks household names but welcomed veteran Brazilian goalkeeper Paulo Vitor from Portuguese side Chaves this summer.
Another relatively small team in the top flight, Al-Raed has yet to secure significant silverware and is currently without a manager. They share a ground with their Buraidah rivals, Al-Taawoun. Their Brazilian defender Pablo Santos has previously played in the top flights of Portugal, Russia, and Turkey.
Al-Riyadh’s most successful season dates back to 1993-94 when they finished second in the league and won the Crown Prince Cup. Promoted last season, they recently hired Belgian manager Yannick Ferrera. Former Serbia forward Nikola Stojiljkovic has showcased his skills in various leagues, including his home country, Portugal, Spain, Serbia, Turkey, and Poland.
Six-time champions Al-Shabab is currently in search of a new manager. Ever Banega, a former Valencia and Argentina midfielder, stands out as their most renowned player. Colombia international Gustavo Cuellar and goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu, a three-time World Cup participant with South Korea, are also part of their squad.
Managed by Brazilian Pericles Chamusca, Al-Taawoun won the King Cup in 2019. Remarkably, this is Chamusca’s 30th managerial job, despite being only 57 years old. Spanish midfielder Alvaro Medran made five appearances for Real Madrid during the 2015-16 season, while veteran Brazilian center-back Naldo has represented multiple European teams.
Al-Tai, yet to secure a major trophy, appointed Croatian manager Kresimir Rezic this summer. Midfielder Alfa Semedo from Guinea-Bissau had loan spells with Nottingham Forest and Reading in the English Championship between 2019 and 2021.
Formed 88 years ago, Al-Wehda’s last trophy triumph occurred in 1966 with the King Cup. Former Greece midfielder Georgios Donis manages the team, having moved from Al-Fateh this summer to replace former Chile midfielder Jose Luis Sierra. Costa Rica defender Oscar Duarte, who scored a goal against Uruguay at the 2014 World Cup, represents the team. Midfielder Faycal Fajr and goalkeeper Munir Mohamedi featured for Morocco at the 2018 World Cup.
Damac, with no major silverware to their name, appointed former AC Milan, Atletico Madrid, West Brom, and Romanian player Cosmin Contra as their manager earlier this year. Notable players include Domagoj Antolic, who earned six caps for Croatia, and Adam Maher, who has played for the Netherlands.
Khaleej narrowly avoided relegation last season after being promoted the previous year. Managed by Portuguese coach Pedro Emanuel, the team features veteran defender Lisandro Lopez, who won four caps for Argentina and previously played for Benfica and Inter Milan. Fabio Martins is one of four former Portugal youth internationals in the team.
With this comprehensive guide, you now have a better understanding of the prominent teams and players that have been making headlines in the Saudi Pro League this summer.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Saudi Pro League
Q: Which teams have been taken over by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF)?
A: The Public Investment Fund (PIF) has recently taken over four top teams in the Saudi Pro League: Al-Ittihad, Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal, and Al-Ahli.
Q: Who are some of the notable star players in the Saudi Pro League?
A: The Saudi Pro League has attracted several notable star players, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, Ruben Neves, Roberto Firmino, Edouard Mendy, and many others.
Q: Which team is the defending champion of the Saudi Pro League?
A: Al-Ittihad is the defending champion of the Saudi Pro League. They secured the title in the previous season under the management of Nuno Espirito Santo.
Q: Who are the managers of some of the prominent teams in the Saudi Pro League?
A: The managers of the prominent teams in the Saudi Pro League include Jorge Jesus at Al-Hilal, Steven Gerrard at Al-Ettifaq, Slaven Bilic at Al-Fateh, and Georgios Donis at Al-Wehda, among others.
Q: What are some of the significant transfers that have taken place in the Saudi Pro League?
A: The Saudi Pro League has witnessed significant transfers, such as Karim Benzema joining Al-Ittihad, N’Golo Kante moving to Al-Ittihad, Ruben Neves signing for Al-Hilal, and Cristiano Ronaldo joining Al-Nassr, among other notable transfers.
Q: Which team has the most Asian Champions League titles in the Saudi Pro League?
A: Al-Hilal holds the record for the most Asian Champions League titles in the Saudi Pro League, with a total of four titles to their name.
Q: Which team won the Saudi Pro League title in 2017?
A: Al-Fayha emerged as the winners of the Saudi Pro League title in 2017.
Q: Who is the manager of Al-Nassr?
A: Luis Castro is the current manager of Al-Nassr, one of the prominent teams in the Saudi Pro League.