The Saudi Pro League continues to grow like an avalanche after spending over 800 million Euros in the transfer window.
So far this year we have seen Karim Benzema, Neymar, Sadio Mane and N’Golo Kante make the move to the Middle East. But it’s not just players who choose to change continents. Many managers known in Europe also came to the region.
At this stage, moving from Europe to Saudi Arabia to coach is a very different challenge. Yes, there was a huge amount of money coming into the league. However, compared to other leagues around the world, its competitiveness is still in its infancy.
Matt Monaghan is head of English content for Gulf sports website Sports360X. He told Football Now some of the differences coaches from Europe may encounter when they arrive in Saudi Arabia.
“It’s a real chance to be in a league with huge ambitions. It clearly has a long way to go. We’ve seen names like Cristiano Ronaldo and Nuno Espirito Santo say this. The facilities may not be top-five league level yet, but the plans are there.”
“So if you’re a manager coming in now, you can play a really influential role in building that. That’s the decision; can you stay in Europe with a mediocre team, or can you go to Saudi Arabia and try something different with huge growth potential?” ” Matt continued.
In the summer of 2022, Nuno Espírito Santo took over as manager of Pro League champions Al-Ittihad. The summer brought many big names to Jeddah, including former Ballon D’or winner Karim Benzema. After Ittihad’s 2-0 defeat against the Iraqi team Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya in the AFC Champions League, there were rumors of a fight between Nuno and Benzema, and soon the news came that the Portuguese was dismissed.
Reports suggest that Benzema’s displeasure with Nuno’s coaching methods, rather than Al-Ittihad’s recent lack of form, largely influenced the decision. Do star big players wield significant power at their new clubs, where their employers value their presence much more?
“I think star power is a product of 21st century football,” Monaghan continued.
“It’s not necessarily something unique to Saudi Arabia. We’ve seen Benzema and others have that power at clubs the size of Real Madrid. Rafa Benitez’s time at the Bernabeu would be a great example of that. He really struggled.” To engage the locker room. “But it would be interesting to note that Benzema scored a hattrick and made a fantastic assist in the first game after Nuno’s departure.”
Former Liverpool captain and Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard is starting life in Saudi Arabia, moving to the country in the summer. His time at Villa was less successful than he had hoped, but Gerrard has a successful track record. He won the European Cup while playing for Liverpool and started his managerial career by winning the Scottish Premier League with Glasgow Rangers. In July 2023, Gerrard was announced as head coach of Dammam-based team Al-Ettifaq.
According to Babagol founder Uri Levy, this is an important appointment.
“This is a win-win situation for both sides. Gerrard needs a fresh start and somewhere to leave his fingerprints on his football. I don’t want to say he will have endless resources to do this, but he will have very generous resources to choose his players and his methods.” “
Alongside the managers involved in the Pro League, Italy’s Roberto Mancini also took what many would consider the highest level position: the Saudi Arabian national team.
“Mancini is a really big headline. We’re talking about a guy who won European championships with Italy. Obviously from a PR perspective it’s important because he’s a big name. But what’s less known is what they have planned for the player.” “Giving young players the opportunity to work with Mancini and his team is a good way to show Saudi Arabia’s progress in football,” explained Uri.
While Saudi Arabia has clearly become a leading point of interest for top-flight footballers, it is clear why managers are impressed. It’s an exciting time to follow football in the Middle East as the quality of players and coaches continues to improve.