So, what is this Saudi championship worth?

I have been the coach of Saudi Arabia for almost four years, and with my staff, we see around 150 games a year involving Saudi clubs, in all competitions. Today, I think I have enough hindsight to say that the Saudi Arabian championship is, with those of Japan and South Korea, one of the best in Asia. It is the clubs of these three countries that have won the most Asian Champions League in recent years, it is quite telling. » Hervé Renard is not wrong: the Saudi (4 titles), Japanese (4) and South Korean (6) teams have effectively left only crumbs to their Qatari (1), Australian (1), Emirati ( 1) or Chinese (2) since the turn of the century.

Ronaldo, first in line?

Ever since Cristiano Ronaldo signed from Al-Nassr in the winter transfer window, interest in the Saudi Premier League has never been greater. The enthusiasm around the Portuguese star and his high-profile arrival has not diminished, and the Minister of Sports himselfPrince Abdelaziz ben Turki al-Fayçal, thrilled by the arrival of the 2016 European champion, explained that the State was going to financially help the clubs of the Kingdom to enable them to attract other sizes of international football. We even heard that Al-Hilal were ready to offer Lionel Messi a contract of 300 million euros per year… I don’t know if it will happen, but there is clearly a desire to bring in other greats nouns »intervenes Stéphane Jobard, Rudi Garcia’s assistant at Al-Nassr, current second in the championship, and who meets CR7 every day in training. When a player of Cristiano Ronaldo’s level arrives in the Saudi championship, it is felt at all levels: his Saudi teammates observe him very closely and are inspired by him in their daily work, Al-Nassr’s opponents are very motivated, and there are more people in the stadiums. »

The presence of foreign coaches and players, mainly European, African and South American, is not new, but it increased in the 2000s. The advantageous financial conditions, the recurring participation of the national team in the final phase of the World Cup since 1994 and the performances of the clubs on the Asian scene have convinced many foreigners to try the experience, with more or less proven successes. I did not know this championship very well, it is true, even if I had noted that if the Saudi selection had good results with players playing in the country, it was not a coincidencenotes Albanian coach Besnik Hasi, who worked for Al-Raed (2018-2021) and Al-Ahli (2021-2022). When I arrived there, I already understood one thing: that the local players have very good technical qualities, that they are lively, disciplined and attentive, but that they still have progress to make at the physical level. and tactics. The second thing is the difference between rich clubs, which have large squads and modern facilities like Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad or Al-Ahli for example, and others, much more modest . A difference that tends to be reduced a little. »

The reform of pre-retirees

From Europe, Saudi Arabia is perceived as an exotic destination, where players and coaches are guaranteed to earn a (very) good living without straining too much. But for Tunisian international midfielder Naïm Sliti (30), who joined Ettifaq FC in 2019 after helping Dijon to ensure their stay in Ligue 1 during the play-offs against Lens (1-1, 3-1), the reality is very far from this prejudice: Yes, the salaries are attractive, but it would be a big mistake to believe that football in Saudi Arabia is easy money. The local players are very nice and welcoming, but if ever a foreigner doesn’t have a good attitude, gives the impression of being on vacation and just taking his salary, he will quickly be put aside. And the leaders will not keep it long. » Saudi footballers are used to working alongside foreign coaches and players, and are aware of the benefits they can derive from it. “They are blotters, they are very attentive, attentive. And even more when you show them that what you are asking for is useful”confirms Jobard.

Yes, the salaries are attractive, but it would be a big mistake to believe that football in Saudi Arabia is easy money.

Naim Sliti

For foreigners, Saudi Arabia imposes a real ability to adapt to local requirements, imposed in particular by the climate and the way of life of the Saudis. As it can be very, very hot at certain times of the year, and even more so in certain parts of the country, you can only train and play in the evening., explains Besnik Hasi. The days are also punctuated by the five daily prayers, the first of which takes place at dawn. “We cannot schedule sessions early in the morning. Muslim and religious players say prayers around 5:30 a.m., then go back to bed. And it can be very hot in the morning! Here, we live a lot in the evening and at night, because of the sometimes oppressive heat, and to respect local customs”continues Jobard. “Me, when I can, I do an individual session in the room, in the morning, to keep the same habits as in France “says Naïm Sliti.

Some Saudi players will have to go into exile »

The Saudi Premier League is therefore not just about Ronaldo, other quality foreign players (Luis Gustavo, Ever Banega, Odion Ighalo, etc.) or the presence of a few well-rated coaches such as Rudi Garcia, the Portuguese Nuno Espirito Santo at Al- Ittihad Jeddah or Argentinian Ramon Diaz in Al-Hilal. Saudi Arabia is a football country. There are very good players. Besides, I remind you that all the internationals play in their own league, and that we achieved a very honorable World Cup. The Saudi Premier League is at a good level, the football played is quite technical, with a lot of intensity”, continues Hervé Renard. Without being an exception, the monarchy is one of the rare countries to export very little football. Nothing surprising for Naïm Sliti. They are quite simply at home, where they are recognized, earn a very good living, evolve in a good championship. I sincerely think that several of them have the level to go to good European championships, but here they are happy. And maybe they don’t necessarily want to move to Europe, because they know they will be faced with a major culture shock.. » Another player in the Saudi league, on condition of anonymity, also admits that some local players are not monsters of professionalism. I know some who don’t do everything right, especially when it comes to food. They eat a little anything, are not very strict on sleep, recovery. And in training and in matches, they have a little trouble keeping up the pace and repeating their efforts…”

But this somewhat lazy side of the Saudi players could evolve quickly, since the federation has decided to increase, from next season, from 7 to 8 the number of foreigners authorized to appear on the match sheet. For a coach whose entire squad plays in the local championship, this is not ideal, because it will further limit my choice. It often happens to me to summon players who do not have a lot of club playing time. This may force some of them to go abroad. There is a desire here to make the Saudi championship a high-level competition, and this requires the arrival of very good foreign players and coaches. There is a football development strategy”, recalls Renard. The federation also decided to hire Moroccan Nasser Larguet last May, who worked for OM in particular, and to entrust him with the national technical management, a position he had already held in his country. In particular, he focused on the issue of training young people, because there is a lot to be done in this area. », adds the coach of the Green Falcons. From Brussels, Besnik Hasi, who also coached Anderlecht, closely follows the news of a championship that he does not rule out returning to one day. ” With the means available to the Saudis, which are far superior to those of Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, they know that they can bring in other names. The country is opening up a bit to the world, and it’s a real land of football. Saudis love this sport, which is very present in the media and social networks, they talk about it a lot and it is not a place where you can come for early retirement… “The near future will tell us if the Saudi Arabian championship will gain a little more notoriety…

Bordeaux and Sochaux on the wire, Niort is not dead!

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Tarun Kumar

Tarun Kumar has worked in the News sector for 05 years and is currently the Owner and Editor of Then24. He reside in Delhi, India with his Family.

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