Sunday People

Most Saudi clubs are the standard of League One or League Two

- By Richard Edwards


THE money might be too good to turn down.

But the quality of football in Saudi Arabia is going to take some time to match the pay cheques.

“The top five or six clubs would possibly be at home in the Championsh­ip, but the rest would be more like League One, maybe even League Two,” says Marlon Beresford, the current Woking goalkeepin­g coach, who spent four years coaching in the Saudi Pro League.

“I would imagine that our Woking team would give some of the teams in the Pro League a good game. There’s a real mixture, but the likes of Al Hilal, Al Shabab and Al Nassr are head and shoulders above the rest.”

The amount of cash splashed by a league bankrolled by one of the richest government­s in the world has already reached eye-watering proportion­s.

And the number of players turning their backs on Europe’s establishe­d leagues continues to grow at a rapid rate.

Jordan Henderson could soon become the first highprofil­e English player to make the switch, with Al Ettifaq closing in on a deal for the Liverpool skipper.

If he takes the money, he will join Karim Benzema, N’golo Kante and Henderson’s former Liverpool team-mate Roberto Firmino, in a league that is determined to establish itself as a major player on football’s global stage.


Beresford believes that the bottomless pits of cash available to Pro-league clubs will keep pouring in until the country achieves its central ambition of hosting a World Cup.

“That’s the ultimate aim,” says Beresford. “This is the government’s golden opportunit­y to promote the

Jordan Henderson country. They want a World Cup over there and they’ll keep investing.

“The infrastruc­ture is already there for a World Cup, the stadiums are good enough. But it’s all government-funded.

“I did hear that the government wanted to change that, and that they were trying to encourage private investment into football. But we’ll have to see if that’s what ultimately happens.”

The Saudi regime wants the Pro League to one day rival Europe’s big five leagues – England, Germany, Spain, France and Italy.

And the incredible recruitmen­t spree this summer suggests that they will use the deepest of pockets to try and make that happen. “They’re probably already

Al Ahli Al Hilal Al Hilal Al Ittihad Al Ahli Al Nassr

Al Ettifaq the biggest league in the Middle East but being the biggest in Asia would be some achievemen­t,” said Beresford.

“The one thing that struck me when I was there, was the passion of the supporters. When the major teams play each other, the crowds are huge. I’m sure the impact on crowds of the current influx of stars will be huge.

“But there is still a strong emphasis on grassroots football and I think the national team is a reflection of that.

“You only have to look at the way they performed in that game against Argentina at last year’s World Cup in Qatar to see that there’s no shortage of talent in the country. A lot of those players had come through the academies of those top clubs.

“They will hope that bringing overseas stars in helps raise the level of the local players because they can see how they prepare, how they run their lives – that can only raise standards.

“Saudi allows seven foreign players per club, which is more than any other country in the Middle East. It’s probably the reason why the standard in the country is so good compared to others in the region.”

Bernardo Silva Al Hilal Hakim Ziyech Al Nassr (Club now under transfer embargo) Wilfried Zaha Al Nassr (Club now under transfer embargo) Aleksandar Mitrovic Al Hilal

Al Ettifaq Al-fateh Al-ittihad

Steven Gerrard Slavan Bilic Nuno Espirito Santo


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