Big signings and grand vision give edge to new Saudi Pro League season

Omar Abdulrahman and Ahmed Must are just two of the big names to have moved to the Saudi Pro League this summer. (AFP)
Updated 29 August 2018

Big signings and grand vision give edge to new Saudi Pro League season

  • Saudi Pro League vision is to be one of the top 10 leagues in the world by 2020.
  • Clubs have splashed the cash in a bid to get their hands on the league trophy this year.

LONDON: Make no mistake, this is an important season for the Saudi Pro League, not just on the pitch, but off it as well.
From the 14 clubs that took part last campaign, there are now 16 vying to win the title, qualify for the AFC Champions League or perhaps just avoid relegation from a league that has plenty of ambition.
Off the pitch the target, set by authorities, is that the league will be one of the top 10 in the world by 2020 with bigger attendances and a higher international profile.
“At the moment, there are clearly many leagues around the world — particularly in Europe — that are more established than our league,” Luai Al-Subaiey, the General Secretary of the Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF), told Arab News earlier this month. “But … the Saudi league has great potential.”
Just this week the General Sports Authority announced that the Saudi Pro League was the 19th most valuable in the world. That is partly due to teams being allowed to sign eight foreign players as opposed to six last season — all have done their best to fill that quota.
Al-Nassr, third last season, spent the most on bringing in Nigeria 
international Ahmed Musa for $18.6 million. The former Leicester City winger arrived in Riyadh to be greeted by hundreds of fans at the airport. The same was true of the other big signing of the summer as Omar Abdulrahman arrived in the capital to sign for champions Al-Hilal. 
The 26-year-old joins the champions for a season-long loan from the UAE’s Al-Ain, a deal that cost a reported $15 million, the second most expensive loan deal in football history.
Al-Subaiey believes that the foreign stars can only be a good thing for the league.
“Has Omar Abdulrahman added to Al-Hilal?” he asked. “Of course. For the fans, these players bring excitement, and for the clubs and their league, these players bring a higher profile and greater attention.”
Other internationals such as Andre Carrillo and Christian Ramos of Peru have joined Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr respectively, with both those clubs looking to make strong title challenges.
Al-Ahli will be out to have a say in the destination of the league trophy. The Jeddah club missed out on the league by a point and are one of six clubs, over a third of the league, to have a South American coach in charge.
Al-Ettifaq, Al-Fayah, Al-Nassr and Al-Wehda have done the same with Al-Ittihad hiring Ramon Diaz, the Argentine fired by Al-Hilal in February despite the team being top of the table. If Diaz can turn around Al-Ittihad’s fortunes after a disappointing ninth last season, it would be an amazing accomplishment.
Portuguese and Romanians are also well-represented in the dugouts. Saudi bosses are conspicuous by their absence. There have been concerns that something similar will happen in the teams with eight foreign players allowed, but at least new regulations stipulate that in the reduced squads of 28, five places must be reserved for locals aged 23 or under.
It is to be hoped that such rules will allow young talents such as Haroune Camara, who impressed at the Asian Games where Saudi Arabia reached the last eight, get plenty of playing time. The tournament showed that there is potential, as did the this summer’s World Cup.  
If these exciting foreign imports combine well with promising young local talents, then both on and off the pitch the Saudi Pro League could enjoy a great year.

Lewandowski scores 30th goal of season as Bayern close on title

Updated 07 June 2020

Lewandowski scores 30th goal of season as Bayern close on title

  • Bayern struck twice in quick succession just before half-time to turn the game in their favor

BERLIN: Robert Lewandowski scored his 30th league goal of the season on Saturday as Bayern Munich came from behind to claim a 4-2 victory at Bayer Leverkusen and move a step closer to the Bundesliga title.

After Lucas Alario secured an early lead for the home side, Bayern struck twice in quick succession just before half-time to turn the game in their favor after Kingsley Coman’s equalizer.

Lewandowski netted in the second half as Bayern established a 10-point lead over title rivals Borussia Dortmund, who host Hertha Berlin later on Saturday.

The game also saw Bayern lend their support to protests over the death of black American man George Floyd, with all their players wearing armbands bearing the slogan “Black Lives Matter.”

With their talisman and Bayern transfer target Kai Havertz ruled out with a muscle injury, Leverkusen turned to Alario to lead the line against the champions.

The Argentine delivered after just 9 minutes, beating the offside trap after a throw-in to slot the ball past Manuel Neuer.

A mistake from Moussa Diaby allowed Coman to curl in the equalizer, before a fizzing shot from Leon Goretzka and an elegant lob from Serge Gnabry saw Bayern take a 2-goal lead before half-time.

Lewandowski finished the job with a well-placed header after the break, reaching the 30-goal mark for only the second time in his Bundesliga career, but there was still time for 17-year-old Florian Wirtz to curl in a consolation goal for Leverkusen before the final whistle.

Elsewhere, a late equalizer from Christian Strohdiek gave bottom-of-the-table Paderborn a faint glimmer of hope in the race for survival, as they snatched a 1-1 draw away to RB Leipzig.

Chelsea-bound Leipzig striker Timo Werner set up Patrik Schick on 27 minutes to give Leipzig the lead, but they were forced to defend it with 10 men after Dayot Upamecano was booked twice in the first half.

Strohdiek’s last-minute strike gave Paderborn their fourth draw in five games, though Steffen Baumgart’s side remain 8 points off Fortuna Duesseldorf who occupy the relegation playoff place.

Duesseldorf themselves missed the chance to move toward safety, as they battled to a dramatic 2-2 draw against 10-man Hoffenheim.

A headed opener from Rouwen Hennings and a red card for Hoffenheim’s Benjamin Huebner put the home side in pole position, but the visitors struck back with goals from Munas Dabbur and Steven Zuber before Hennings saved a point with a late penalty.

Uwe Roesler’s side remain 3 points adrift of survival, after goals from Moussa Niakhate and Pierre Kunde Malong gave fellow strugglers Mainz a rare 2-0 win over local rivals Eintracht Frankfurt.