RIYADH: The new Saudi Professional League season is just days away and as expected, clubs have been busy bringing in new players from around the world. Here are 10 of what could be the most significant foreign signings.
Tarek Hamed (Al-Ittihad)
There is no doubt that Al-Ittihad faded at the end of the last season when a first title was within sight. That run of one win from the last six games will not be forgotten and is one reason why the Jeddah club have hired Nuno Espirito Santo. The coach has years of experience in the top leagues of Europe, and it is hoped that his pragmatic style will enable Al-Ittihad to take the next step.
One of his first incoming players is Tarek Hamed, who has been a defensive midfield legend for Zamalek of Egypt, winning the league twice and establishing himself as a regular international.
He should add experience, intelligence, energy, and a winning mentality to the team that came so close last season.
David Ospina (Al-Nassr)
Signing the goalkeeper was a statement of intent from new coach Rudi Garcia as the club, who had been close to landing Egypt’s Mohamed Abou Gabal, went South American instead.
Ospina has come from Napoli so has been playing at the highest levels in world football. It will be fascinating to see what effect he has, not just in terms of making saves, but how he commands his defense and works with the backline. Ospina has so much experience both at club and international level with Colombia, that he could make a real difference to an ambitious team.
Djamel Benlamri (Khaleej)
Khaleej have returned to the top tier for the first time since 2017 and are determined to make their stay a lengthy one.
The team finished top of the second division last season but that was due more to their goalscoring abilities than those at the back as they conceded more than any of the promoted clubs.
Benlamri is a commanding center-back and an Algerian international who has solid Saudi Arabian experience thanks to four seasons with Al-Shabab. The 32-year-old should shore up the defense and that is necessary if Khaleej are to survive this difficult first season.
Grzegorz Krychowiak (Al-Shabab)
There are plenty of headlines given to the exciting strikers that have come to the top tier of Saudi Arabian football, but Al-Shabab have bags of attacking talent already.
The arrival of Polish international midfielder Krychowiak should give the likes of Ever Banega a more solid platform from which to operate. The 32-year-old has played for Paris Saint-Germain, and in La Liga and the English Premier League and while he may not catch the eye in terms of spectacular goals or mazy dribbles, he should make Al-Shabab, fourth last season, more difficult to beat.
Helder Costa (Al-Ittihad)
Coach Nuno knows the Portuguese winger very well and worked with the 28-year-old at Wolverhampton Wanderers in the English Premier League.
Costa, who has also played for Benfica and Monaco, eventually ended up going to Leeds United. After helping Marcelo Bielsa and the team to promotion to the top tier in England, Costa had a decent first season but was then soon loaned out to Valencia.
There is still plenty of talent there though and if Nuno can get the best out of the player, Al-Ittihad should reap the rewards.
Cristofer Gonzales (Al-Adalah)
Newly promoted Al-Adalah have added the Peruvian international to their ranks and the versatile midfielder will have a big part to play.
He starred as his country came within a penalty shootout of making the World Cup and scored seven goals in 20 appearances for his club last season. A hard worker, who creates chances, and also has an eye for goal, the 29-year-old could become the main man for his new team.
Bruno Duarte (Damac)
Damac had a great season last time around and at one point, looked like they could be genuine title challengers or at least possibles for a top-three finish.
As it was, a fifth-place finish, seven points above sixth, was still a success but had they had more firepower, then who knows what could have happened?
The addition of Bruno Duarte, who had a good spell in Portugal with Vitoria Guimaraes and even scored against Arsenal in the Europa League in 2019, should give Damac a little more cutting edge.
Ghislain Konan (Al-Nassr)
The full-back is a big signing for the whole league as he was in demand from a host of European clubs when it became clear that he was going to leave Reims after four successful seasons in French football.
Instead, the Ivory Coast international chose to come to Riyadh. If he can maintain his high level of performances, Al-Nassr will not only have a great chance of going from third to first, but it will show others that a move to the SPL can be a rewarding one for many reasons.
Kim Seung-gyu (Al-Shabab)
There have not been many goalkeepers from elsewhere in Asia to come to Saudi Arabia so there is a lot of interest to see how the South Korean international, who should be the country’s No. 1 at the World Cup in November, fares for Al-Shabab.
If he can help take the team to the next level and also show his counterparts elsewhere in the continent that the SPL is the place to be, then Kim’s arrival could be significant.
Gerson Rodrigues (Al-Wehda)
The Portugal-born Luxembourg international has arrived on loan from Dynamo Kyiv. He is well-travelled and has scored goals in Turkey, Japan, and France.
Al-Wehda, who scraped into the top three of the second tier, to take the last promotion place, will need all the experience that the 27-year-old midfielder has to offer. He can create and score, and has also appeared in the UEFA Champions League, but helping Al-Wehda stay up will be a fine achievement.