The anticipation is building as the Saudi Pro League gears up for its new season. With a lavish launch event and star-studded line-up, the league has generated both excitement and controversy. As the season’s start approaches, the question remains: will the fervour match the hype?
A grand video billboard in Jeddah warmly welcomes visitors along the airport road, showcasing prominent Saudi Pro League figures. Among them, Cristiano Ronaldo takes the spotlight. The season launch event at King Abdullah Sports City was a spectacle of glitz, glamour, and fan enthusiasm. However, despite the dazzling start, the Saudi Pro League fever seems relatively subdued as the country prepares for the season’s kickoff.
Extreme temperatures might be a factor dampening the initial excitement. With daytime temperatures nearing 40°C in the second city of Saudi Arabia, and even higher in Dammam, where Al-Ettifaq manager Steven Gerrard leads his team against Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr, the intense heat might be affecting the anticipation.
The opening game between Al-Ahli and Al-Hazem signifies the resurgence of a newly ignited rivalry. Just a couple of months ago, they met on the final day of the second-tier season. A 0-0 draw propelled Al-Hazem, a former third division team, to secure promotion alongside Al-Ahli. Since then, numerous changes have transpired.
The Saudi Pro League has gained international attention by offering European clubs competitive market value for their experienced players. Al-Ahli, now under the stewardship of the country’s sovereign wealth fund, PIF, has seen a significant financial boost. This, coupled with their international exposure, has led to high-profile signings like Riyad Mahrez, Édouard Mendy, and Roberto Firmino. Even Allan Saint-Maximin and manager Matthias Jaissle have joined the league’s ranks.
On the other hand, Al-Hazem’s summer signings have been relatively modest. Their primary acquisition, winger Faïz Selemani from Belgian side KV Kortrijk, may find the competition tough. While they’ve added talent like Tunisia goalkeeper Aymen Dahmen, their odds against Al-Ahli appear steep.
PIF has taken control of the other prominent clubs in Saudi football, including Al-Ittihad, Al-Nassr, and Al-Hilal. These clubs made impressive signings such as Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kanté, Sadio Mané, and Rúben Neves. The league’s dynamic is shifting, and the potential for more impactful signings could reshape the competition.
As the new season approaches, the spotlight is on players like Jordan Henderson. Despite facing criticism for playing in a country where homosexuality is illegal, Henderson sees his move to the Saudi Pro League as an opportunity for growth and learning. For him, it’s a chance to explore a different side of football.
The Saudi Pro League is not without its critics, with concerns about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. However, the league is focused on expanding its influence and viewership. With strategic broadcasting agreements in more than 130 territories and partnerships with platforms like DAZN, the league is poised to make a global impact.
As the excitement builds and the season draws near, the Saudi Pro League is poised to take a significant step forward. With big plans for both player development and international viewership, the league’s journey is only beginning. Will the big stars and lavish spending translate into a passionate and dedicated fan base? The season’s kickoff holds the answer.