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RIYADH: The new Saudi Professional League season is just days away and as expected clubs have been busy signing new players from around the world. Here are 10 of what could be the most important foreign signings.
Tariq Hamed (Al-Ittihad)
No doubt Al-Ittihad faded at the end of last season when a first title was in sight. This six-game winning streak will not be forgotten and is one of the reasons the Jeddah club signed Nuno Espirito Santo. The coach has years of experience in Europe’s top leagues, and it is hoped that his no-nonsense style will take Al-Ittihad to the next level.
One of his first incoming players is Tarek Hamed, who was a defensive midfield legend for Egypt’s Zamalek, 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-Nasr)
The goalkeeper’s signing was a statement of intent from new coach Rudi Garcia as the club, which had been close to signing Egyptian Mohamed Abou Gabal, went South American instead.
Ospina comes from Napoli and has therefore played at the highest level of world football. It will be fascinating to see what effect he has, not just in terms of saves, but how he commands his defense and works with the baseline. Ospina has so much experience at club and international level with Colombia that he could make a real difference in an ambitious team.
Djamel Benlamri (Khaleej)
Khaleej has returned to the top level for the first time since 2017 and is determined to extend his stay.
The side finished top of the Second Division last season, but that was more down to their goalscoring abilities than those at the back, as they conceded more than any promoted club.
Benlamri is an imposing central defender and an Algerian international who has solid Saudi experience thanks to four seasons with Al-Shabab. The 32-year-old should strengthen the defense and it’s necessary if Khaleej is to survive this difficult first season.
Grzegorz Krychowiak (Al-Shabab)
There are plenty of titles given to exciting strikers who have arrived at the top level of Saudi football, but Al-Shabab already have heaps of attacking talent.
The arrival of Polish international midfielder Krychowiak should give Ever Banega a stronger 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 might not attract attention in terms of spectacular goalscoring or mazy dribbling, he should do Al-Shabab, fourth last season, harder 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 also played for Benfica and Monaco, ended up going to Leeds United. After helping Marcelo Bielsa and the team to promotion to the England top tier, Costa had a decent debut season but was soon loaned out to Valencia.
There is still a lot of talent there 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 Peru international to their ranks and the versatile midfielder will have a big role 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 out and at one point it looked like they might be real title challengers or at least possible for a top three spot.
As it was, a fifth-place finish, seven points above sixth, was still a success, but if they had had more firepower, then who knows what might have happened?
The addition of Bruno Duarte, who had a good stint in Portugal with Vitoria Guimaraes and even scored against Arsenal in the Europa League in 2019, should give Damac a little more of a lead.
Ghislain Konan (Al-Nassr)
The full-back is a big signing for the whole league as he was in demand by many European clubs when it became clear he was to leave Reims after four successful seasons in French football.
Instead, the Ivory Coast international opted to come to Riyadh. If he can maintain his high level of performance, Al-Nassr will not only have a great chance of advancing from third to first, but he will show others that a move to the SPL can be rewarding for many reasons.
Kim Seung-gyu (Al Shabab)
There haven’t been many goalkeepers from elsewhere in Asia coming to Saudi Arabia, so there’s plenty of interest in seeing how the South Korea international, who is expected to be the country’s No.1 at the World Cup in November, is doing well for Al-Shabab. .
If he can help take the team to the next level and show his counterparts elsewhere on the continent that the SPL is the place to be, then Kim’s arrival could be significant.
Gerson Rodrigues (Al-Wehda)
The Luxembourg international of Portuguese origin has arrived on loan from Dynamo Kyiv. He traveled a lot and scored goals in Turkey, Japan and France.
Al-Wehda, who finished in the top three of the second tier to take the final promotion spot, will need all the experience the 27-year-old midfielder has to offer. He can create and score, and has also played in the UEFA Champions League, but helping Al-Wehda stay put will be a great achievement.