European maestros struggling in the Middle East


The Saudi Pro League’s entrance into the transfer market this summer had a huge impact on the game of football. Cristiano Ronaldo joined Al-Nassr in January which opened the gates for other European top-flight players and now they all are flooding over to the Middle East for a ‘new challenge’ or to get wealthier in the process.
Mostly, the focus of the debate surrounding this massive increase in migration has been on off-field considerations, such as transfer fees, wages, commercial benefits, and endorsements. The effect of this influx of talent on the pitch was scarcely considered. After the season went underway, marquee signings like Karim Benzema, Riyadh Mahrez, and Sadio Mane who were expected to take the Saudi Pro League by storm could only manage to account for a variable success. It is even more surprising that some of these European Imports have struggled to get their way in the dressing room. Perhaps, the myths about Saudi Clubs bending to every whim of their new signings have busted with the recent approach. This can be seen in the case of Karim Benzema’s power struggle with Al-Ittihad’s manager Nuno Espirito Santo. The Frenchman is said to have demanded captaincy, but Nuno refused to budge and the armband is still with Brazilian forward Romarinho for this season. The result is, that Benzema is understood to be ‘discomforted’ at Al-Ittihad and it is to an extent that one of the Greatest Strikers of this generation has not even opened his account of goals at the Saudi Pro League.
Apart from recent signings, the poster boy of the Saudi Pro League Cristiano Ronaldo had a challenging start to the campaign. After his brace against Al-Hilal which helped them clinch the Arab Club Champions Cup, Al-Nassr’s form has taken a huge dip as they suffered back-to-back losses against Al-Ettifaq and Al-Taawoun respectively. Cristiano Ronaldo looked far from fit as his team looked helpless on the pitch. Players who came to this league from England like Riyadh Mahrez and Fabinho have been thrown off by the hot and humid conditions of the Middle East. In August, the temperature in the Gulf region can reach the highs of 49°C and it gets rarely cooler than 30°C. Apart from Robert Firmino who scored a hat-trick on his Al-Ahli debut, no other European migrant has been able to get a memorable kick-start in the Saudi Pro League. The next big thing for this league is the arrival of Brazilian superstar Neymar who has joined Al-Hilal on a two-year multi-million deal. Currently recovering from his injury Neymar will make his debut for Al-Hilal soon with hopes to break this curse of European Maestros failing in the Saudi Pro League.