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      Al Hilal 'invincible' with Al Ittihad humiliated

      Saudi Pro League 2023/24 summary...

      2024/05/29 16:19
      E4

      Last summer, the Saudi Pro League was the subject of mega money investment from the Saudi Arabian government and kingdom via the Saudi PIF (Public Investment Fund), which also now owns Newcastle United.

      It saw genuine world stars such as Karim Benzema, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante travel to the gulf state to join the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo in attempting to make the Saudi Pro League a competitor to leagues in Europe and South America.

      The expanded 32-team FIFA Club World Cup, which will begin next year in the United States, will benefit from more of a level playing field across the globe.

      However, rather than just focusing on the actual grotesque amounts being spent on the competition and the clubs, it must always be remembered why this is happening and why ‘sportswashing’ exists; in order to legitimise states that are attempting to become normalised and accepted within a society that has moved on and moved past the cultural and legal norms and societal ethics that make them categorised as human rights abusers by the likes of Amnesty International.

      Football is a magical thing that can allow the weak to beat the strong but it is also an open window into the souls and lives of the everyday working folk that like to ignore or at least get away from the monotony and reality of life and that can be, and we have seen has been, easily exploited and manipulated by ‘sportswashing’ projects such as Saudi Arabia.

      Theses’ can and should be written on the topic but what is interesting as a result is whether it has actually worked – and just how interested people are – so this is a round-up of what actually happened in the 2023/24 Saudi Pro League season…


      CHAMPIONS

      @Getty /

      Former Benfica boss Jorge Jesus took charge of Al Hilal at the start of this season and was able to be at the helm of a side that pulled off some seriously special and remarkable additions to their squad. Throughout their spine they have some genuine excellence with Bono, Kalidou Koulibaly, Ruben Neves, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Aleksandar Mitrovic with both Renan Lodi and Malcom proving to be fine additions, too. Their big money signing, Neymar, suffered an ACL injury in October and has missed the vast majority of this season.

      Despite the injury to Neymar, Al Hilal have achieved something fairly special as they finished their 34-game Saudi Pro League season entirely unbeaten with 31 victories and three draws, scoring 101 goals and conceding just 23. They ended up 14 points clear of Al Nassr at the top-of-the-table and have had the title wrapped up for over a month or so now. 

      SO-CALLED TOP FOUR & RIVALS

      We have to start with, once again, Al Taawon. Last season they finished third but gatecrashing the top four this time around was meant to be impossible. Yet, despite dropping a spot to fourth, it has been an enormously successful season of over achievement as they finished above last season’s champions Al Ittihad.

      Al Ittihad’s fifth place finish was rather humiliating with league winning coach Nuno Espirito Santo sacked earlier in the campaign and his replacement, former River Plate boss Marcelo Gallardo, also already announcing his departure. Al Ahli gained promotion but are one of the biggest clubs in Saudi Arabia so rebuilt well to achieve a third-placed finish, whilst Al Nassr, captained by Cristiano Ronaldo, scored 100 goals and only suffered four defeats all season but finished as distant runners’ up to Al Hilal. 

      OTHER NOTABLE STORIES

      The main team to mention in this section would be Al Ettifaq. Coached by Steven Gerrard, they have achieved a respectable and reasonable sixth place finish, sitting six points behind the 2022/23 champions Al Ittihad but comfortably tucked inside the top-half. They had Jordan Henderson in the first-half of the season, who left on a free transfer to Ajax in January without being paid for his work. Star striker Moussa Dembele enjoyed a good season alongside Scotland international centre-back Jack Hendry.

      Slaven Bilic led Al Fateh to seventh this season with a typically Bilic-inspired entertaining style of football in which their 34 matches consisted of 112 goals. Al Shabab were one side looking to push on this season but struggled badly at the start, very nearly desperately appointing John Terry, but they eventually finished in eighth with last season’s cup winners Al Fayha rounding off the rest of the top-half of the table.

      THE BOTTOM THREE

      The clubs that came up last season, aside from Al Ahli who were one of the ‘big four’ and had money pumped into them under former Red Bull Salzburg boss Matthias Jaissle, all struggled and were involved in the relegation battle but only Al Hazm went back down in the bottom three and the relegation places, being relegated quite easily and about a month or so before the end of the campaign. 

      Al Riyadh and Al Akhdoud, who were also promoted, alongside Al Wehda, avoided the drop on the final day of the Saudi Pro League season with both Abha and Al Tai actually being relegated down to the second-tier alongside Al Hazm.

       

      @Getty /

      TOP SCORERS

      Cristiano Ronaldo finished the 34-game season with a remarkable 35 goals and eventually the Al Nassr forward ran away with this season’s Saudi Pro League golden boot. He finished seven ahead of Al Hilal’s key attacker, former Fulham man Aleksandar Mitrovic.

      They were the only two players to score over 20 goals in the Saudi Arabian top-flight with two players next on the list level on 19 goals with Al Ittihad’s Abderrazak Hamdallah and former Rangers man Fashion Sakala, now at Al Fayha. Al Ahli’s Firas Al-Breikan has notched 17 and makes up the rest of the top five scorers. 



      Comments

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      motivo:
      AW
      2024-05-29 17h18m by awalkerson7
      As a British football fan, I can't help but feel disappointed in the trend of top players leaving Europe for the Saudi Pro League. It cheapens the quality of the top leagues and undermines their competitiveness. Plus, let's be real, it's all about the money and not the passion for the game.
      2024-05-29 17h12m by sjacksons_9_2_1
      As a football fan, I'm feeling optimistic about the future of the Saudi Pro League with this kind of investment. Excited to see world-class players like Benzema and Mane joining the league. Hoping to see some healthy competition with other leagues in the future.
      2024-05-29 16h49m by eyoungs8
      As a football fan, I find it fascinating to see the Saudi Pro League attracting big names and aiming to compete with the top leagues in Europe and South America. The investment from the Saudi Arabian government through the PIF has certainly made an impact. Exciting times ahead for the league!
      A_
      2024-05-29 16h40m by a_12_shawcross
      As a football fan, I have mixed feelings about the Saudi Pro League's mega money investment. On one hand, it's exciting to see world class players like Benzema and Mane join the league. But on the other hand, it feels like a forced attempt to compete with established European and South American leagues. Let's see how it all plays out.

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