Eyebrows were raised when nine Saudi Arabian players arrived in Spain in the January transfer winow. They were brought in on loan as part of a project involving LaLiga, the General Sports Authority and the Saudi FA, with six clubs participating: Levante, Villarreal and Leganés in Primera División, and Real Valladolid, Numancia, and Rayo Vallecano in Segunda División. And although three are Saudi internationals and are set to go to this summer’s World Cup, all were unheard-of.
Indeed, Leganés boss Asier Garitano offered a distinctly lukewarm welcome to one of the club’s two Saudi recruits, Yahia Al-Shehri, commenting: “I don’t know him, I haven’t seen him [play]. He’ll come, I’ll have a look at him and I’ll try to get the best out of him as I would with any other player. But I couldn’t tell you whether he is good enough or not. I know he’s an international, but I don’t know how good he is or how good he can be.”
A month and a half later, Al Shehri is yet to make his debut for Los Pepineros, while only two of the nine have seen competitive game time – but not at senior, or even ‘B’ team, level. In almost every case, the verdict of the clubs’ coaches is that they’re simply not ready for the rigours of Spanish football.
Not a single minute of top-flight action…
Each of the three players added to the first-team squads at Villarreal, Levante and Leganés are still to make an official appearance. The Submarino Amarillo were the first to announce the arrival of two Saudis: Salem Al-Dawsari, 26, and 20-year-old Jaber Issa, who joined the Castellón outfit’s second team. But since being unveiled at the end of January, neither has featured. Al-Dawsari, a regular for Saudi Arabia, was included in Javi Calleja’s squad for the Europa League trip to Lyon, but was not even among the substitutes for the actual game.
Levante’s Fahad Al-Muwallad, dubbed the ‘Saudi Messi’, has not yet been handed his bow, either. Los Granotas, who are battling to stave off relegation from Primera, have named Al-Muwallad in the odd squad, but – as with Al-Dawsari – he has on each occasion failed to make the matchday 18.
Like Villarreal, Leganés also signed two Saudis, with one, Al-Shehri, joining the seniors and the other, Marwan Othman, going into the reserves. The former hasn’t been included in the squad for a single game, let alone played. Othman, who is eligible to play for Leganés B and Leganés U-19s, is yet to feature for either, but has appeared – and scored – for regional-league Leganés C, a team created by the club to give opportunities to those short of game time with either the ‘B’ or U-19s sides.
No sign of the Saudis in the second or third tiers, either
At the three second-tier clubs, it’s a similar story to those in Primera. Valladolid are yet to give their signing, Nouh Al-Mousa, a run-out, with Numancia’s Ali Al Namer and Rayo’s Abdulmajeed Al Sulaiheem in the same boat. Al-Mousa’s presence at Valladolid has barely registered; indeed, back problems have meant that the 27-year-old, who is still to make a matchday squad, has been unable to train in weeks. Al Sulaiheem has also suffered injury issues as he waits to make his Rayo debut, having rejoined training on Tuesday.
Al Namer has pulled on the Numancia shirt, but only in a friendly against Burgos. He has been named in a few league squads by coach Jagoba Arrasate and has featured among the substitutes; however, he has so far not made it onto the pitch in an official fixture.
Meanwhile, Sporting Gijón brought in Alshabab Abdullah for their ‘B’ team, who turn out in Segunda División B, Spain’s third tier, but the Saudi only got his first taste of football – having been held up by problems with his visa – when he dropped down to play for the U-19s against Real Oviedo a week and a half ago.