LONDON: Al-Ahli have moved to make room for more potential foreign signings by announcing they have terminated the contracts of four of their overseas players, including Australia World Cup player Mark Milligan.
The Jeddah giants announced in a brief statement on Thursday they had let go Milligan, Giannis Fetfatzidis, Claudemir and Leonardo with immediate effect. Saudi Pro League clubs are only permitted to have a maximum number of seven foreign players on their books — and the recent signings of Egyptian Abdallah El-Said and Spaniards Jose Manuel Jurado and Alexis Ruano took them up to full capacity.
The trimming of the squad will either be to free up space for new foreign recruits or to make sure they comply with new Saudi Arabian Football Federation rules that mean football clubs in the Kingdom will have to spend within their means from the start of the 2019-20 league season.
Al-Ahli terminated the contracts of Giannis Fetfatzidis, Mark Milligan, Claudemir, and Leonardo. Al-Ahli president thanked the chairman of the General Authority of Sports, his excellency Turki Al-Sheikh, for his continuous support to the club. #AHLIFC
— AlAhli Saudi Club (@ALAHLI_FCEN) July 5, 2018
The decision to settle up the contract of Milligan represents the biggest surprise as Al-Ahli aggressively pursued him in January, signing him for $1 million from Melbourne Victory. He is reported to have signed a one-year deal with the option of a second year but he has lasted just six months after making only eight appearances. He played in all three of Australia’s World Cup group games and clearly enjoyed his time in the Kingdom judging by the comments he made earlier in the year.
“The fans there are fanatical,” he said in an interview with FourFourTwo. “I was fortunate enough to play my first game in the derby against Al-Ittihad and there were 62,000 fans there ... it was unbelievable.”
The club will have taken a financial hit on canceling the contract of Leonardo. The Brazilian, 26, joined for €4 million last year, signing a two-year deal with an option for two more seasons. He leaves after just one season, in which he scored ten goals in 19 games.
Claudemir, another Brazilian, also had time on his contract to run, albeit only a year after signing a two-year deal last summer. He joined from Club Brugge for £2.43m, but leaves after playing only 19 games.
The departure of Greece international Fetfatzidis is the least surprising. His three-year deal expired this summer and he is expected to rejoin Olympiacos.
The outgoings give new coach Pablo Guede more maneuverability in shaping his squad as he bids to go one better than Al-Ahli did last season in finishing runners-up by a point to Al-Hilal.