Saudi Arabian club sides could create foreign failing for Green Falcons

Saudi Arabian club sides could create foreign failing for Green Falcons
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Al-Hilal have signalled their intention to have another serious crack at the AFC Champions League by signing Argentine forward Ezequiel Cerutti. (AP)
Saudi Arabian club sides could create foreign failing for Green Falcons
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Al-Hilal have announced their seventh import in Argentine striker Ezequiel Cerutti. (AP)
Saudi Arabian club sides could create foreign failing for Green Falcons
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Al-Hilal have announced their seventh import in Argentine striker Ezequiel Cerutti. (AP)
Updated 01 February 2018

Saudi Arabian club sides could create foreign failing for Green Falcons

Saudi Arabian club sides could create foreign failing for Green Falcons

LONDON: Two weeks ago, it was announced that Saudi Professional League clubs could sign seven foreign players instead of six. Little time has been wasted in filling that gap with Al-Hilal announcing their seventh import in Argentine striker Ezequiel Cerutti.
As impressive as players such as Omar Khribin of Syria and Achraf Bencharki of Morocco undoubtedly are, it is a number that may not be so magnificent for Saudi Arabian football.
Mike Newell, head of football at Al-Shabab, told Arab News of his concern this week, saying: “They have to be careful that they don’t follow the English Premier League and have too many foreign players, this can be a problem for all the younger players trying to break through.
Newell was winning the Premier League with Blackburn Rover in 1995 at the time when the trickle of imports started to become a flood. Some have contributed immensely, others, not so much.
Saudi Arabia is bucking the Asian trend. Most continental leagues restrict clubs to four imports that must include one from Asia, as is the rule in AFC club competitions. In the Chinese league, with goalscoring charts dominated by foreign players, coaches can only name three in the matchday squad.  Not only that, they are, from this season, not allowed to have more foreigners than local Under-23 players on the pitch.
China has grand plans to challenge for the World Cup by 2050 and knows that having more home-grown players is key. With seven imports ahead in the pecking order, it cannot be encouraging for young Saudis. This is more of an issue in a country which does not export talent. If young Saudi Arabian strikers were scoring hatfuls of goals in Europe and elsewhere, then it would be a little different.
Just last week, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation announced that nine players would go to Spain for some overseas experience. While the timing is questionable, the underlying philosophy is sound.
When you send players overseas, they not only get much-needed experience, they increase the size of the Saudi playing pool, leaving gaps at home for younger team-mates to step into. These then get the domestic experience they need and the virtuous cycle continues. A few foreign players of quality can help, too many though and the route into the first team becomes that much harder.
“This can be a problem for all the younger players who are trying to break through,” said Newel of the increased foreign contingent. “If they are top-class players then fine but they have to make sure the quality is there and that the league does not become flooded with foreign players who are nothing special.”
It is all about finding the right balance and Saudi Arabia have fallen way out of line with the rest of Asia. Four is fine.