Pain in Spain as ‘Messi of Saudi Arabia’ misses out on Real Madrid clash

Pain in Spain as ‘Messi of Saudi Arabia’ misses out on Real Madrid clash
Fahad Al-Muwallad pictured at the airport when he arrived to sign for Levante.
Updated 04 February 2018

Pain in Spain as ‘Messi of Saudi Arabia’ misses out on Real Madrid clash

Pain in Spain as ‘Messi of Saudi Arabia’ misses out on Real Madrid clash

LONDON: The arrangement between La Liga, the General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi Arabian Football Federation to give Saudi players exposure to European football ahead of the World Cup in Russia this summer did not get off to the best start on Saturday.
Salem Al-Dawsari and Fahad Al-Muwallad were two of the highest-profile players from the Kingdom to make the move to Spain last month, with midfielder Al-Dawsari joining Villarreal and winger Al-Muwallad, whose goal clinched qualification for the World Cup, moving to Levante.
Yet in the first opportunity to play for their new clubs neither made the cut for the matchday squad, leading to an outpouring of disappointment from Saudi Arabia fans on social media. “Return Fahad back — you don’t deserve him,” read one tweet. “No Salem — No retweet. No Salem — No win,” read another.

Al-Muwallad would have found it particularly hard to take his omission as Levante were playing Real Madrid, the double Champions League winners and Club World Cup champions. Fans of the Spanish club were also disappointed not to see Al-Muwallad in action as Fernando Sanz, the director of La Liga in the Middle East and North Africa, had labeled him “the Cristiano or Messi of Saudi Arabia.”
Javier Calleja, the coach of Villarreal, suggested Al-Dawsari’s opportunity will come.
“I am happy for the current high levels performed by Salem Al-Dawsari,” he told the Spanish press. “I think Salem will harmonize with the Spanish team. I believe that he will perform well in La Liga.”
Club president Fernando Roig also has high hopes for Al-Dawsari, the 26-year-old capped 26 times by his country.
“Salem is a player with quality who we have followed both on video and by watching him directly in person,” Roig was quoted as saying by AS. “We think he is a suitable addition to the squad who can help us in this second half of the campaign.”
Roig denied that the arrangement was just a ruse to boost La Liga viewing figures in the Kingdom.
“Primarily this is a sporting investment,” he said. “It could lead to other extras in the future but first and foremost it’s a sporting decision. We know that it’s not going to be easy because both players have arrived at the halfway stage of the season but we are confident that both can play a good role for us.”
Al-Dawsari was officially unveiled as a Villarreal player on Tuesday after joining from Saudi Professional League champions Al-Hilal.
“I’m very pleased,” he said according to AS. “It has always been my dream to be able to train and play at a club like Villarreal. This is a great opportunity. I feel very happy and pleased with my new teammates and with the coach. It’s a dream which I want to prolong. I’ll work hard and battle to try and stay here.
“I tried three times to come over to play in Spain but it didn’t happen. This time it’s been possible and I couldn’t be happier. I am realizing my dreams and I think I can keep developing as a player and get to play with the first team.”

Al-Dawsari’s versatility will have been an attraction for Villarreal. “I am comfortable playing on either wing, and I also enjoy playing through the middle,” he said. “I’m very much a team player and I look to create danger in attack. As always it will be up to the coach to decide where I play best. I am learning a lot here. I really like the way they do things here. I like the way they work, the way training is structured and the way that they treat everyone as part of the club. Even before I came here I knew that Villarreal was a club which does things the right way and now I can see it for myself and experience it every day. That’s why I would like to thank all of the people who have welcomed us on board.”
Before the nine loan signings were announced last month, only one Saudi Arabia player, Mukhtar Ali, played outside of the Saudi Professional League, with Dutch top-flight side Vitesse Arnhem. Now Al-Dawsari has led an exodus to Spain and he is keen to make his mark.
“It’s a dream to be in Spain — including for those in the Middle East and particularly for those in my country,” he said. “It’s a dream for them to see us here. For us this is a great Liga, with a team who have been world champions — it’s a wonderful opportunity and makes all of us feel very proud. The fact that we are here shows a lot. I’d like to be famous in Spain, show quality out on the pitch and show who Salem is to the rest of the world.”

SAUDI ARABIA PLAYERS IN SPAIN

Yahya Al-Shehri (Leganes)

Marwan Othman (Leganes)

Fahad Al-Muwallad (Levante)

Salem Al-Dawsari (Villarreal)

Jaber Issa (Villarreal B)

Nooh Al-Mousa (Real Valladolid)

Abdulmajeed Al-Sulayhi (Rayo Vallecano)

Ali Al-Namer (Numancia)

Abdullah Al-Hamdan (Sporting Gijon)