LONDON: Next season’s Riyadh Derby is going to be even more electric than usual.
Reigning Saudi Pro League champions Al-Hilal had spent much of May negotiating with Brazilian star Talisca, but there he was on Tuesday on Al-Nassr’s Twitter channel announcing a quite unexpected move to the Saudi capital.
In a video that showed him watching a video of Al-Hilal in action, and then laughing out loud, the 27 year-old held up that famous yellow shirt to the camera to inform fans that he was joining Al-Nassr from Guangzhou FC.
It remains to be seen who will be laughing next season.
The player who was hailed as the next big Brazilian star in his teenage years, and despite being linked at one time with Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, still has much to prove.
The move has upset a few people in China as well. The attacking midfielder, who can also play further up the pitch, enjoyed two-and-a-half successful seasons in China with Guangzhou FC and won the Chinese Super League title in 2019.
Fans of the two-time Asian champions feel that their club should have held out for more than the reported fee of one million euros.
With just a year remaining on his contract, the figure should perhaps have been five or six times that.
For a player who scored 39 goals in 65 appearances in China and managed 13 assists, Al-Nassr have got themselves a bargain.
One reason for that is that Al-Nassr’s new star hasn’t played this year.
This was not due to injuries or form, but regulations stopping him from re-entering China.
Talisca has been stuck in Brazil and unable to actually get inside the country to play for Guangzhou.
Club coach Fabio Cannavaro, understood that the time was right to release him.
The concern for Guangzhou is that Talisca’s colleague and compatriot Paulinho has the same travel issues, and the club are now keen not to lose their biggest star.
That is not Al-Nassr’s concern, though they will want to know how to get the best out of the player who moved to Benfica in 2014 for $5.790 million.
He started well in Portugal with eight goals in his first 10 games there and was hailed as one of the brightest young talents in Europe, even compared to the likes of Yaya Toure and Rivaldo.
The talent was there for all to see, the left foot was especially beautiful, he could play anywhere in attack — on the wings, in the middle or as a second striker — and cut an imposing figure.
After two years at Benfica during which he won two Portuguese league titles, he didn’t move to the English Premier League as many had predicted, but was loaned out to Besiktas in Turkey.
There, he won the Super League and then headed to China in 2018.
There was some disappointment when he chose to head east, but some of the best players in the world were doing the same at the time.
Another league title followed for Talisca in 2019.
Everywhere he has been outside his homeland, Talisca has won league championships which bodes well for Al-Nassr fans.
There has been some criticism in China of a tendency to drift through games especially last season, though 2020 was tough for all, with players confined to their hotel rooms for seven months.
He scored and made goals but rarely took control of games.
Talisca’s arrival may, however, spell the end of Pity Martinez in Riyadh.
The Argentine made headlines last September when joining the club for around $18 million.
Martinez has since endured something of a difficult first season in Saudi Arabia and while he has shown sporadic flashes of the form that made him the 2018 South American Player of the Year, he did not do so on a consistent basis.
And when injury cut his season short and ruled him out of the AFC Champions League group stage, he wasn’t really missed.
New Al-Nassr coach Mano Menezes came in to replace Alen Horvat and the former Brazilian boss guided the Al-Nassr through a difficult group and into the second round.
There have been regular rumors of Martinez leaving Saudi Arabia for months and with Talisca now in the team and playing a similar role, the route back to South America, or as many think, back to MLS, is now open.
For Al-Nassr, they have got a player who should be at the peak of his career and still has something to prove.
And, thanks to that welcome video and the fact that he had been talking to Al-Hilal for some time, it means that next season will have even more spice than usual.