The Saudi Professional League may currently be between seasons but the big clubs in the competition are never far away from the headlines.
Defending champions Al-Hilal are unable to sign new players in the current transfer window. Al-Ittihad are not only preparing for the new season and trying to improve on their second place in the league, but must do so with the knowledge that they will be unable to add players in January’s transfer market.
The common denominator in those two situations is Al-Nassr, the team that finished third last season. Al-Hilal midfielder Mohamed Kanno was found to have signed a contract with both Riyadh clubs, hence the punishment. Al-Ittihad’s ban came in early August after a dispute over Abderrazak Hamdallah. He was found guilty of, among other things, of conspiring to leave Al-Nassr who cancelled his contract in November. In January he joined Al-Ittihad and is now banned for four months.
It all meant that Al-Nassr were having an excellent time. Not only are their rivals dealing with issues, the nine-time champions have been busy this summer, starting with the appointment of former Lyon, Roma and Marseille boss Rudi Garcia, and signing stars such as Ivorian international Ghislane Konan, Luiz Gustavo of Brazil and David Ospina, the Colombian goalkeeper, from Napoli.
That last signing could be the reason behind the potentially tricky situation that Al-Nassr now find themselves in. It is the kind of situation that could end up in a similar transfer punishment coming their way.
It started at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon last January, all because of an injury to Egypt’s first choice goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy. The replacement for the Al-Ahly star was Mohamed Abou Gabal. The Zamalek glovesman, also known as Gabaski, went on to become one of the stars of the tournament and played a major role as the Pharaohs reached the final. His performance in the penalty shootout victory over Cameroon in the semifinal — including sticking information about the hosts’ kickers on his water bottle — made headlines around the world.
The 33-year-old also excelled in the final, though this time Senegal triumphed on penalties. As soon as he returned back to Cairo, there were reports of interest with Al-Nassr making the strongest enquiries, so much so that Gabaski believes that a deal was done and a contract was signed.
“The player was keen on joining Al-Nassr’s pre-season preparations as he repeatedly asked through his lawyer to obtain an entry visa to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and issue travel tickets to join the team,” Echo Content Sports, which represents the goalkeeper, said in a statement released last weekend.
“However, he was surprised by the official response that the club does not recognize the contract concluded between the two parties and that it is invalid for reasons we deem as illogical.”
The agency called Al-Nassr’s proposed settlement deal as being “insufficient.”
Now it seems that unless the situation changes, the player is ready to take his grievance to the world governing body.
“Accordingly, we will refer the matter to FIFA’s relevant court, demand the full payment stipulated in the contract and demand compensation because of the damages caused by Al-Nassr club.”
Sources close to the player believe that the arrival of Garcia changed Al-Nassr’s plan. With former Arsenal goalkeeper Ospina now between the sticks, the Egyptian, whose form since the Africa Cup of Nations has been erratic enough that he has lost his club spot to Mohamed Awad, was no longer seen as necessary.
Al-Nassr, however, dispute that a valid deal was ever made.
“Both parties agreed on a contract starting from August 1, based on the information provided by the player and his agent that his contract with Zamalek ended on July 1, 2022,” the club said in a statement, in reply to Gabaski’s claims.
“The information received by the club meant that the player cannot join us on a free transfer on the aforementioned date and that he will remain bound to a contract with Zamalek club until August 30, 2022.
“The player and his agent were contacted and they were asked to provide evidence that the player is available on a free transfer and is not bound to any other contract on that date but no proof was sent, and insisted that the information they provided was correct.
“After giving the player and his agent sufficient time to amend his legal status, Al-Nassr notified the player that what had been agreed upon is void and has no legal effect. Al-Nassr Football Club cannot be tied to a contract with any player that results in a serious legal violation.”
At present, the two camps have differing versions of events. It is expected that, unless Al-Nassr make an improved offer, then Gabaski will turn to FIFA.
Nobody knows what the outcome would be but if it results in Al-Nassr being unable to register new players for a while, they would at least be in good company. Officials at Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad will surely be taking a close interest.