RIYADH: For some time now, there have been calls for more Saudi Arabian players to head overseas.
Not only does this provide vital international experience for the country’s best talent to develop and then bring back to the national team and their colleagues it also gives opportunities for young players at home to step up to fill the gap.
It is also exciting to see how they perform. That is why the prospect of stars such as Salem Al-Dawsari heading overseas to play in Europe is an enticing one.
It has yet to really happen but then, all of a sudden, there is news of a Saudi coach taking over a foreign team at a high level.
On Sunday, it was announced that Hammoud Al-Saiari had been appointed as head coach of Tunisian top-flight club AS Rejiche. He is the first Saudi tactician to work in the north African country.
Al-Saiari, who has experience with second-tier teams at home such as Al-Ain, Al-Nahda, and Jeddah, replaces local boss Ferid Ben Belgacem.
“I have contracted with Rejiche and am proud to be the first Saudi coach to work in a strong league in a different country,” Al-Saiari said, thanking the president of his new club.
The east-coast team are not one of the powerhouses of Tunisian football and were promoted to the top tier in 2021. For them, the current league season is over after finishing fourth in Group B just outside the play-off places (the 16-team top tier is divided into two groups of eight with the top three from each progressing to the next stage).
The new man will be in charge for the Tunisian Cup which starts next month. If Al-Saiari can impress during the competition, then he is likely to be handed a lengthier contract to take control of the team for next season.
This is an encouraging and natural response to the situation at home. There are some fine coaches in the top tier of the Saudi Professional League, but they are all foreign. Opportunities for home-grown managers are few and far between and they are usually confined to short-term caretaker positions or second-tier jobs.
At Al-Ettifaq, Khaled Al-Alwi’s time in charge came to an end in October and so the league lost the last permanent local who was replaced by Vladan Milojevic. The Serbian was himself replaced in March by Patrice Carteron and the team are still deep in relegation trouble, so perhaps there is something to be said for sticking with Saudi talent.
In East Asian countries, there is usually more of a mix between foreign and domestic tacticians. Almost half in the Japanese top tier are foreign, with South Korea having just one international boss, a situation also not seen as ideal.
Foreign bosses bring new ideas, methods, and experience and those that are committed and enthusiastic can make a real difference to the league as well as individual players. It is also great for local coaches to pit their wits against counterparts from Brazil, Serbia, Argentina, and the Netherlands and to also learn from them.
However, in the absence of opportunity it is natural that coaches will seek pastures new, and it is a good sign. Al-Saiari’s move should be huge news in Saudi Arabia and fans and media in the country should get behind their export to Tunisia, a level that is decent in Africa and would rival most in Asia.
A big-name player such as Al-Dawsari going overseas is always going to grab the headlines but if Saudi Arabia can start exporting coaches, then it will be a huge benefit to the country and also show those budding tacticians starting out that there is a professional pathway in the game.
What should also happen is that if the likes of Al-Saiari and other Saudi bosses can have success abroad then they will be more attractive to clubs at home. It all helps to strengthen the domestic football scene.
All this is a lot of pressure to place on one coach who has a short-term contract with a mid-table Tunisian club but for the situation to change, there always has to be a first.
There should be a few more people interested in the Tunisian Cup next month and if AS Rejoice can show signs of improvement in the knockout competition, then next season could be fascinating indeed and also meaningful for the future.