The last coach to join a Saudi club after leaving the English Premier League has proven to be a major success. Nuno Espirito Santo joined Al-Ittihad last year, having left Tottenham Hotspur, and went on to win the SPL last season.
Saudi Arabian clubs have recently also been signing high-profile players from the EPL, with the likes of Ruben Neves, Kalidou Koulibaly and Edouard Mendy arriving on these shores.
Now the English are making an appearance in the country, with Steven Gerrard taking over as Ettifaq coach on Monday, another development that could not have been foreseen just a few months ago.
The Liverpool legend has a reputation to forge, and his former club’s loyal army of worldwide fans are going to be watching intently to see what happens.
Gerrard is one of the most formidable figures in the history of the English Premier League, famously leading Liverpool to the UEFA Champions League title in 2005, spending 17 years at the club and also playing over 100 times for England.
There were high hopes then when he headed into coaching; here was a thoughtful young tactician with years of big-time experience to fall back on.
He won the title with Glasgow Rangers, a giant of British football, and that success led to him being offered the top job at Aston Villa in November 2021.
His first few months at the home of the 1982 European champions went well, and his stature in the game helped attract talented players such as Philippe Coutinho, who joined from Barcelona. The second season did not go well, however, and after just two wins from the first 12 games of the campaign, he was dismissed.
At that time, nobody could have predicted that his next job would be in the eastern city of Dammam.
This is a passionate region for football in Saudi Arabia, but success has been elusive in the 21st century. The club’s glory days were in the 1980s and the 1990s, with two league titles in 1983 and 1987.
In fact, there are parallels with Liverpool’s golden era of the 1980s, before Gerrard came around and helped to deliver European success.
If he can do something similar with Ettifaq, who have had too many mediocre seasons — seventh last season looks good, but they were only nine points above the drop zone and 35 behind the champions — in recent years, then there is still time to show that Gerrard’s coaching career has a bright future.
It is an interesting choice for both parties. Gerrard brings instant global recognition to Ettifaq, great connections with some of the big clubs and top players in Europe, and, one assumes, a hunger to prove that those who have written his coaching career off are wrong.
Ettifaq have offered a path to get his coaching career back on track. Stepping out of your comfort zone is never easy, but whatever happens, the least Gerrard can expect is an experience on and off the pitch that will make him a better coach. He will be thrown into a very different football culture and a very different country, and if all goes well then there could be many more benefits for both sides.
But Gerrard is not the only Liverpool and Premier League legend to head to Saudi Arabia in the past few days. His former team-mate Robbie Fowler also has an high international profile and is now head coach of second-tier Saudi club Al-Qadsia.
It is quite a coup for the club, who are looking to return to the big time and former glories.
Both parties have had success in the past, but both have ambitions. Fowler is a firm favorite among Liverpool fans, and one of a long line of famous forward, such as Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish, Michael Owen, Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez and Mohammed Salah.
Now he finds himself in Saudi Arabia along with Gerrard.
Nobody knows what is going to happen, but it is going to be another fascinating storyline in what is going to be a league season unlike any other.