Saudi Pro League influx leaves Barnes unconvinced of long-term growth

By Sports Desk July 23, 2023

John Barnes is unconvinced the influx of star talents into the Saudi Pro League will necessarily grow Saudi Arabian football on the world stage.

Cristiano Ronaldo's mid-season arrival at Al-Nassr after the Qatar 2022 World Cup marked the start of a dramatic influx of major players joining clubs in Saudi Arabia's top league.

Karim Benzema, N'Golo Kante and Roberto Firmino are among those who have made the move to the Saudi Pro League, where lucrative contracts have tempted several high-profile players.

Liverpool legend Barnes is not sure the competition's aggressive recruitment will improve their position, pointing to the past failures of the Chinese Super League and Saudi Arabia's own strong international record.

"Football has always been big all over the world, since the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s," he told Stats Perform. "Now, because of the media attention you're looking at what's going on in Saudi Arabia.

"10 years ago, people went to China, and now they're going to Saudi Arabia. But once again, like America, just getting some retired players, or players who want to go for the money to go there may not be as good.

"It's more to make the statement of being able to attract superstar players there. That's not necessarily going to grow the league and Saudi Arabia has been doing well internationally anyway.

"They qualified for the World Cup, they were the only team to beat Argentina. Once again, that's very similar to what goes on in America.

"If ex-players or players coming towards the careers want to make a lot of money, they do that. That doesn't necessarily impact the local football."

Fellow former Liverpool player Steven Gerrard is another who has made the move to the Saudi Pro League, to manage Al-Ettifaq, while Jordan Henderson is also expected to join him there.

Henderson's reported move has led to a mixed reception on Merseyside, but Gary McAllister – another former Liverpool player – believes Gerrard should be admired for stepping out of his comfort zone.

"I think Steven was close [to] a couple of jobs in the UK, and they didn't quite land for him," he added. "There was an opportunity, and the club obviously wanted him strongly.

"He's made the decision to go and have a go. I think that's something that you've got to admire. He is going to go there, and it's going to be different, it's a new adventure for him.

"But he's back in the game, and that's what he wanted to do. He wanted to get back in the game. There weren't the avenues here or across Europe. He's made the decision, and he's gone for it."

McAllister believes Saudi Arabia will continue to push and grow its sporting portfolio, but acknowledges there is a long way to go for their football system to catch up with Europe.

"Over the past 10 years, Saudi has gone big and has been able to persuade Formula One to go there," he added. "All the big heavyweight championship bouts have been brought there.

"Obviously, what's happened recently with [LIV] golf, they want to be involved in world sport. I don't think it's going to go away, I think they'll continue to try and invest in all sports right across the board.

"[But] there's a long way to go for other countries to try and take away the power of some of the great clubs that have existed for a long time.

"The game is new in Saudi, so it'll take a long time before they can actually match what happens across Europe and in South America, and even in MLS."

Related items

  • Howe: Newcastle performance in Palace defeat 'way off' Spurs win Howe: Newcastle performance in Palace defeat 'way off' Spurs win

    Eddie Howe admitted Newcastle United's performance in the 2-0 loss at Crystal Palace on Wednesday was "way off" the one that saw them thump Tottenham in their previous game.

    Howe's men hammered Spurs 4-0 in their last match, but they never got close to matching the attacking verve from that outing and a Jean-Philippe Mateta double condemned the Magpies to defeat at Selhurst Park.

    Newcastle didn't even manage a shot on target until the 87th minute, accumulating just 0.42 xG (expected goals) as the likes of Alexander Isak and Anthony Gordon struggled to make an impact.

    Only against Manchester City in August (one) have Newcastle recorded fewer shots on target in a Premier League game this season than their two against Palace, and Howe was critical of his team's display in the loss, one that all but ends their hopes of finishing in the top four.

    "[It is a] bad day for us," Howe told Newcastle's club media.

    "I thought we were disappointing today, especially in the first 60 minutes. We were way off our levels against Tottenham and our best levels.

    "I thought technically we didn't deliver a good performance, and out of possession I don't think it was a particularly good performance either."

    Newcastle were unlocked twice for Mateta to score by a Palace side who themselves only generated 0.88 xG.

    Howe was left frustrated by the manner in which his side conceded, adding: "I think we'll be disappointed with our performance technically today, and that's probably epitomised by the two goals where we're disappointed with how we've given them the ball in those situations and then how we defended.

    "I think the goals sum up aspects of our performance where there was some good, lots of moments that could have led to opportunities, but we were slow to shoot around the box," he said.

    The defeat, combined with Manchester United's 4-2 win over Sheffield United, means Newcastle drop to seventh, while eighth-placed West Ham are two points behind with a game in hand.

    Newcastle have now lost eight of their last 11 Premier League away games, while they have lost on four occasions in London in the league this term, only doing so more times in a Premier League season in 2000-01 and 2005-06 (both five).

    It's been a disappointing season for Howe and his side, especially compared to the heroics of last term when Newcastle finished in the top four, and the Magpies boss knows there's work to be done to get back to those levels.

    "It's a day that we have to take our punishment, deal with it, and then try and improve," Howe continued. "It's frustrating because we know we're capable of much better."

  • Dyche challenges Everton to 'go and do it again' after crucial derby victory Dyche challenges Everton to 'go and do it again' after crucial derby victory

    Sean Dyche challenged his Everton players to "go and do it again" after his team defeated Liverpool at Goodison Park in the Merseyside derby.

    Everton won 2-0 on Wednesday, clinching a home victory over their local rivals for the first time since 2010 thanks to goals from Jarrad Branthwaite and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

    While it also dented Liverpool's title hopes, the victory presented a huge step forward in Everton's hopes of staying up.

    They are now eight points clear of the relegation zone, with four games left to play, and the possibility of points to come back should they successfully appeal the second of their points deductions for financial breaches.

    Dyche, though, insisted the job is not done as he looks towards another big game on Saturday, when Brentford visit Goodison Park.

    "Very pleased with the reaction," Dyche told Sky Sports.

    "This was a different game with the organisation and the belief in the organisation. They're a good side, we know that. The commitment from us had to be there. The energy of the side and also the key moments.

    "We spoke about the desire and the energy of the team and the physical side of the game. The lads did it on Sunday and they'll have to do it again. That's the challenge.

    "We stayed focused tonight and I asked if they could stay with us and they did. Sunday was massive and now it was a massively important derby game. For people like Seamus Coleman, he wears his heart on his sleeve and he's so happy.

    "We should be on 41 points and the story's different. Three clean sheets in three home games. The challenge for the players is to go and do it again."

    Calvert-Lewin led the line brilliantly, converting Everton's second with a towering header early in the second half. He has scored three goals in his last four Premier League games for the Toffees, as many as in his previous 28 appearances in the competition.

    "I thought [Calvert-Lewin] was outstanding tonight," Dyche said.

    "We've been trying to get him back to where he needs to be and I thought he was outstanding. He gets a goal. He tried to get it over the line and I love that. The second one is a great header. No, I thought he was outstanding tonight.

    "Jordan Pickford made some big saves in the first half. It's rare you stop these sides having chances so you need moments yourself. It's hard to pick out one or two [players]."

  • Man Utd matchwinner Fernandes: Criticism part of the job Man Utd matchwinner Fernandes: Criticism part of the job

    Bruno Fernandes said Manchester United's players cannot afford to get annoyed by outside criticism, after he scored twice to fire the Red Devils to a much-needed win over Sheffield United.

    Erik ten Hag's team were roundly criticised for their performance in Sunday's FA Cup semi-final against Coventry City, as they surrendered a 3-0 lead to draw 3-3 before inching through in a penalty shoot-out.

    They had also gone four Premier League games without a win (three draws, one defeat) prior to Wednesday's meeting with the rock-bottom Blades, with their hopes of Champions League football all-but over.

    They twice trailed as Sheffield United threatened a huge upset, but Fernandes scored twice and supplied an assist as they fought back to claim a 4-2 win.

    Asked whether the noise around Sunday's semi-final win had affected the mood at Old Trafford, Fernandes told Sky Sports: "That's part of the job. 

    "You can be in a run of games where you win eight or nine in a row, and when you lose one you know you'll be criticised. 

    "Being at Manchester United demands winning every game, so it's part of the job. If there is anyone in the dressing room still not used to that, they will get used to it!

    "Being a Manchester United player demands being ready to receive as much criticism as praise. We receive praise when we do good things so we can't be annoyed by the criticism.

    "When people want to do that, they might have a point. We can think in a different way, but we have to take it in the same way as we take the credit they give us."

    Ten Hag's team did look disjointed for long periods on Wednesday, though, and they have now conceded 50 Premier League goals this season.

    The Red Devils have now shipped a half-century of goals in two of their last three Premier League campaigns, having done so just once in their previous 29.

    Ten Hag, though, was content with most aspects of their performance, saying: "It was a good game for the crowd, they saw four goals and many chances that we created.

    "I think we played quite well, we created many more chances, so there's many positives. But also negatives. Conceding two goals from giveaways, that's unacceptable.

    "We want to play dynamic, attacking football. That is what we want to see. Since the winter we have created lots of chances and also scored a lot of those chances."

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.