Saudi Football: Soon to be Top 10 in the World?

On November 22, 2022, Saudi Arabia defeated the soon-to-be FIFA World Cup champions during the group stage (who was led by Lionel Messi). The world was shocked; they could not believe what had just happened, and it went down as one of the biggest shocks in the prolonged history of football. But it was not a shock to people involved in the Saudi Arabian football institution; it was something they had been preparing for. It is an extension of Vision 2030 guided by HH Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, known as MBS, and they are just getting started.

Since the introduction of Vision 2030, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been looking forward and envisioning a country that breathes football and wants to be on top, going toe-to-toe with the elite in the beautiful game. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is regarded as one of Asia’s pioneering football teams. It has qualified for the World Cup six times, beginning in the 1994 World Cup in the United States, where it reached the Round of 16. This accomplishment was, at one time, considered the best result in World Cup history. They recently had back-to-back qualifying events for World Cups in Qatar in 2022 and Russia in 2018, battling for qualification with historic national teams likes of Japan and Australia. Moreover, they have been crowned champions of Asia three times.

This began in 2017 with King Salman’s appointment of Turki Al Shaikh as General Sport Authority. He is considered one of the revolutionary people in the sports industry in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; he is also a Saudi royal court advisor and the owner of the Spanish football club Almeria. He started with a campaign of anti-corruption and reform of the whole industry of Saudi football; he brought huge national companies to sponsor the professional league and ordered clubs to bring in more fans by doing more events during the game. In addition, there has been a huge overhaul in the way tickets are purchased. He ordered and created an online market place for tickets to be sold online. Entrances in stadiums similar to those in Europe are made by more innovative, technological gates. Debts on clubs have been paid so they can get clearance to play in Asia and globally.

Furthermore, he signed a memorandum of understanding with elite clubs like Manchester United to improve and develop Saudi football, even signing an agreement with La Liga to sponsor and market two academies in Riyadh and Jeddah. Most importantly, there has been an initiative called “Support your club,” which enables fans to support their club financially via their mobile phones.

In 455 days, Turki al Shaikh has restructured and built a solid foundation for the development of Saudi football. In 2019, Turki al Shaikh was appointed as Chairman of the General Authority of Entertainment.

In 2020, Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Saud was appointed as Minister of Sports. He has taken football in Saudi Arabia to the next level, with more competition in the league and world-class footballers and managers joining the league, most notably Cristiano Ronaldo, who has joined Al Nassr FC. Saudi side Al Hilal have won the Asian Champions League in 2019 and 2021 against high-level Asian teams; they also qualified for the Club World Cup, where they faced Chelsea and went toe-to-toe in an exceptional game.

 They have also hosted Italian and Spanish Super Cups with the likes of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, AC Milan, Juventus, and Inter Milan in world-class, sold-out stadiums. The Saudi Super Cup has also been played in London at Loftus Road.

 They also signed a massive sponsorship deal worth 478 million Saudi riyals with Roshn, a wholly owned public investment fund company. In addition, to align with Vision 2030, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) has also completed the takeover of history-rich football club Newcastle United. There were also talks to complete a takeover of Manchester United, but the two parties couldn’t reach an agreement.

the Saudi Football Federation recently won a bid to host the 2027 Asian Cup.

Women in Saudi Arabia also have a huge role to play in football, as a Saudi Women’s Football National Team was introduced, and they have a long-term plan to participate in their first FIFA Women’s World Cup in the next few years. There has also been a Saudi Women’s Premier League since its founding in 2020.

“The future can be bright in this country,” as stated by Men’s National Football Coach Herve Renard talking to Arab News in 2021. This country is moving forward and not looking back and it’s hoping to be on top soon, very soon. Thanks to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, these stunning and fast-paced plans are skyrocketing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the top, and they won’t turn off anytime soon. Football in Saudi Arabia has revitalized and changed its sphere. There has been a plan to make the Saudi League one of the Top 10 Leagues in Football, competing with the English, Italian, and Spanish leagues, qualifying for World Cups, and inheriting and growing world-class national players. This plan is in the making, and its roots are growing and showing the world what this great nation can offer to football.

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