Hamoudi Fayad brings you the next edition of this series and talks about the best U-23 players to watch out for in the Saudi Pro League this season.
Fahad Al-Muwallad // Ittihad // 21 // Winger / Striker
Similar to Raheem Sterling, Fahad Al-Muwallad is one of the if not the most enigmatic player in the Saudi league. His pace is unmatched in the region and his dribbling skills are not too bad either, but it’s his inability to release the ball on the run or under pressure that doesn’t place him amongst the top bracket in the region. Even so, he is still believed to be one of the best at his age.
He kicked off the first week of the 2016/17 Saudi league in style, moving from the left wing to striker in the second half as per Jose Luis Sierra’s instructions scoring 2 goals and an assist in the process.
Abdulmajeed Al-Sulayhem // Al-Shabab // 22 // Central Midfielder / Winger
One of the underrated players on the list, the young winger/pivot (in the form of Kevin Kampl) was one of the bright stars of the Saudi National Team U-23 in Qatar. He’s also been a part of a not-well supported Al-Shabab team, who have underachieved in the last season hence the lack of coverage towards his exploits.
The player is capable of performing a Kevin Kampl. Whether it is to support pressing (albeit, unlike the teams Kampl played in, Sulayhem does it individually), wow everyone with his skills or draw full backs out of their positions to beat them on the wing or support his fellow pivot with a deeper attacking midfield role, the lad is nearly always up to the task.
Abdulfattah Assiri // Ittihad // 22 // Winger / Attacking Midfielder
Photo credit: STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images
The Messi of Saudi Arabia? If there’s anyone whose technical ability helped him to don that label it’s Abdulfattah Assiri. Sadly for the Ittihad player, a plight of injuries has halted his growth massively and a move to Jeddah neighbours who are also Saudi Champions, was apparently invalid and the player is currently registered with Ittihad. The player now faces the challenge of Egyptian winger Mahmoud Kahraba, Chilean maestro Carlos Villanueva and the man himself Fahad Al-Muwallad for a spot in the Ittihad attacking midfield which is a tough task for a player who only made 11 starts in 26 games.
Abdulla Mado // Al-Nassr // Centre-Back
Having starred at the AFC U-23 Championship and expected to take up the mantle since then only to be disappointed with his limited appearances, Abdullah Mado may just rack up more minutes this season. The departure of Bahraini centre back Mohammed Hussain and the less than decent performances from Mohammad Eid may allow him to perform but Mado’s pre-season shift has been largely disappointing.
With the trigger-happy Saudi Pro League, Abdulla Mado went from being a promising defender that could solve Al-Nassr’s problems to a player who should be sent to the amateur leagues. Moreover, Bruno Uvini’s arrival from Napoli has killed any chance for Mado to start because of the presence of international centre back Omar Hawsawi. Many have called for his a loan move to a lesser team in the midst of the Uvini signing, but with the curious case of Mohammad Eid, Mado could provide a decent back-up for now.
Saleh Al-Amri // Al-Ahli // 22 // Winger / Striker
Originally a striker, Saleh Al-Amri was tested by Christian Gross on the left wing and he starred in that position until an injury hit him. Whenever he’s been stationed on the left wing he has excelled, which is great to see for a player in an environment where consistency is lacking for youngsters and even a range of senior players. He’s skillful and accurate when passing, cutting inside and preferring to play as an inside forward. He’s also adept at the defensive side that new Al-Ahli manager Jose Gomes tried him out at right-back in pre-season due to his capabilities in that aspect.
Abdulrahman Al-Ghamdi // Ittihad // 21 // Winger / Striker
Photo credit: KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images
Despite his age Abdulrahman Al-Ghamdi has been amongst the Ittihad ranks for around 3 years, making his debut when he was 19. He then went on to produce a stellar season for the Tigers after appearing 23 times (11 starts), scoring 8 and creating one. The season that followed saw a record of 7 goals and 1 assist in 17 games (9 starts), not too shabby for the winger but definitely improvement is expected after a period of stagnation. He’s now amongst the starters once again but his effect may be diluted as a result of fellow teammates Carlos Villanueva, Fahad Al-Ansari and the electrifying Mahmoud Kahraba who are all involved in the game to a greater extent. Nevertheless, one to always look forward too.
Ziyad Al-Sahafi // Ittihad // 21 // Centre-Back
Known for his screamer of a debut goal that won the Saudi Clasico against Al-Hilal last season, Ziyad Al-Sahafi managed to rack up 1121 minutes for Ittihad too. A great physique is what he offers but moreover the confident style that doesn’t come with many a Middle Eastern defender is a trait that is invaluable. I mean, who the hell would attempt THAT shot against Al-Hilal 4 minutes into the derby in his first season?
Luckily for Al-Sahafi, after the less than convincing performances by Ahmad Assiri for Ittihad in central defence, he is now next in line to take the spot. Partnering new signing Bader Al-Nakhli may come across the coming weeks if not the next. It’s really a matter of when, not if.
Mansour Al-Najjar // Al-Wehda // 21 // Defensive Midfielder
Mansour Al-Najjar is different to every other player on this list in almost every aspect. Firstly, he plays for a side fighting to avoid relegation which are based in Mecca. Secondly, his position and role differs from the rest of the team. His calming presence in the middle of the pitch for such a young player is a breath of fresh air for his side and his ability to dictate his way out of tight spaces is more than adequate, especially compared with the rest of the league. He’s not so much of a deep lying playmaker, but someone who can shift play from side to side and act like a platform for the rest of his teammates.
Abdulmajeed Al-Sawat // Al-Hilal // 21 // Attacking Midfielder
62 minutes. Yes, just over an hour of senior league football is all that Abdulmajeed Al-Sawat has experienced. Yet he is highly rated in Riyadh, with his rise expected soon but no one knows whether Gustavo Matosas is willing to risk with the youngster or how highly he rates him. He provides a different dimension than the rest of his teammates in midfield too. He drops into the half spaces quite often and likes to dribble with the ball and aim for the box. But unlike his teammates and the rest of the players on this list, Abdulmajeed Al-Sawat is largely untested and his bags of potential may just be another story of an overrated “superstar” at the massive giant in Al-Hilal.
Mustafa Al-Bassas // Al-Ahli // Central Midfielder // 23 // Winger / Right Back
Similar to Angel Di Maria in his running style, Mustafa Al-Bassas has a bright future ahead of him in Saudi Football and can deputise at anywhere on the right flank as well as central and attacking midfield. His versatility is unmatched – except perhaps by the superb wing back Yasser Al-Shahrani – but he needs to convert that capability into final product to be amongst the best in the region. Otherwise, his passing ability is more than decent, with him usually the source of passes from midfield to the wingers. He’s also not too shabby in the tackle considering his height (172cm).
Read all our Talent Radar 2016-17 Young Players to Watch across all leagues, here.
Hamoudi is a writer who admires tactically analysing football games whether it is the La Liga or the Lebanese Premier League. He also has an interest in the psychological side of the game. Written for ContinentalZone, Footynions, Justfootball. Co-Founder of Middle Eastern football website Ahdaaf(.me). Dislikes the lack of tactical intelligence in the English Premier League. Obsessed with defensive midfielders.
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