These African internationals who have chosen to play in Saudi Arabia

The 2023/24 season in Saudi Arabia has started with several African internationals. Most of them played in Europe. Workforce review.

Senegalese international Sadio Mané (r) during the match against Al-Ettifaq, August 14, 2023. AFP - ALI ALHAJI

Text by: Farid Achache Follow


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Saudi Arabia had attracted Cristiano Ronaldo, who arrived at Al-Nassr last January. At the beginning of June, it was another Ballon d'Or, Karim Benzema, who signed an XXL contract with Al-Ittihad. Last big star to join this oil country: the Brazilian Neymar. For several weeks, thanks to high salaries, the clubs of the oil monarchy have also convinced several African players to commit to the Saudi Pro League.

African champions in the Saudi Pro League

Crowned with a historic treble with Manchester City last season, Algerian international Riyad Mahrez, African champion in 2019, has signed a four-year contract with Al-Ahli.

Al-Ahli also recorded the arrival of Senegalese Edouard Mendy, winner of the last CAN in Cameroon and named best goalkeeper of the competition by the Confederation of African Football (CAF). According to several media reports, Al-Ahli paid Chelsea around €18.5 million to lure the 31-year-old goalkeeper.

Another African champion has chosen Saudi Arabia to continue his career in the Gulf: Sadio Mané, 31, from Bayern Munich. He joined Al-Nassr for an annual salary of around 40 million euros, according to the Saudi press. Sadio Mané needed only four minutes of play to open his goal counter in the Saudi Championship against Al-Ettifaq on Monday, August 14.

Another Lion of Teranga to have responded favorably to the sirens of Saudi Arabia, Kalidou Koulibaly. The 32-year-old defender, who arrived at Chelsea last summer, has joined Al-Hilal. The one who has 317 games with Napoli in 8 seasons has signed a contract until 2026. The native of Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, passed by Metz between 2010 and 2012 at the beginning of his career, had played only 23 Premier League games with Chelsea. Money played a decisive role in his decision. "I can't deny that. I will be able to help my whole family to live well, from my parents to my cousins, and support the activities of my association "Captain of the Heart" in Senegal.We started building a clinic in my parents' village (...) I have a lot of plans to help young people," he said.

Ivorian international Seko Fofana, from Ligue 1, is now Cristiano Ronaldo's teammate at Al-Nassr. The 28-year-old midfielder left RC Lens as the northern France club prepare to return to the Champions League. "There is the financial aspect, which, we must not hide, is incredible. But we must not limit ourselves to that. You have to come and see here, the clubs, the infrastructure. Every day I train with great players. I just played eight games in one month. I have a lot of fun every day. Really, I am at peace with my choice," said the former winner of the Marc-Vivien Foé Prize in the columns of L'Équipe.

African players in Saudi Arabia since 2008

Franck Kessié, 26, from FC Barcelona, left the Catalan club after a single season at Al-Ahli. The Saudi club has paid 12.5 million euros to FC Barcelona. In Europe, the Ivorian international had also played at AC Milan between 2017 and 2022. Algerian international Ryad Boudebouz left AS Saint-Etienne for Al-Ahli.

Gabonese Biyogo Poko is now an Al Wehda player and Guinean François Kamano plays for Abah Club. Nigerian Henry Chukwuemeka Onyekuru is part of Al Fayha's squad. Habib Diallo (Senegal) is in Al Shabab.

Since Saudi Arabia's top division turned professional in 2008, dozens of African footballers have packed their bags. One example is Egyptian goalkeeper Essam El Hadary, a four-time winner of the Africa Cup of Nations. He spent one season at Al-Taawoun Football Club (2017-2018).

Nigerians Odion Ighalo and Ahmed Musa have distinguished themselves for several seasons in Saudi Arabia. If Musa is no longer in Saudi Arabia (Al-Nassr, 2018-2020), Odion Ighalo continues the adventure with his third club: Al-Wehda. He also went through Al-Shabab and Al-Hilal.

Ghanaian Christian Atsu, who died in the last major earthquake in Turkey, had spent only one season at Al-Raed Saudi FC (2021-2022), where he hardly played due to a serious knee injury.

Cameroon's Vincent Aboubakar was based at Al-Nassr until he was ruled out - given the limit of eight foreigners per team - to make way for Cristiano Ronaldo.

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  • Football
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