Steven Gerrard was on Monday announced as the new manager of Al Ettifaq in Saudi Arabia – admittedly not the most obvious next destination for the former Liverpool captain following spells in charge of Rangers and Aston Villa. Here’s a look at the Saudi Pro League club.
Who are they?
Ettifaq are two-time Saudi champions, who will compete in the 2023/24 Saudi Pro League, which begins next month. The club’s two primary colours are green and red.
Where are they?
The club are based in Dammam, in the east of Saudi Arabia. Considered the capital of the Eastern Province, Dammam sits on the Arabian Gulf. It is a 1.05-hour flight to Riyadh, with Jeddah 2.05 hours away by plane. Dubai, meanwhile, is a 1.20 hour flight from the city. Ettifaq play their homes matches at the Prince Mohammad bin Fahd Stadium.
Ettifaq ended the 2022/23 season seventh in the standings. Frenchman Patrice Carteron began the campaign in charge, but he was replaced in February by caretaker Antonio Cazorla. Ettifaq exited the King’s Cup, the country’s premier cup competition, at the last 16.
Having won the Crown Prince Cup and the King’s Cup in the mid-1960s, Ettifaq lifted the Saudi top-flight title in the 1982/83 season and the 1986/87 campaign. In 1983, they became the first club from Dammam to be crowned champions, and the first Saudi side to win the league by going unbeaten throughout the season. Ettifaq achieved regional and Arab glory by winning the GCC Champions League in 1983, 1988 and 2006, and the Arab Club Champions Cup in 1984 and 1988. The second of their two King’s Cups arrived in 1985.
The Al Dabal family are inextricably linked with the club. Abdullah Al Dabal was the historic club president from the late 1970s and early 1980s, while his son Khalid is the current club president. Khalid Al Dabal oversaw something of a revival after Ettifaq were relegated in 2014; the club regained their place in the top tier of Saudi football in 2016. Interestingly, Khalid Al Dabal seems to be a long-term Gerrard fan: in 2013, he referred to the Liverpool captain as “a living giant”, while he previously tweeted in Arabic: “Gerrard may not have touched the [Premier League] title, but he touched many hearts.”
Saleh Bashir is the club’s all-time record goalscorer, having represented Ettiifaq from 2002 to 2013. Of the current squad, winger and captain Mohammed Al Kuwaykibi has been a long-time contributor, while Sweden international Robin Quaison has been with Ettifaq since moving in 2021 from Germany’s Mainz 05. Germany international Amin Younes, meanwhile, was signed in January 2022 on a free transfer having represented Ajax, Napoli and Eintracht Frankfurt.
Other former Ettifaq players known to the region include Sebastian Tagliabue, the second-highest scorer in UAE football history and current UAE international.
After spending his entire playing career at his boyhood club, Khalil Al Zayani guided Ettifaq as manager through their golden period. He led the team to the twin Saudi championship titles, both GCC Champions League successes and the Arab Club Champions Cup crown. But perhaps Al Zayani is best known for masterminding Saudi Arabia’s inaugural Asian Cup success, in 1984. He was aged 37 at the time.
Other former managers known to the region include Brazil’s Toni, who also coached current Saudi champions Al Ittihad and Sharjah in the UAE; Croatia’s Branko Ivankovic, the former Iran manager and current head coach of Oman; Goran Tufeddzic, currently in charge of Al Nasr in Dubai, and Juan Carlos Garrido, who managed Al Ain in 2019.
It's worth noting that Gerrard will not be too far from a friendly face and perhaps future rival manager: last week former Liverpool teammate Robbie Fowler was confirmed as the new man in charge at second tier Al Qadsiah. The club sit only a short drive from Dammam.