The 2023/24 Saudi Pro League promises to be one of the most intriguing in the kingdom’s history, with Saudi Arabian clubs experiencing an unprecedented level of player recruitment.
Here’s all you need to know about the league, which now features the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, Roberto Firmino and Steven Gerrard.
What is the Saudi Pro League?
Established in 1976, the Saudi Pro League represents the top tier of Saudi Arabian football. Roshn, a real estate division of the Public Investment Fund, has been the league’s title sponsor since last year.
Which teams have had the most success?
Al Hilal are record 18-time winners, while current champions Al Ittihad sit second alongside Al Nassr, with nine each. Al Shabab, another Riyadh club, have six titles, Al Ahli three, Al Ettifaq two and Al Fateh one.
Why will the 2023/24 season be so different?
The kingdom has invested significantly in its top league this summer. This has been marked by an unprecedented spend on player recruitment, with the likes of Benzema, Kante, Firmino, Ruben Neves and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic following Ronaldo, who signed for Nassr last December, to Saudi. Last month, the kingdom announced the Sports Clubs Investment and Privatisation Project.
Launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the initiative aims to encourage private investment in the sports sector. Aligned with the kingdom’s Vision 2030, it will have a particular focus on football. One of the project’s primary objectives is to position the Saudi Pro League as one of the top 10 football leagues in the world.
As part of the privatisation objective, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) acquired a 75 per cent stake in Al Hilal, Al Nassr, Al Ittihad and Al Ahli – the league’s four lead clubs. The remaining 25 per cent will be controlled by a non-profit organisation. The Sports Clubs Investment and Privatisation Project will seek to increase the league’s annual revenue from 450 million Saudi riyals ($120 million) to more than 1.8 billion riyals. The kingdom has also targeted raising the Pro League’s market value from 3 billion riyals to more than 8 billion riyals by 2030.
When does the new season start and finish?
August 11 through until next May. The league will break from December 30-February 15 to accommodate the rescheduled 2023 Asian Cup, in Qatar.
How many teams will contest the 2023/24 season?
The league has been expanded from 16 teams last season to 18 now and comprises the top 14 clubs (two, Al Batin and Al Adalah, were relegated) from the 2022/23 campaign and four promoted from the second tier (Ahli, Al Hazem, Al Okhdood and Al Riyadh). The teams will play each other twice, in a home and away format, meaning each club have 34 league matches to contest.
When are matches played?
The majority of matches will fall between Thursday and Saturday. However, the opening matchday includes games on Sunday and Monday, while Matchday 4 takes place across Monday August 28 and Tuesday August 29. Also, Matchday 6 will run through until Sunday September 17.
How much are match tickets?
Prices can range from SAR10 to SAR100 ($2.70-$27) for general access and from SAR100 to SAR1,000 for VIP.
What are attendances like?
The Saudi Pro League is among the best attended in Asia, with official figures stating attendances had increased by 150 per cent in the past year alone. The total number cited was 2,249,161 – a record. Champions Ittihad averaged 40,400 for their home matches, which can climb to almost 60,000 for high-profile games. Capacities are said to range from 5,000 (Damac Club Stadium) to 62,500 (Hilal’s King Fadh International Stadium).
How many foreign players are each team allowed?
Last season, the league permitted teams to register eight foreign players, up by one from the previous campaign. That remains the same for this season.
Next big games to watch in the 2023/24 Saudi Pro League:
Al Nassr v Al Shabab Aug 29 – (Matchday 4)
The season’s first Riyadh derby is sure to provide plenty of fireworks. It will also offer a stern challenge to new Nassr manager Luis Castro, who is tasked with going one better than last season by delivering the capital club's first top-flight title since 2019. Ronaldo, of course, will play protagonist. Fourth last season, Al Shabab are a formidable outfit themselves, highlighted by crafty midfielder Ever Banega and the astute addition of another midfielder, Gustavo Cuellar, from Al Hilal.
Al Ittihad v Al Hilal – Sep 1 (Matchday 5)
Mark the calendars for the season’s first “El Clasico”, with champions Al Ittihad entertaining a revamped Al Hilal at King Abdullah Sports City. Expect a packed house in Jeddah, with the trademark tifos, fireworks and an incredibly vocal backing that last season helped lift Nuno-Espirito Santo’s side to the title. On the pitch, some of the league’s leading players will battle it out not only for bragging rights but a vital three points in the championship. Can Benzema shoot the hosts to success?
Al Ittihad v Al Ahli – Oct 7 (Matchday 9)
Jeddah plays home to the first derby between its lead teams in two seasons. Al Ahli, who bounced straight back into the Pro League to again challenge their crosstown rivals on the main stage, will hope to come into match on the back on a positive result at Al Nassr, whom they play two matchdays beforehand. By then, the expectation is Firmino will have found his feet in Saudi football. Thankfully for his side, though, they have Mendy as the last line of defence against Benzema, Romarinho, Jota, Igor Coronado and Co.
Al Hilal v Al Ahli – Oct 26-28 (Matchday 11)
Rounding off a difficult run that includes games across five matchdays against the three other teams now controlled by the Public Investment Fund, Al Ahli travel to King Fahd International Stadium to take on Al Hilal. Even with Koulibaly, Neves and Milinkovic-Savic signed, the Riyadh club are expected to acquire a top new striker in preseason: Chelsea’s Romelu Lukaku and Fulham’s Aleksander Mitrovic sit high on their list. Once more, Senegal international Mendy may well have to be on top form.
Al Hilal v Al Nassr – Nov 30-Dec 2 (Matchday 15)
The big Riyadh derby, always a standout on the Saudi football calendar, falls well into first half of the season, so in theory it should make for thrilling viewing as both teams will be fully stocked and most probably up to speed. Ronaldo, who scored 14 goals in 16 matches last season, has already outlined his ambition for major silverware after going so close to the title durPreview/Q&A of the season hereing his debut campaign. A sell-out King Fahd International Stadium, where his side lost 2-0 in April, should await.
Al Ittihad v Al Nassr – Dec 14-16 (Matchday 17)
Fans will have to wait until the final match day of the first half to the campaign to witness last season’s champions against its runners-up. Ittihad will once more lean on that incredible home support – they defeated Nassr 1-0 at a vociferous King Abdullah Sports City in March en route to the title – while Nassr will be out for revenge. There should be intriguing battles all over the pitch, with the game also pitting against one another former Real Madrid teammates in Benzema and Ronaldo.
(Note: All manager's are accurate as of August 1)
Stadium: Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Stadium
Manager: Czeslaw Michniewicz
Star player: Grzegorz Krychowiak
Abha, situated in the southwest of the kingdom, have spent the past five seasons in the top-flight but have never won a major trophy. Manager Michniewicz took charge of Poland at last year’s World Cup – they were managed last campaign by former UAE assistant coach Roel Coumans – while former Sevilla and Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Krychowiak has signed following a loan spell at Al Shabab last season.
Stadium: King Abdullah Sports City
Manager: Matthias Jaissle
Star player: Riyad Mahrez
Considered one the league’s “big four”, Ahli spent last season outside the top tier for the first time in their history, but bounced straight back by winning the first division title. Backed by PIF, the three-time Saudi champions have signed Manchester City's treble-winning winger Mahrez, Brazil international Roberto Firmino from Liverpool, Newcastle wideman Allan Saint-Maximin, and Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy from Chelsea. Jaissle arrives as manager after two years at RB Salzburg.
Stadium: Prince Mohamed bin Fahd Stadium
Manager: Steven Gerrard
Star player: Robin Quaison
Ettifaq’s two league titles thus far came back in the 1980s, when they became the first team from Dammam on the east coast to secure the championship. After finishing seventh last season, they appointed Gerrard as manager, with a high-profile move for former Liverpool teammate Jordan Henderson close to completion.
Location: Al Hasa
Stadium: Prince Abdullah bin Jalawi Stadium
Manager: Slaven Bilic
Star player: Cristian Tello
Now under the guidance of new appointment Slaven Bilic, the former Croatia, West Ham United and West Bromwich Albion manager, Fateh are looking to improve on their impressive sixth-placed finish last season. Bilic knows the league a little having coached Ittihad for five months between 2018/19. Spain’s Tello, the former Barcelona, Porto and Real Betis winger, joined in January.
Location: Al Majmaah
Stadium: Al Majmaah Sports City
Manager: Vuk Rasovic
Star player: Vladimir Stojkovic
Fayha surprised many by winning the Saudi title in 2017, and again last year when they defeat powerhouses Al Hilal to land the kingdom’s premier cup competition, the King’s Cup. Well-travelled goalkeeper Stojkovic has represented the likes of Red Star Belgrade, Sporting, Wigan Athletic and Nottingham Forest, not to mention Serbia 84 times. Fayha finished 11th last season.
Location: Ar Rass
Stadium: Al Hazem Club Stadium
Manager: Felipe Gouveia
Star player: Aymen Dahmen
The second of the league’s newly promoted sides, Hazem were pipped to the first division crown last season by Ahli. Situated in Ar Rass in the heart of the kingdom about 350 kilometres from Riyadh, the club has never won a major trophy. Portuguese manager Gouveia has led a nomadic coaching career in his homeland, beginning at Boavista.
Stadium: King Fahd International Stadium
Manager: Jorge Jesus
Star player: Neymar
One of Asia’s most successful clubs, Hilal have won a joint-record four Asian Champions League crowns (they were beaten finalists last season, while also finishing runners-up to Real Madrid in the Fifa Club World Cup), while they have an unprecedented 18 top-flight Saudi titles. Former Benfica manager Jesus was recently installed for this second stint with the capital club, while they have signed Neymar from PSG, Neves from Wolves, Kalidou Koulibaly from Chelsea and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic from Lazio. A move for Fulham striker Aleksander Mitrovic looks likely to come off, as Hilal seek to better last season’s third-placed finish.
Stadium: King Abdullah Sports City
Manager: Nuno Espirito Santo
Star player: Karim Benzema
The champions, another of the “big four”, saw off the challenge of Ronaldo’s Nassr last season to capture a first top-flight title in nine years. Nuno Espirito-Santo guided the club to the trophy in his debut season, and first job since an ill-fated spell at Tottenham Hotspur. Founded in 1927, they are Saudi’s oldest club. Investing significantly this summer, Ittihad have Benzema, Kante, Portuguese winger Jota and have recently added Liverpool midfielder Fabinho. The squad already boasts former West Brom defender Ahmed Hegazi, and former UAE Pro League players in Igor Coronado and Romarinho.
Stadium: Prince Mohamed bin Fahd Stadium (Dammam)
Manager: Pedro Emanuel
Star player: Fabio Martins
Managed by former Al Ain head coach Emanuel, Khaleej just about avoided relegation last season by finishing three points clear of the drop. Emanuel was already familiar with the league having managed Al Taawoun and heavyweights Al Nassr. Winger Fabio Martins represented UAE side Al Wahda before joining last December, while defender Lisandro Lopez had plied his trade at the likes of Benfica and Inter Milan.
Stadium: Mrsool Park
Manager: Luis Castro
Star player: Cristiano Ronaldo
The nine-time champions made worldwide headlines when they signed Ronaldo last December. The Portuguese forward could not prevent his new side from finishing runner-up to Ittihad, though, despite his 14 goals in 16 matches. Helped by the PIF investment, Nassr have appointed as manager Castro, while also adding Croatian international midfielder Marcelo Brozovic from Inter Milan and Lens captain Seko Fofana. Last champions in 2019, Nassr are confident of signing Sadio Mane from Bayern Munich. Other recognisable names in the squad include former Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina and ex-Benfica forward Anderson Talisca.
Stadium: Prince Hathloul bin Abdulaziz Sports City Stadium
Manager: Jorge Mendonca
Star player: Solomon Kvirkvelia
Finishing third in the first division last season, level on points with second-placed Hazem, Okhdood will compete in the top tier for the first time in their history. Unsurprisingly, they have never won a major trophy. Based right on the southern border, Okhdood are managed by Mendonca, perhaps known for his short stint as Reading assistant coach from 2018. Georgia international defender Kvirkvelia recently joined the club.
Stadium: King Abdullah Sport City Stadium
Manager: Igor Jovicevic
Star player: Amir Sayoud
Fresh off last season’s 10th-placed finish, Raed are considered one of the division’s more modest clubs. Yet to taste major success in terms of silverware, they are managed by former Shakhtar Donetsk head coach Jovicevic. Algerian attacking midfielder Sayoud is tasked with providing much of the team’s creative thrust, while Brazilian defender Pablo Santos has played for the likes of Braga and Ruben Kazan.
Stadium: Prince Turki bin Abdulaziz Stadium
Manager: Yannick Ferrera
Star player: Knowledge Musona
The final of the promoted teams following last season’s fourth-placed finish in the first division, Riyadh are contesting the Saudi top-flight for the first time in almost two decades. To herald their return to the big time, the club appointed as manager Ferrara, the experienced Belgian who previously coached Fateh between 2019 and 2022. Riyadh have actually finished runner-up in the top-fight, way back in 1994. Zimbabwe international forward Musona has recently joined, as has former Uruguay national team goalkeeper Martin Campana.
Stadium: Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium
Star player: Ever Banega
The six-time Saudi champions may feel slightly aggrieved that they don’t quite have the PIF backing of the country’s lead quartet, but they are expected to augment their squad before the big kick off. Among positions that need filling is the manager, after Vicente Moreno left in June after one campaign in charge. Last season, he guided Shabab to fourth. Former Valencia and Argentina midfielder Banega pulls the team’s strings, with Colombia international Gustavo Cuellar joining him in midfield following his recent move from Hilal. Kim Seung-gyu, South Korea’s No 1 at last year’s World Cup, is another key contributor to the side.
Stadium: King Abdullah Sport City Stadium
Manager: Pericles Chamusca
Star player: Alvaro Medran
Few managers in the Saudi top-flight have as many clubs on their CV as Chamusca: Taawoun represent his 30th managerial job. Last season, the Buraidah side finished a very respectable fifth, only one point off Shabab and four back of Hilal. Taawoun’s one major trophy remains the 2019 King’s Cup – they defeated Ittihad in the final – while Spanish midfielder Medran counts Real Madrid among his former clubs.
Stadium: Prince Abdulaziz bin Musaed Stadium
Manager: Kresimir Rezic
Star player: Guy Mbenza
Situated in Hail to the north of the kingdom, Tai finished last season at the top of the second half of the table, in ninth. They recently installed as manager Rezic, the Croat who spent the past couple of campaigns in charge of Damac. Yet to win a major trophy, Tai are spearheaded by Congolese forward Mbenza, who scored 10 goals in the league last time out. Meanwhile, Guinea-Bissau midfielder Alfa Semedo has previously spent time on loan with Nottingham Forest and Reading.
Stadium: King Abdulaziz Stadium
Manager: Giorgos Donis
Star name: Anselmo
Having just about avoided relegation last season – they finished 13th, four points off the drop – Wehda moved quickly to replace Jose Luis Serra with Donis. The former Greece international, who managed Hilal and also in the UAE with Sharjah, will hope his second stint lasts longer than his first: he left the club in May 2021 after two months in charge. Wehda are two-time King’s Cup winners, albeit the last of which arrived in 1966, but boast players with World Cup experience in Costa Rica defender Oscar Duarte and Moroccan duo Faycal Fajr and Munir Mohamedi. Brazilian defensive midfielder Anselmo has long been a vital cog in the side.
Location: Khamis Mushait
Stadium: Damac Club Stadium
Manager: Cosmin Contra
Star name: Farouk Chafai
Eighth in the standings last season, Damac are tucked away down in the southwest close to Abha. Yet to land any major silverware, the club played in the second tier as recently as 2019, but are now under the guidance of Contra. The wily Romanian, who as a player represented AC Milan, Atletico Madrid and West Brom, has played for and managed his country, with his coaching career including Getafe, Dinamo Bucharest and Ittihad. Chafai, a former Algeria international, has been a mainstay of the defence since joining three years ago.
The stars to watch
The Portuguese superstar paved the way for the current influx of players this summer when he signed for Al Nassr last December after leaving Manchester United. The five-time Ballon d'Or scored an impressive 14 goals in 16 games for Nassr last term but could not guide the Riyadh club to the title, losing out to Al Ittihad. Now 38, Ronaldo is one the greatest players of all time, having won five Uefa Champions Leagues and league titles in England, Spain and Italy. He is both international football's record caps holder (200) and scorer (123).
The Brazilian superstar has been tipped for the top since his fledgling days at Santos where he debuted as a 17-year-old. Top European clubs battled for his siganture and he ended up at Barcelona where he formed an all-star front three with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. Two La Liga titles and a Champions League followed before he became the world's most expensive player with a €222 million move to Paris Saint-Germain. In Paris he won the league five times while continuing to excel with the Brazilian national team for whom he shares the scoring record with Pele. His move to the SPL saw him become the face of Al Hilal, and they'll hope he can propel them towards yet another league crown.
The current Ballon d’Or winner joined champions Al Ittihad in June after 14 trophy-laden years at Real Madrid. Aged 35, the Frenchman left as the Spanish club’s second all-time leading goalscorer, with 353 goals. In his time at the Bernabeu, Benzema helped Madrid to five Uefa Champions Leagues and four La Liga titles, along with five Club World Cups and three Copa del Reys.
A difficult single season at Bayern Munich should not disguise the size of the signing for Al Nassr. Mane, 31, is regarded as one of football's premier forwards, that stature secured following six excellent years at Liverpool in which he won practically every major honour, including the Premier League and Champions League. Struck 120 times in 269 appearances, and still managed 12 goals in 38 matches for Bayern. A 2021 Africa Cup of Nations winner with Senegal, and two-time African footballer of the year.
The Algerian ended his five-year stay at Manchester City as a treble winner having helped Pep Guardiola's side sweep the board in 2022/23, winning the Premier League, FA Cup and Uefa Champions League. In all, he made 236 City appearances after joining from Leicester City in 2018, scoring 78 goals. Mahrez won 11 trophies during his time at the Etihad Stadium. He has signed a contract at Al Ahli through to 2027.
The Brazil international, 31, signed for newly promoted Al Ahli on a free transfer after his contract with Liverpool had expired. During eight memorable years at Anfield, Firmino became a firm fan favourite, capturing a Premier League title, FA Cup, League Cup, Fifa Club World Cup and the 2019 Champions League. Left having scored 111 goals in 362 appearances, while he has 55 caps for Brazil, scoring 17 times.
A 2018 World Cup winner with France, the 32-year-old midfielder moved to Ittihad following a hugely successful time in England with Leicester City and Chelsea. A two-time Premier League champion, Kante won basically every major trophy during his seven-year stay at Chelsea, including the Champions League. Considered one of the best defensive midfielders of his generation.
Considered one of the premier centre-backs in Europe across more than 300 appearances at Italian side Napoli, the 32-year-old Senegal captain joined Al Hilal after a disappointing debut season at Chelsea. However, at Napoli Koulibaly was a real hit, named four times in the Serie A team of the year and voted as the best defender in Italy in 2019. Led his national team last year to Africa Cup of Nations success.
The midfielder posted an emotional farewell video to Liverpool fans after 12 trophy-laden years at Anfield to link up with his former Anfield teammate Steven Gerrard at Al Ettifaq. The England international, 33, succeeded Gerrard as Liverpool captain, skippering them to the Premier League title in 2020 – the Merseyside club's first English top-flight title in 30 years – as well as the Uefa Champions League crown in 2019. Henderson joins the Damman side on a three-year deal for a transfer fee of around £12 million.
A key contributor in Newcastle United’s recent rapid improvement, the French winger makes up a sumptuous Al Ahli attack alongside Firmino and Mahrez. Saint-Maximin, 26, marries blistering pace with dazzling trickery, scoring 12 times in the Premier League in 111 appearances following his transfer from Nice. Such an exciting player to watch, however, injury restricted him to only 12 league starts last season, while he can often struggle for consistency.
Al Ittihad’s impressive spend sustained with the recruitment of the accomplished Liverpool midfielder. The Brazil international, 29, earned a reputation as one of the world’s best defensive midfielders during five, trophy-laden years at Anfield, instrumental in particular in Liverpool winning the Premier League and Champions League. A regular for his country, Fabinho scored 11 goals and created 10 assists in 219 matches for the English club.
The Portuguese winger, 24, was perhaps a surprise addition given his age and profile, but the lure of the Saudi champions proved too great. Jota joined the Jeddah club after two extremely successful years at Celtic in which he scored 28 goals and registered 26 assists in 83 matches having signed initially on loan from Benfica. A league winner in his homeland, he won the double in first campaign in Glasgow and then the treble last season.
The Portugal international, 26, became Al Hilal’s record signing when he swapped Wolves for the Riyadh club for a reported £47 million ($60m). Neves had spent six years at the English club, spearheading their promotion to the Premier League and then successive top-seven finishes. In all, he scored 26 goals in 253 appearances. Capped 40 times by his country, he was part of the team’s squad at the 2022 World Cup.
The Croatian midfielder, 30, brings a ton of experience to Al Nassr following his transfer from Champions League runners-up Inter Milan. Aged 30, Brozovic spent eight years at the San Siro, winning the 2020/21 Scudetto and two Italian Cups. A key part of an overperforming Croatia side who reached the final of the 2018 World Cup and then took bronze in Qatar last December, he has 87 caps for his country.
Another Africa Cup of Nations winner with Senegal, the goalkeeper followed compatriot Koulibaly to Saudi, albeit for Jeddah side Al Ahli. Like the defender, Mendy made the move from Chelsea, although he had actually fallen out of favour last season. Still, the 31-year-old enjoyed success in his three years at Stamford Bridge – he has a Champions League trophy and a Fifa Club World Cup to show for it.
At 28 and linked continuously to a number of leading European clubs, the Serbia international represents another sizeable coup for the Saudi Pro League. Milinkovic-Savic spent eight years at Lazio, scoring 69 goals in 341 appearances and lifting the 2019 Italian Cup and two Italian Super Cups. As captain last season, the midfielder was integral to the team’s second-placed finish in Serie A. He joins Al Hilal on a three-year deal, with the transfer fee rumoured to be $44 million.
A former teammate of Cristiano Ronaldo’s at Manchester United, the Brazil full-back will renew that relationship with the Portuguese star at Al Nassr. Telles, 30, became the latest recruit at last season’s runners-up and arrives after helping Sevilla to the Europa League crown in May – while on loan. In signing for Nassr, he ends a three-year stay at United, in which he made 50 appearances. Has 12 caps for Brazil, too.
Intent on bolstering the heart of their midfield, Al Ahli signed the Ivory Coast star from Barcelona for a reported $13.7 million. Kessie, 26, spent only one season at Camp Nou following a largely underwhelming move from AC Milan last year. Still, he is regarded as a stellar central midfielder - even if he was used primarily as a substitute in Spain - who was instrumental in Milan’s 2021/22 Serie A title success. Has 63 caps for his country.
After a protracted transfer, Al Hilal finally got their star frontman, eventually striking a deal with Premier League side Fulham. Mitrovic, 28, signed a three-year contract the Riyadh club, leaving English football following eight years across spells at Newcastle United and Fulham. A league winner in his native Serbia and also Belgium, was key to both clubs’ return to the Premier League, twice winning the Championship’s Golden Boot. Serbia’s all-time leading scorer, with 52 goals in 81 appearances.
The centre-back signed for Al Nassr for a reported $30 million after five-and-a-half, trophy-laden years with Manchester City. Laporte, 29, helped the club capture 12 major honours, including five Premier League titles, two FA Cups, three League Cups and the Champions League, but made only 24 appearances last season as City sealed the treble. Having represented France at youth-team level, the defender switched allegiance to Spain in 2021, going on to earn 22 caps for the national team. Part of the Spain side at last year’s World Cup.
Viewed as one of the hottest prospects in Europe, the prodigious central midfielder reportedly put aside interest from Chelsea, Liverpool and Italian champions Napoli to move to Al Ahli. Veiga, 21, has been tipped for stardom since debuting for Celta Vigo in 2021. Debuted for his boyhood club aged 18 and went on the make 50 league appearances. Highly technical, Veiga has represented Spain’s Under-21 side, but is yet to be called into the country’s senior team.
The former Atletico Madrid winger-cum-wing-back joins Al Shabab on a three-year deal having spent separate spells with Diego Simeone’s side. Carrasco, 30, was part of the Atletico team who lifted the 2018 Europa League and then the La Liga crown in the 2021/21 season. Scored also in the Uefa Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid in 2016. A regular with the Belgium national team, has been part of the past two World Cup campaigns.
Another Liverpool old boy is in at Al Ettifaq, with the Dutch midfielder joining in Dammam two former captains at Anfield: Steven Gerrard, now manager, and Jordan Henderson, the new skipper. Wijnaldum, 32, enjoyed huge success at Liverpool, winning the Premier League, Champions League and Fifa Club World Cup. Left to sign for Paris Saint-Germain, where he captured the 2021/22 Ligue 1 crown, but spent last season on loan at Italy’s Roma. Has 90 caps for the Netherlands, missing the 2022 World Cup through injury.
The Portugal midfielder became the latest recruit at Al Nassr as last season’s runners-up bid to go one better this campaign. Otavio, 28, moves to the Riyadh club from Porto, with various reports citing a $65 million transfer fee. After joining Porto from Internacional in Brazil, his country of birth, the winger won the Premeira Liga three times, together with a trio of Taca de Portugal cups, scoring 31 goals in 283 games. Granted Portuguese citizenship in 2021, was part of his country’s squad at last year’s World Cup.
A no-nonsense defender, the Turkish international joins Al Ahli from Italy’s Atalanta on a three-year deal. Demiral, 25, moved to Serie A in 2019, initially on loan at Sassuolo before spending three years at Juventus, winning the 2019/20 Scudetto and the Coppa Italia the following season. However, was loaned to Atalanta in his final campaign at Juve, with the switch made permanent last year. Made 28 appearances for the club last season. Typically deployed in central defence but can play also as a right-back, represented Turkey at Euro 2020.
Salem Al Dawsari
Long viewed the league’s principal local talent, the Al Hilal winger has a knack for match-defining moments. Most recently, Al Dawsari struck the winner in Saudi Arabia’s shock victory against Argentina at the 2022 World Cup. Practically a one-club man – he had a brief loan at Spain's Villarreal – the 31-year-old has won the Saudi league for times, three King’s Cups and two Asian Champions Leagues. However, he was sent off in two Champions League final defeats, including last May.
Salman Al Faraj
The hugely experienced midfielder, 33, captains both Al Hilal and Saudi Arabia, conveying his stature within the domestic game in particular. Al Faraj, who like Al Dawsari represents his boyhood club, has for some time constituted the heartbeat of club and country, a seven-time Saudi champion who latterly guided Hilal to Champions League glory in 2019 and 2021. However, he was beset by injuries last season, which curtailed his 2022 World Cup.
Another Al Hilal star, the energetic midfielder shone at the World Cup, even if Saudi Arabia did not make it out of the group stage. Kanno, 28, has been part of a dominant Al Hilal side since his first-team debut in 2017 and has the collection of trophies to prove it. Was apparently one of the lead names attracting European attention via his performances in Qatar. With Neves and Milinkovic-Savic now club teammates, interesting to see where Kanno fits in.
The Brazilian forward, 29, was Al Nassr’s standout star until Ronaldo’s arrival, but was not distracted too severely last season as he struck 20 times – second in the final scoring charts – to fire the club’s runner-up finish. Also represented Benfica and Besiktas, winning league titles at both, Talisca has been temperamental and at times truculent since joining Nassr in 2021. No doubting his talent, though.
For sure a lead light in Saudi, the Al Shabab midfielder has become the fulcrum of the side since making the switch from Spain’s Sevilla in 2020. Now 35, Banega previously plied his trade for Boca Juniors in his homeland, Valencia and Inter Milan. Captained Al Shabab to a fourth-placed finish last season, while he counts among his major trophies the Copa Libertadores, the Copa del Rey and three Europa Leagues.
The Brazilian forward, 32, has excelled at Al Ittihad following his 2018 transfer from UAE’s Al Jazira – off the back of a strong Fifa Club World Cup in which he scored in the semi-final defeat to Real Madrid. Having already won the trophy with Corinthians, Romarinho was then crucial to Ittihad’s league success last season with 13 goals, including the winner in the decisive top-of-the-table clash with Al Nassr.
Crucial to Al Ittihad’s recent upturn in fortunes, the Egypt international was also instrumental in last season’s title win, captaining the team to a first top-flight trophy in nine years. Hegazy, 32, has played for the likes of Fiorentina, Al Ahly and West Bromwich Albion, and boasts 83 appearances for his country. Was runner-up at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, when he made team of the tournament.
The prolific Al Ittihad striker fired an unrivalled 21 goals last season to power his team to the title. Not only did it secure Hamdallah a second Saudi top-flight crown – his first came in 2019 with Al Nassr – but it sealed a third Golden Boot. The Moroccan international, 32, struck a league record 34 times in that 2018/19 season and ended 2019 as the world’s top goalscorer for the calendar year. Has 110 goals in 113 Saudi Pro League appearances, while he was part of the Morocco squad at the 2022 World Cup.
The Jamaica winger got his move, eventually, to Al Ettifaq from Everton having pushed the Premier League club hard in the closing days of the window. Gray, 27, spent two years on Merseyside after signing from Bayer Leverkusen, chipping in with 12 goals in 75 appearances. After beginning his career with hometown club Birmingham City, and then joining Leicester City midway through their shock 2015/16 Premier League title success, Gray ultimately switched international allegiance to Jamaica. Debuted for the country this year. Has signed a four-year contract at Ettifaq.
Saudi Pro League 2023/24 broadcasters
This year, you can watch the Saudi Pro League live anywhere around the globe after the league secured deals across various international networks to broadcast matches live in more than 130 countries and territories.
Here's the full list.
Mena region (along with Chad, Djibouti, Mauritania, Somalia, and Sudan)
Sony / culver (Indian sub-continent)
SPO TV (South East Asia, Korea and Japan)
A1 Bulgaria / Max Sport (Bulgaria)
Canal+ (France and French overseas territories)
DAZN (UK, Germany, Austria, Canada, Belgium)
La 7 (Italy)
Prima Sports (Romania)
Setanta (Commonwealth of Independent States, Baltics and Ukraine)
Sport TV (Portugal)
Supersport (Albania & Kosovo)
Azteca (Central America and Mexico)
Band Group (Brazil)
Azam (East Africa)
Sporty TV (Nigeria and Ghana)
StartTimes (Sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa)
ZAP (Angola and Mozambique)
How to watch the King Salman Cup in the UAE
The King Salman Cup final takes place on Saturday, August 12.
The action will be broadcast on AD Sports and Dubai Sports TV channels, while matches will be available online through the streaming platform Shahid.