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.
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.
Here’s all you need to know about the 18 clubs.
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: Jordan Henderson
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 secured also. He arrived hot on the heels of Moussa Dembele, the French striker who played previously for Fulham, Celtic and Lyon, and former Celtic defender Jack Hendry.
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 sensationally signed Neymar from PSG, Ruben Neves from Wolves, Kalidou Koulibaly from Chelsea, Serbia international Sergej Milinkovic-Savic from Lazio and Malcom, last season's top-scorer in the Russian Premier League with title winners Zenit Saint-Petersburg. 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 Brazil international midfielder Fabinho from Liverpool. 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 confirmed the signing of Sadio Mane from Bayern Munich on August 1. 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
Manager: Marcel Keizer
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. They have appointed as manager Marcel Keizer, most recently of UAE side Abu Dhabi, 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 Colomboa 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 player: 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 player: 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.