With champions Al Nassr secured in Thursday’s final round as the pick of the 2018/19 Saudi Professional League’s field, the time has come to celebrate the season’s finest individual performers.
Stellar talent was dotted throughout the field after last summer’s generous injection of cash from the charitable General Sports Authority.
A collection of footballers was still able to shine greater than the rest. Here is Sport360’s top-five:
ABDERRAZAK HAMDALLAH (AL NASSR)
The best team in 2018/19, unquestionably, also boasted the division’s best player.
Hamdallah’s standing as one of Asian football’s greatest predators was reinforced with another flood of goals during a legendary debut season at Nassr. It was apt that his final-day brace in the 2-1 win against relegated Al Batin sealed the trophy, ahead of Riyadh rivals Al Hilal.
The bullish centre forward’s peerless tally of 34 strikes in 26 matches broke the all-time record for a single SPL campaign – held by Al Ittihad icon Hamzah Idris – that had stood for 19 years. This was also 13 more goals than joint-second-placed Leandre Tawamba of Al Taawoun and Al Hilal’s Bafetimbi Gomis, plus was more than four whole clubs managed (Ohod, Al Batin, Al Hazem and Al Fateh).
Remarkably, the 28-year-old only struck twice in his nine opening top-flight engagements. The floodgates then opened.
The breadth of Hamdallah’s talents is further emphasised by the fact he finished joint top of the assists charts, sitting on nine with club-mate and fellow Moroccan Nordin Amrabat.
LEANDRE TAWAMBA (AL TAAWOUN)
A left-field buy, whose lethality propelled Taawoun to the grandest campaign of their 63-year history.
Three goals in his first three fixtures would assuage doubts about the stocky centre forward. A burgeoning reputation would then be bolstered for eternity with a 90th-minute winner in this month’s King’s Cup showpiece triumph against recovering giants Al Ittihad.
Tawamba’s arrival in July from Serbia’s Partizan Belgrade had been greeted with, at best, apathy. A nomadic career to date for the now 29-year-old had contained unremarkable stints in five other countries, including his native Cameroon, South Africa, Slovakia, Libya and Kazakhstan.
Away from home soil, he’d never broken through the 20-goal barrier in a campaign. This was to dramatically change in Buraydah.
Holding onto him and inspirational coach Pedro Emanuel will be some task.
DANILO ASPRILLA (AL FAYHA)
One player can make the difference between survival and relegation.
For Fayha, that man was Asprilla. His 2018/19 tally of 15 strikes in 28 SPL run-outs was 12 more than any team-mate.
A rampant scoring spree of nine goals in his last seven games helped earn Fayha four, utterly crucial, wins and a draw. This saw them scrape outside the drop zone by a point in the deciding round.
The 30-year-old’s sinuous dribble through the Taawoun defence and low finish – for a goal-of-the-season contender – was also reminiscent of Diego Maradona.
The Colombian forward found a home at King Salman Sport City Stadium during two seasons on loan from the UAE’s Al Ain, going from erratic to inspired. Al Shabab have signed a phenom for 2019/20.
PETROS (AL NASSR)
A player who symbolised the revolution at Nassr.
The tireless Petros garnered few headlines when he was snapped up from Sao Paulo for €5 million last June. Especially when this capture was swiftly followed up by the procurement of Watford winger Amrabat, Leicester forward Ahmed Musa and Fenerbahce’s Giuliano.
What Nassr gained in the 29-year-old centre midfielder was a symbol. His ceaseless desire and unmatched work-rate gelled perfectly with the philosophies of coaches Jose Daniel Carreno and Rui Vitoria.
The Brazilian’s 85 tackles was the seventh best in the SPL and 18 more than nearest team-mate Sultan Al Ghanam.
SALEH AL SHEHRI (AL RAED)
Where did this performance come from?
Al Shehri had ticked along in Portugal, Al Ahli Jeddah and Raed prior to a 2018/19 that transformed all opinions about the forward. An unexpected 16 strikes in 25 SPL matches was 13 more than 2017/18’s previous career best.
Standout for the 25-year-old was a four-goal haul in March’s immensely satisfying and truly memorable 5-4 victory against former employer Ahli.
Raed’s various foreign attackers singularly failed to trouble the scorers. Their impressive eighth-place would not have been possible without Al Shehri’s step-up.
The long-term solution to Saudi Arabia’s desperation for a new No9 could have been found.
BEST XI (4-4-2)
Goalkeeper: Farouk Ben Mustapha (Al Shabab)
Right-back: Sultan Al Ghanam (Al Nassr)
Centre-back: Manuel Da Costa (Al Ittihad)
Centre-back: Djamel Benlamri (Al Shabab)
Left-back: Yasser Al Shahrani (Al Hilal)
Right wing: Danilo Asprilla (Al Fayha)
Centre midfield: Petros (Al Nassr)
Centre midfield: Mohamed Kanno (Al Hilal)
Left wing: Saleh Al Shehri (Al Raed)
Striker: Leandre Tawamba (Al Taawoun)
Striker: Abderazzak Hamdallah (Al Nassr)