Talent runs deep in the 2018/19 Saudi Professional League.
Increased investment in the Kingdom’s top flight has grabbed headlines through the acquisitions of lauded foreigners like Galatasaray striker Bafetimbi Gomis, Toronto FC playmaker Sebastian Giovinco and Leicester City’s Ahmed Musa. But this weekend’s rise of unheralded Al Taawoun striker Leandre Tawamba to the top of the scoring, points to the breadth of quality the division currently boasts.
Below, we’ve gone beyond the usual names to highlight the other non-Saudis that are excelling this term:
Club: Al Fayha (loan)
2018/19 SPL record: Six appearances, eight goal conceded
International record: 143 caps for Jordan, one goal scored
Key statistic: Under Fayha’s previous No1, Cristian Bonilla, they conceded an average of 1.9 goals per top-flight game. This number has dropped to 1.3 with Shafi.
From the moment that the Saudi sporting authorities allowed the use of non-native shot stoppers in summer 2017, 37-yer-old Shafi became an obvious target.
The only surprise was that the move took until after his heroics at this January’s Asian Cup to take place. Jordan conceded just once in four games with him between the sticks.
Club: Al Hilal
2018/19 SPL record: Six appearances, zero goals scored
International record: 25 caps for Australia, one goal scored
Key statistic: Degenek’s average of 2.9 tackles per SPL game is comfortably the best in the Hilal squad, ahead of energetic Saudi Arabia full-back Yasser Al Shahrani’s 2.7.
Hilal’s horizons spread far beyond the Kingdom.
A determination to end their 19-year wait for glory in the AFC Champions League glory saw Hilal settle on Degenek, 24, as the best-available Asian-qualified centre-back on the winter market. The €3.6 million paid to Red Star Belgrade for the Socceroo has got them a fierce competitor.
Position: Centre midfield
Club: Al Hilal
2018/19 SPL record: 20 appearances, nine goals scored
International record: N/A
Key statistic: Eduardo’s 64 goals for Hilal makes him the club’s leading foreign scorer of all time, ahead of fellow Brazilian Thiago Neves (59).
In a club famed for its procurement of exciting foreigners, the Brazilian centre midfielder has made a lasting impact at Hilal like few others.
No non-Saudi in the modern era has made more appearances or scored more times for Hilal than him. Plus, an untimely knee injury in the first leg was a major contributor to defeat against Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds in November 2017’s ACL showpiece.
OMAR AL SOMAH
Position: Centre forward
Club: Al Ahli Jeddah
2018/19 SPL record: 20 appearances, 16 goals scored
International record: 20 caps for Syria, eight goals scored
Key statistic: Al Somah’s towering back-post header to secure Friday’s 2-1 win at Al Qadsiah saw him move onto a landmark 100 goals in 102 SPL run-outs.
When it comes to deciding the identity of Asia’s greatest striker, 29-year-old Al Somah is in a class of his own.
The three-time SPL leading marksman’s brilliance is found in the range of goals produced. From thunderous free-kicks, hanging headers to this month’s sublime scissor kick in the derby with Al Ittihad that went viral across the globe, it is easy to see why comparisons are drawn to the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Position: Centre forward
Club: Al Taawoun
2018/19 SPL record: 22 appearances, 18 goals scored
International record: Two caps for Cameroon, zero goals scored
Key statistic: Among players with 10 or more SPL strikes this season, only Al Nassr’s Abderrazak Hamdallah (nine) has missed more big chances than Tawamba’s eight.
For all last summer’s glamour signings, a surprise name currently tops the SPL scoring charts.
The partnership up top between the hulking Tawamba, 29, and dead-eyed Abdulfattah Mohamed Adam defines Taawoun’s excellent campaign. A combined tally of 29 goals has provided the bedrock for their rise into fourth place.
Statistics provided by SofaScore.com
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