A season that promised bountiful success for Al Hilal ended on a distinct sour note.
Late concession of their Saudi Professional League crown to bitter Riyadh rivals Al Nassr – by one point – and a historic 5-0 semi-final defeat to upstarts Al Taawoun in the King’s Cup shone an uncomfortable light on a lavishly assembled squad.
Major decisions lay ahead for Hilal’s board about the way forward – especially regarding their foreign department. With no announcement made public about the size of the non-Saudi quota for 2019/20, we’ve judged each player on their individual merits.
This is who Sport360 thinks the Crescent should keep, and who they should let go:
Bafetimbi Gomis’ memorable ‘Panther Walk’ celebration became a surprisingly rare sight towards the back end of 2018/19.
Hilal must now do everything in their power to get the ex-France centre forward back to his best.
A tally of 12 goals in his opening 14 top-flight matches after a €6 million switch from Galatasaray, seemingly, signalled a revelatory campaign. But four strikes in the final nine fixtures hampered Hilal’s title aspirations.
Summer offers will likely come from Turkey. They must be rejected.
Hilal only saw glimmers of vaunted winter arrival Sebastian Giovinco.
The thought is an alluring one of the Italy creator starting 2019/20 injury free and with a full pre-season in his legs.
The, reportedly, highest-paid player in SPL history got four goals and one assist in 10 top-flight run-outs. This return was also curtailed by a regular positioning out wide to make space for others.
Hilal should now engineer their squad to get the optimum out of the ex-Juventus star. Replication of his startling debut against Al Qadsiah, a 4-1 victory electrified by link-up play with Gomis, is a necessity.
Another winter purchase of which more can be expected next term is Australia centre-back Milos Degenek.
The rigours of the Asian Cup and preceding UEFA Champions League commitments with Red Star Belgrade contributed to an ongoing groin problem. But at 25-years old, the best is yet to come.
Rounding out this trio of mid-season arrivals is Jonathan Soriano.
The Spaniard also struggled with fitness, yet an average of an SPL goal every 55.7 minutes for Gomis’ experienced understudy means he deserves retention.
Then comes the trickier question of what to do with UAE playmaker Omar Abdulrahman.
Flashes of brilliance from the curly haired protagonist and 2016 AFC Player of the Year were witnessed before October’s devastating knee injury.
Not enough to justify a reputed Dh60 million annual wage packet. But a reduction in terms for the boyhood Hilal fan could see him stick around and bid to prove himself across a longer period.
Bidding farewell to a club icon is never easy.
The time, however, has arrived for Carlos Eduardo. Enervating injury problems robbed the Brazilian centre midfielder in 2018/19 of the ceaseless drive that once made him a cut above.
Rampant rumour points to a painful – but smart – summer departure to the Arabian Gulf League for the man with six major trophies, plus 42 goals in 74 SPL run-outs. This would represent a path trodden by lionised countryman and predecessor Thiago Neves.
Hilal knew when to cut their losses in 2015. History must repeat itself.
Meanwhile, Andre Carrillo has found himself at the centre of a proxy transfer war between Hilal and Nassr.
The 27-year-old’s situation mirrors the confusion at the core of the former’s, ultimately, unsatisfactory campaign.
Mid-season inactivity under the maligned Zoran Mamic meant an appearance clause to make a loan deal from Benfica permanent could not be triggered, leading to predatory advances from Nassr and Rui Vitoria – his former boss at Estadio da Luz.
But should Hilal vacate the stage?
The Peru winger’s return of three goals and six assists in 21 SPL run-outs is modest when compared to a likely €17 million+ investment.
This figure also rises all the time as Nassr push to get involved. But is their intention just to land him whatever the cost, or mischievously ensure – like with Omar Abdulrahman – their neighbours pay through the nose for a middling wide man?
Meanwhile, Hilal’s resident Spanish centre-back should expect bad news.
Alberto Botia has proven an adequate addition – 99 clearances from 26 appearances is decent going.
This, however, is not enough to meet Hilal’s exacting domestic and continental ambitions.
Degenek’s failure to truly shine can, largely, be attributed to a shuffling into centre midfield to cover a succession of key injuries. Sell Botia, the man he replaced in the 2019 AFC Champions League reckoning, and this area can be bolstered.
Saudi’s opening World Cup 2018 goalkeeper Abdullah Al Mayouf cannot be trusted. But neither can aged Oman veteran Ali Al Habsi, whose horror show in the second derby of the season against Nassr proved so consequential.
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