A far-reaching transfer was completed in Saudi Arabia this week.
It was not the latest world-famous name to enter the kingdom. This had a distinctly local taste.
Al Hilal sucking in premium talent is an ancient story. In the rarest of cases, the 16-time record champions of the Saudi Professional League has signed contracts with greater consequences than taking over the Al Shabab prospect Abdullah Al Hamdan.
The unmatched impact on Saudi Arabia’s prospects will be determined by the 21-year-old’s progress or absence in the years to come.
Reach their potential and the Green Hawks will have a long-term answer to their problem. However, development has halted and the promotion initiated by Bert van Marwijk for the 2018 World Cup cycle will continue to stutter.
It is no exaggeration to explain that Al Hamdan could be the defining player in Asian football for the 2020s – for good or bad. A bold statement that is of course not based on the current status.
Son Heung-min’s crown is not so quickly given away by a striker with just two goals in 15 SPL games this season.
The rare ability is illustrated by eight templates from these apparitions. Two more than any other player in the division plus three more than the combined performances of acclaimed future teammates Andre Carrillo (three) and Sebastian Giovinco (two).
A return of four goals from eleven internationals is also an example of a rich promise as well as a line that includes ex-Shabab Abdulrahman Al-Hamdan as his father.
It’s easy to see why Hilal was so eager to secure one Five-year deal once the former Sporting Gijon borrower becomes a free agent this summer. Especially given the aggressive recruiting campaign by major rivals Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia.
It’s also easy to see why Al Hamdan was deemed a belated figure to sack the Saudis to a first-ever Asian Cup success since 1996 or to claim their place at the World Cup after a painful 12-year absence.
At the global tournament in Russia, shortcomings became apparent.
Mohammad Al Sahlawi switched from the 16-goal hero of qualifying to an abandoned presence. He has not played internationally since.
This was already a tournament too far for the aging AFC Player of the Year 2014, Nasser Al Shamrani.
Saudi Arabia would then go into the 2019 Asian Cup with electric winger Fahad Al Muwallad from Al Ittihad as a “false 9”. They would get out unsatisfactorily in the round of 16.
Enter Al Hamdan. He has been a ray of hope throughout Herve Renard’s tenure, who has been disrupted by coronavirus.
However, his early years on Shabab’s first team were less predictable. With the expansion of the SPL to seven foreign players, the possibilities are limited.
Only 55.8 percent of his 43 top run-outs were started. A story repeated in a division where none of the 16 teams have an undisputed Saudi starter for 2020/21.
This competition is further intensified in Hilal, where mere domination at home is never enough.
Former French center forward Bafetimbi Gomis has proven to be an immovable object for 27-year-old Saleh Al Shehri, a Saudi striker who scored an extraordinary 16 goals in 25 SPL games for Al Raed in 2018/19. That one-season number is more than three times that of Al Hamdan’s career (five).
One dream scenario is for Al Hamdan to receive invaluable training alongside Gomis during the next season before taking over the office when the veteran’s lucrative contract expires in June 2022.
But is it realistic in a club that demands the absolute best for its famous No. 9 position? In the age of seven foreigners, Al Hamdan will have to do something extraordinary to convince them not to buy a non-Saudi with a similar reputation as Gomis.
A situation with numerous possible outcomes. All of Saudi and Asian football should watch with interest how it develops.
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