“Definitely, people are starting to talk,” nods Roshan Soomarchun, founder of Leap Creative Studio, the Paris-based organization commissioned to design and produce the ceremonies for the Saudi SuperCup 2021 and the MBS League. “We know the players are getting stronger; we’re all watching the support accelerate and we definitely want to continue to be a part of that.” Soomarchun’s comments follow the Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s (SAFF) strategy reveal, which intends to transform Saudi football to stand among the elite football nations – France, Spain, Brazil, England – in time for the 2034 Fifa World Cup.
“Sports is an integral component of Saudi Arabia’s transformative Vision 2030, and we are thankful for the unconditional support and wise vision of our Kingdom’s leadership,” starts HRH Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, minister of sports and president of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee. “Football contributes to all the key pillars of our holistic strategy as a ministry. It’s a game that represents a source of great passion for Saudis in general, as it promotes diversity and inclusion in our society, and supports participation, youth development, and the sports economy. We want to be genuine contenders on the global stage to reflect the undeniable talent of our youth along with the country’s love for the game.” Titled Our Tactics for Tomorrow, the SAFF strategy features seven pillars for success that includes competitions, technology, and women’s football. The first pillar looks to shape a pathway for every Saudi footballer starting from age six through to turning professional. Existing regional centers will be optimized with the best technology all throughout the Kingdom, and a uniform coaching curriculum will be established that will guide youth through to the club transition phase. This “bridge” to professional football will see more than 50 youth competitions in place by 2025 and spread across all clubs, the Mahd Sports Academy (which identifies gifted boys and girls from ages six to 12), and private academies.
Abdullah Al Hamdan, a 23-year-old Saudi striker at Al Hilal, started playing football at seven. Inspired by his father, a professional footballer, he remembers accompanying his dad to training every day from a young age. He states that being part of the Saudi national team is nothing short of being “the biggest and most important accomplishment of any footballer’s professional life and is a massive honor.” Just don’t mistake his fervor for individual glory. When asked to share his competitive edge, the striker humbly states that while coaches can offer the best answer, he believes it is his “ability to prioritize helping the team over personal goals.” Teamwork across all strata will be the glue that binds the country to its goals. SAFF president Yasser Al Misehal comments, “Inspired by the vision of our Kingdom’s leadership and the unconditional support for the sports sector, we have massive ambitions to build on the unwavering passion of the fans and our nation’s illustrious history to transform the future of Saudi football.” The seven-pillar strategy is inclusive of all, offering Saudi girls an opportunity to become professional football players with the inauguration of a local 11-a-side competition and the creation of the first women’s 11-a-side national team.
Meanwhile, to increase the impact of Saudi football across the global stage, SAFF will aid developing football nations across the world by positioning itself as a “football knowledge hub.” To perpetuate international relations, it will bid to host continental and international competitions in Saudi; most recently, the Kingdom submitted to host the 2027 AFC Asian Cup.
Left-winger Khaled Al Ghannam, 23, furthers that along the way, “mental health is one of the most important things in football.” He continues that “being able to maintain it ensures a player can continue playing at a high pace. I always try to focus on the pitch to secure the win for my team. This can only happen if a player is in the right state of mind.” Al Ghannam started playing football in the fifth grade at Al Qadisiyah football club – his first manager was Mubarak Al Duheim. Like fellow footballer Al Hamdan, he asserts that teamwork is what makes football special. “An individual helps his team, while the rest of the team provides the individual with confidence. I love being the player who can help out the team and I am very lucky to be among great players at Al Nassr and the Saudi Arabian Olympic team,” he says. Defender Mohammed Bakr, 17, who started playing football in 2013, joining Al Ahli club two years later, affirms that his love for the national team began as a child – as it certainly will for many children to come. “I’ve always aspired to represent the national team and I am proud to have accomplished this with the youth teams. I now aspire to reach the first team and achieve great accomplishments in my football career,” he says, adding that he maintains solid mental health by staying on top of his daily habits – a healthy diet and a good night’s sleep.
With the strategy laid out and the desire to play the beautiful game high among Saudi youth, some 8,000 Saudi coaches will be certified to train and more than 2 500 Saudi referees will experience a tailored academy program by year 2025. Dedicated coaches and scouts, brilliant youth, and ministry leadership takes a nation, and in Saudi, the team spirit is building to win.