Al-Hilal have hired a team of Spaniards to look after their age-group teams in a further sign that the Saudi Professional League is looking to become more international in its outlook. The Spanish technical crew will look after the under-17, under-15 and under-13 teams and look to build foundations that will hopefully serve the Riyadh giants well in the future. A club announcement read: “The Spanish technical director Mr. Josep Cifre Alaminos will supervise the technical work of Al-Hilal age-group teams, meanwhile Mr. Francesc Pereto will be in charge of the U-17 team. Mr. Eduardo Balada will be the physical fitness trainer of the team. Mr. Carlos Inarejos will lead the U-15 team, Mr. Miquel Angel Ponce will be their finest coach, while Mr. Eric Barragan will mange the U-13 side.”
The move to try and inject some Spanish flavor into the Al-Hilal setup comes just months after the General Sports Authority and the Saudi Arabian Football Federation signed a deal with Spain’s La Liga to loan nine Saudi Arabian players to Spanish clubs earlier this year.
The headline names in the deal were internationals Salem Al-Dawsari, Yahya Al-Shahri and Fahad-Al Muwallad moving to Villarreal, Leganes and Levante respectively, in a the hope it would prepare them well for the Green Falcons’ World Cup campaign. But the agreement also saw younger, less well-known players move to lower league clubs in a bid to give them an insight into a different footballing culture and allow that to help them grow as players.
Before the loan signings, the vast majority of Saudi Arabia’s best players, both young and old, competed in the country’s top flight. Only one player, Mukhtar Ali, played abroad with Dutch top flight side Vitesse Arnhem.
Al-Hilal’s pre-season training is under way with the early sessions all focusing on fitness and strength work with Nawaf Al-Abed continuing his return to full fitness after a groin injury kept him out of Saudi Arabia’s squad that came third in Group A in Russia.
The pre-season workout will go up a level or two when the squad travels to Austria on Saturday for a training camp. It will be new boss Jesus Jorge’s first opportunity to drum his footballing philosophy into his new charges, a squad that will be bolstered by the the return of not only the injured Al-Abed, but also Carlos Eduardo and Omar Khribin.
Both the Brazilian attacking midfielder and the Syrian Asian player of the year missed Al-Hilal’s AFC Champions League campaign, where they crashed out at the group stage months after narrowly losing the final to Japan’s Urawa Reds.