Yesterday Villarreal fans were surprised by the news that we had taken a Saudi player, Salem Al Dawsari, on loan until the end of the season. He’s one of nine Saudi players joining Spanish clubs (Jaber Issa, who is joining Villarreal B, is another).
The strangest thing about all this is that the loans were not made directly to the clubs involved, but were arranged by La Liga—that’s right, the Spanish League signed an agreement (back in October, according to some reports) with the Saudi Arabian football federation and Saudi sports authority to ‘grow the game of football in Saudi Arabia’.
So exactly how this worked isn’t clear, but the three players going to teams in the Primera (Leganés and Levante are the other clubs involved) at least play for the Saudi national team and were scouted, so presumably were players the scouts were impressed with. (I have not seen Salem play; from what I have read, he’s quick but isn’t really ready for the big time; here is his FIFA18 card, which seems to bear this out).
As for the players going to the Segunda, it’s questionable how much these teams knew about their new players. At least one, Sporting Gíjón, confused the name of their player and that of his team in their welcome post on their official website!!
Villarreal supporters on twitter have been quick to criticize this for a number of reasons: why did we agree to take someone whom we don’t need? Are we getting paid by the league to do this, and do we have to play this fellow at some point, or is he just going to practice with the first team? Was Calleja even consulted?
And why is La Liga, and Villarreal, doing business with the Saudis and promoting football there, when the country’s human rights record is dicey, (to say the least), their government is non-democratic, and is promoting a boycott of Qatar, for reasons beyond the scope of this blog??? Well, of course, money talks, but for those of us who like to believe that Villarreal is a ‘family’ and somehow different than all those big-city, money-chasing clubs, these ‘signings’ are proving hard to swallow.
As for the players themselves, they’re being placed in a difficult position too. We hope our two loanees do enjoy their time with the club, but it is a situation requiring careful management.