Confusion reigns as AS reports Salem al Dawsari has already left Villarreal, while other reports suggest he has returned to Spain and is likely to be named in the squad to face Real Madrid on Saturday.
If he is still around, expect him to come on as a late substitute. Salem played yesterday in Saudi Arabia’s 2-0 win against Greece in a friendly, scoring the first goal after 19 minutes. He also played in their 2-0 win against Algeria last week. In both those matches, Salem was deployed as an attacking winger on the left side.
Of the group of Saudi ‘loanees’ arranged by La Liga, most have presumably practiced with their respective teams, but done little else. Salem did play for our ‘U-23’ team in the semis of their international cup competition, but has had no first-team action.
Only Fahad Al Muhwallad, who came on as a substitute for Levante against Leganés, has played in a league match.
The teams all got money for taking these players, and in the case of Numancia (and Levante, I believe, as well) some Saudi sponsors bought shirt sponsorship. But I can’t imagine it was that enjoyable for the players, who knew little or no Spanish and had a completely different training regimen and rhythm of play to adapt to. At least Salem had Jaber Issa (signed for our B-team but never played) as someone to talk to, if not practice with.
The deal was widely criticized at the time, including by the Spanish players’ union, and La Liga’s ‘corporate director’ admitted it probably wasn’t an experiment he’d be keen to repeat, but I suppose the real test will be how Saudi Arabia does in Russia. If the national team plays well and the three stars who trained in Spain for the past few months do well, then perhaps the Saudis, at least, will view it with some pride.
For Villarreal, it may have been financially remunerative, but I doubt it’s an episode we’ll look to repeat either ; nor do I expect there will be a huge demand for Villarreal jerseys in Saudi Arabia as a result of this deal. Unless Salem comes on late and scores a winning goal against Real Madrid, of course, in which case, he will forever be known as the Saudi Marquitos!!