World News 25 Mayıs 2024

'You have a bit more privacy here': Former Premier League stars loving life in Saudi Arabia

'You have a bit more privacy here': Former Premier League stars loving life in Saudi Arabia

Not many people predicted the big defection of footballers from Europe to the Saudi Pro League last summer – except maybe the Saudis themselves and a handful of key agents.

In all, 23 players swapped the Premier League for the heat of Arabia and massive tax-free pay rises.

Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ruben Neves left Fulham and Wolves respectively to join Al Hilal with no regrets.

Mitrovic, originally from Serbia, said: “After seven years in England I think the first thing was the sun. I never had summer sun in my life.

“It’s been different you know, different culture, different football, the mentality of people as well but so far I’m really happy. My family is happy. The club is amazing so far it’s a great experience and looking forward to more years.

“The people here are crazy about football but you have a bit more privacy here. We live on a compound, we’re a little bit more isolated and people from Europe and around the world live there you know, the life is really nice. You wake up have breakfast, a little workout, then recovery in the pool in the sun.”

Neves, from Portugal, is also enjoying the reversal of the working day, with club training happening at night because of the heat.

When they spoke to Sky News it was 5pm and 40C, but the players seem to enjoy it because it gives them more family time.

'You have a bit more privacy here': Former Premier League stars loving life in Saudi Arabia
Image:
Ruben Neves, centre, celebrates with his Al Hilal teammates. Pic: Reuters

Neves said: “It’s a bit different to routine from Europe here because of the weather of course.

“We train most of the time after 6pm. I like it because I can spend the day at home relaxing. I can take the kids to school, I can pick them up from school and I can be a little bit with them before I come to training.

“We have a lot of things to do here because it’s a big, massive city, so we are enjoying it.”

It has helped with the settling in process that Al Hilal ran away with the league title, without losing a league match and eclipsing Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr side.

But former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson struggled with the move from Liverpool to Saudi and lasted less than six months at Al-Ettifaq.

'You have a bit more privacy here': Former Premier League stars loving life in Saudi Arabia
Image:
Former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson joined Al-Ettifaq

Mitrovic says it probably helped that he’s moved countries several times.

“I had to leave my country at an early age. And when you come to a different league, I used to play in Belgium from Serbia then to the Premier League. I think no matter where you go you need time to adapt, for the football, the family, the life.”

There has also been the adjustment of some players to much smaller crowds, but that’s not an issue at Al Hilal.

Neves said: “When you play at home the stadium is always full, 30,000 people. The difference I felt here from England is that when we go to play away the stadium is mainly our fans. We have fans all around Saudi, so that feels really good for us.”

But what about the quality of the football?

Read more:
Ronaldo tops Forbes list of highest-paid athletes
Guardiola says Saudi football league has ‘changed the market’

'You have a bit more privacy here': Former Premier League stars loving life in Saudi Arabia
Image:
Cristiano Ronaldo, who players for Al-Nassr, is the most high profile player to move to Saudi Arabia. Pic: Reuters

While both admit that they think the Premier League is the best league in the world, they believe the Saudi Pro League is comparable to other European leagues.

Mitrovic says: “The physicality of the league, of the players, the tempo of the game is different.”

But he fully expects more big names to arrive in this summer’s transfer window.

“If a few big names join it’s going to be big again for sure. Any of the big names is going to have a big impact and would be welcomed with open hands.

“If they come they will improve our league. A lot of players from Europe, you know they call and ask how can they get here. A lot (of calls) trust me.”

It’s reported that Mitrovic is earning upwards of £400,000 a week while Neves is said to be earning six times his Wolves salary. Both head off to the Euros in Germany to join up with Serbia and Portugal with a feeling they’ve cracked the work-life balance while getting ridiculously rich in the process.

source

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