Experienced superstars from Cristiano Ronaldo to Neymar and Karim Benzema are grabbing the headlines across the planet week-in and week-out in the Roshn Saudi League, but the league is also home to some exciting young talents.
Through its extended history, the domestic competition in Saudi Arabia was the breeding ground for the players who created the nation’s footballing history, from the Green Falcons’ all-time top scorer Majed Abdullah to 1994 magical goal hero Saeed Al Owairan to current AFC Player of the Year nominee Salem Al Dawsari.
If you are tuning in to watch the Roshn Saudi League, you could well stumble upon the next big thing in Saudi and Asian football, here are six players aged 23 or under set to step-up into real stars of tomorrow.
Abdulmalek Al Oyayri (19, Al Taawoun – DM/RB)
There is no better place to start this list than Al Taawoun, the team from Buraidah are making waves in the RSL this season, going neck and neck with the competition’s traditional powerhouses despite not featuring any world-known stars. Youth have been an integral part of the recipe of coach Pericles Chamusca’s side and prime amongst them is Abdulmalek Al Oyayri.
Despite suffering an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury in October 2022 that kept him out for a big chunk of last season, Al Oyayri returned stronger in May 2023 and went on to win the first RSL Young Player of the Month award of the ongoing campaign.
A tenacious player, capable of operating at the base of midfield or at right back, Al Oyayri started six of his side’s first ten matches of the season, averaging 1.85 interceptions per 90 minutes and 33 successful passes per 90 minutes, with an average pass completion rate of 86%.
Musaab Al Jwayr (20, Al Hilal AM/CM)
Al Hilal, the RSL and Asia’s most successful club side, is a difficult place to break in as a youngster, and when you have the likes of Ruben Neves, Sergei Milinkovic-Savic and Saudi Arabia captain Salman Al Faraj ahead of you in the picking order, then making it as a midfielder becomes a daunting task, but Al Jwayr was still able to make a name for himself in Riyadh.
Making his league debut for the club as an 18-year-old, Al Juwayr came on as a last-minute substitute against Damac in November 2021, making an instant impact by scoring his first senior goal. In his breakout season in 2022-23, the young midfielder made 12 appearances for Al Hilal, scoring twice. He also scored the winning penalty in the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2022 shootouts against Wydad Athletic Casablanca, leading the club to the semi-finals against Flamengo.
At international level, Al Juwayr captains Saudi Arabia U20 and has already won three senior caps, scoring on his international debut against Yemen in January 2023.
Faisal Al Ghamdi (22, Al Ittihad, CM)
One of the most exciting prospects to come out of Al Ettifaq youth system in recent years, Al Ghamdi had already established himself as a key player at the club in 2022-23, making 23 appearances, including 14 starts.
Upon his arrival to the club, Steven Gerrard hailed the 22-year-old as the standout local player in his squad and was handed a starting spot alongside Jordan Henderson in midfield in four of the first five matches, before a move to reigning champions Al Ittihad materialised.
Already capped twice at senior level, Al Ghamdi captains Saudi Arabia U23. His ability to dictate play from deep saw him make 145 passes in five appearances, with an accuracy of 83.4%.
Islam Hawsawi (21, Al Wehda, LB)
Combining a tough-tackling style with pace and technical ability, Islam Hawsawi possesses the characteristics that could make him one of Saudi Arabia’s most important players at the left-back position for years to come.
Having made his senior debut against Al Hilal in September 2022, Hawsawi went on to make 22 appearances for his hometown club in 2022-23, scoring his first goal in a 2-1 win over Abha where he was deployed at left-midfield for the first time.
The 21-year-old started nine of his side’s first ten matches of the 2023-24 season, making 12 successful tackles and creating two chances.
Nawaf Al Aqidi (23, Al Nassr, GK)
Of the 18 RSL clubs, only Al Nassr have had a Saudi goalkeeper starting every single one of their matches this season. When Colombian international David Ospina suffered a long-term injury last season, Al Nassr placed their confidence in their local boy who went on to make 11 appearances in 2022-23.
In a summer of big spending, the Riyadh-based club renewed their faith in Al Aqidi, who started the 2023-24 season as the number one choice once more, with the 23-year-old starting eight of the team’s first ten matches.
Al Aqidi made his international debut in January 2023 against Yemen and has won four caps since then, establishing himself as Saudi Arabia’s future number one, a promising understudy for veteran Mohammed Al Owais.
Muath Faqihi (21, Al Taawoun, LB)
The young left-back embodies all the qualities of the Al Taawoun side that is competing at the top end of the Roshn Saudi League table this season. Faqihi arrived in the summer on a loan deal from Al Hilal and made his first senior appearance with the Buraidah-based side.
In the first ten matches of the campaign, the youngster started every game for Al Taawoun, creating four chances and averaging 29 passes per game with an accuracy of 84%. He was just as involved in defence, making 14 tackles and 15 clearances as he continues to grow into one of the brightest young players in the RSL.