Damac might not be the highest profile club in the Roshn Saudi League, but the club from Khamis Mushait are putting their name up in lights this season, sitting fifth as the league broke for the AFC Asian Cup and Africa Cup of Nations.
While they unexpectedly lost their last match to Al Riyadh, they had been on an eight-match unbeaten run largely thanks to the form of Cameroon international Georges-Kévin N’Koudou.
His 14 goals this season put him behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Aleksandar Mitrovic in the race for the golden boot, and after six months in the RSL the 28-year-old has opened up about his move to Damac and his form so far this season.
After leaving Turkish giants Besiktas, the former Tottenham Hotspur player had offers flood in from around the world, but it was the project in Saudi Arabia that most took his fancy.
“I was at the end of my contract (with Besiktas), so I decided not to renew,” said N’Koudou, who is currently in the Ivory Coast with Cameroon for the Africa Cup of Nations.
“So I was at home quietly in Paris, staying with my family (and) the phone rings a bit, but I’m a bit reluctant, so I took my time to think things over.
“And then there’s Saudi Arabia which is presented, different clubs but Damac was finally more convincing.
“I like challenges, I’m someone who takes them on. I’m not afraid to go to the front, if I may say so. So they presented the project to me and I said yes, I didn’t hesitate for a second. I came directly.”
So far N’Koudou, who played for Cameroon at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, has been impressed by what he has seen, particularly with the local talent.
“I was very surprised by the level of the Saudi players,” he continued.
“Because they have very good players. Even if it is not very demanding compared to Europe or big European clubs, they are progressing, they are listening.
“They have everything they need to move forward, but the level is good. It’s even higher than I thought, especially when you play against the big four. You can see that they’re better than us, no disrespect to anyone, but when they have all these great players who are together and who know football, it’s the same language everywhere.”
So impressed has he been he thinks Al Hilal, who he declared the “championship team”, could compete in the major leagues of Europe.
It’s another European that the French-born striker has struck up a rapport with, on and off-the-pitch, at Damac with Romanian international Nicolae Stanciu also a major contributing factor to Damac’s success this season.
Having already experienced life in Saudi Arabia during a short stint with Al Ahli back in the 2018-19 season, the decorated midfielder had no time adjusting to his new surroundings and forming a telepathic connection with N’Koudou.
“He’s a very good player,” N’Koudou declared.
“When he arrived, because I arrived a little before him, we understood each other straight away. He knows that if I have space, I know he’s going to put it on me, I don’t even need to talk.
“He’s a very intelligent guy, so when you’ve got players like that in your team it’s easy. From the very first training sessions we understood each other and we get along very well on and off the field.”
While they sit fifth currently, it was a slower start to the season than expected for Damac, at one point languishing as low as 17th. But as the games rolled on, N’Koudou could feel the harmony in the team improving and while the league is currently on a break, he hopes the momentum generated will continue when the league returns in February.
“At first it was a bit… we were having a little trouble,” he said.
“But as soon as all the players have arrived, it was a little smoother. It was better, even in understanding of the game, in the relationship that we had on the ground. It was good, it was natural.
“You could feel it in the last few games, we are much better and, frankly, I hope it will continue.”
And he had a warning for opposition defences.
“Because I play a lot of Futsal, one-on-one is something I know,” he said.
“I know that if the defender is close to me, I can get into space and if I turn around and have the speed it’s hard to stop me.”
On the evidence of the first half of the season, he is certainly not wrong.