Al Fateh flourishing having placed emphasis on youth

One of the most exciting features of this year’s Roshn Saudi League season has been the emergence of young, homegrown Saudi talent across the league.

Al Ittihad’s 16-year-old striker Talal Haji has become the youngest goalscorer in RSL history, while stars such as Ahmed and Faisal Al Ghamdi, Muath Faqeehi and Eid Al Muwallad, to name just a few, have emerged as exciting prospects for the future.

More and more, clubs across the league are placing their faith in young talent - and they are being rewarded handsomely for doing so.

Few sides have done so more than Al Fateh, the last club outside the traditional “big four” of Al Hilal, Al Ittihad, Al Nassr and Al Ahli to win the RSL title, who are developing a reputation as a hotbed for precocious Saudi talent.

Under the guidance of Croatian Slaven Bilic, the Al Ahsa club has given playing opportunities this season to 10 players aged 23 or under.

Bilic, of course, has an eye for local talent. It was he, during his tenure with Al Ittihad, that handed Saud Abdulhamid his RSL debut. Abdulhamid has gone on to domestic and continental success with Al Hilal, and starred for Saudi Arabia at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

“I always like to give young players a chance,” Bilic said earlier this season.“Because if they are good, if they are ready - if I see something in them that they are ready - young players bring you energy.

“They are free; they are not afraid of risking something. They see everything positive.”

At Al Fateh, there is clearly plenty of talent Bilic sees in the positive.

One of the revelations of this RSL season has been 20-year-old midfielder Abbas Al Hassan, who not only has forced his way into the Al Fateh midfield, but is now very much in the plans of national team coach, Roberto Mancini.

The central midfielder earned his first call-up to the national team in November last year, impressing in the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers against both Pakistan and Jordan. Indeed, Al Hassan almost scored his first international goal against the latter, when he denied only by the woodwork.

However, it is at Al Fateh in which he has really flourished. Having played a handful of matches in the previous two seasons, Bilic saw something in the then 19-year-old during pre-season that convinced him of the teenager’s ability.

Initially coming off the bench in the opening rounds of the campaign, Al Hassan made his first start in Al Fateh’s huge 5-1 win over Al Ahli in September and has barely looked back since.

His assured performances in the middle of the park have earned him the RSL October Young Player of the Month award. With two goals and an assist to his name as well, and featuring in almost all games since this season, his is a name to keep an eye on over the coming years.

Another of Bilic’s finds this season has been Saeed Baattia. The defender began his career at First Division side Jeddah FC but made the move to Al Fateh in the off-season. Now aged 23, Baattia then quickly established himself as a permanent fixture on the right side of the Al Fateh backline.

Whether it’s Baattia or Al Hassan, or the likes of Saad Al Shurafa, the 19-year-old striker who has four RSL goals this term, or 21-year-old Salem Al Najdi, who plays on the left-hand side of defence and has chipped in with three goals of his own, age is evidently no barrier at Al Fateh.

It’s worth remembering, also, that the leading Saudi Arabian goalscorer in this season’s RSL [and in the past two campaigns], Feras Al Buraikan, started the season at Al Fateh before his move to Al Ahli in September.

The 23-year-old hit the headlines at Al Fateh after joining from Al Nassr in 2021, shortly following his 21st birthday. Twenty-eight goals across two seasons in Al Ahsa firmly established Al Buraikan as the leading domestic marksman in the RSL.

The Saudi international started this season in scintillating form, too, with four goals in five matches under Bilic before Al Ahli swooped for his services. Upon his departure, Al Buraikan made it clear he owes his current success to his time at Al Fateh.

“Words cannot describe how I feel leaving the club that embraced me at a critical time in my career and bet on my success,” he wrote in a farewell message on Instagram.

“They were like family. An exemplary club in every sense of the word.”

Al Buraikan’s loss undoubtedly left a hole in Al Fateh’s attack, especially given he had just recently renewed his contract through until 2028. Yet it has far from derailed their season. As one door closes, another opens, and in his place Al Shurafa has grasped his opportunity.

Reaching as high as fourth earlier in the season, Al Fateh sit seventh at present but are on track to better their highest points (41) and goals (51) tally in the RSL since the 2012-13 title winning season. And, at the fore once again, will be their armada of impressive youngsters.