RSL Young Guns: emerging talents shine through 2023-24 season

One of the most exciting aspects of any league season is seeing the development of the next crop of electrifying talent to emerge, and there was no shortage of that on display in the 2023-24 Roshn Saudi League.

From dominant strikers, to emerging midfielders and defenders, players from all over the pitch caught the eye this campaign.

We’ve compiled a list of 10 who stood out – and there could have been many, many more – that look set to be names to keep an eye out for in the seasons ahead.

Firas Al Buraikan - 24 - Al Fateh and Al Ahli

OK, so the leading Saudi Arabia striker in the RSL for three consecutive years may be just beyond our 23-year-old limit, but he has only just celebrated his 24th birthday.

Coming on the back of a career-best 17 goals for Al Fateh last season, Al Buraikan started in a similar vein this campaign, with four goals in his opening five games. That prompted Al Ahli to swoop for the talented frontman, and he continued where he left off at Al Fateh, adding a further 13 goals.

But more than that, it was his ability to provide as well as score that proved so pivotal to Al Ahli as they secured third on the table. Al Buraikan’s tally of 25 goals contributions ranked third in 2023-24, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Aleksandar Mitrovic.

It underlines just how on-song Al Buraikan, who is known for his guitar-playing goal celebration, has been this season.

Faisal Al Ghamdi - 22 - Al Ettifaq and Al Ittihad

Undoubtedly, Faisal Al Ghamdi was one of the shining lights for Al Ittihad this season in what was an otherwise disappointing title defence for the Jeddah giants.

After an impressive campaign for Al Ettifaq last season, the midfielder started the season for the Dammam club in a surprise 2-1 win over Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr - the day after his 22nd birthday.

But it wasn’t long before he was bound for Jeddah, and under both Nuno Espirito Santo and Marcelo Gallardo, he flourished.

A calm and composed influence in central midfield, Al Ghamdi plays with a maturity and confidence beyond his years. That form saw him break into the Roberto Mancini’s national team, where he looks poised to be an important figure leading up to the AFC Asian Cup on home soil in 2027.

Ahmed Al Ghamdi - 22 – Al Ettifaq and Al Ittihad

No relation to Faisal, Ahmed Al Ghamdi has a rather unique story having spent his entire childhood living and growing up in the suburbs of Vancouver, Canada, before returning to Saudi Arabia to play for Al Ettifaq in 2020.

While he struggled for meaningful game time under Steven Gerrard, Al Ittihad saw something they liked in the attacking midfielder and made a move to bring him to Jeddah, the city where he was born, during the mid-season transfer window. Al Ghamdi arrived initially on loan - a deal that has since been made permanent.

It proved to be an inspired move for both club and player. Al Ghamdi flourished under Marcelo Gallardo, while Al Ittihad picked up an exciting future prospect. His game against Al Fateh in March is one that stands out, with both a goal and an assist in a 4-2 win.

It was form that earned him a call-up to the national team for the 2026 FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifiers against Pakistan and Jordan.

Talal Haji - 16 - Al Ittihad

It’s been a season of records for Talal Haji, who was still only 15 years old when the campaign began in August last year.

Debuting at 16 years and five days, he became the youngest player in RSL history, while he also became the league’s youngest goalscorer when he netted against Al Okhdood in March. He was aged 16 years and 175 days.

While also playing a leading role for Al Ittihad’s Under-17 side that won their competition this season, Haji finished 2023-24 in fine style, with a goal and three assists in the final two games of the RSL campaign.

It reinforced just how exciting a prospect he is for, what Al Ittihad and Saudi Arabia hope, will be many seasons to come.

Abbas Al Hassan - 20 - Al Fateh

This was a breakout season for the 20-year-old attacking midfielder who starred under the tutelage of Slaven Bilic.

An Al Fateh youth product, Al Hassan had managed only 12 games combined in the previous two seasons, but he made an impression early this campaign. In October, he was named Rising Star of the Month while he also earned his debut call-up to the national team. His senior-team bow, coming in the 4-0 Asian Qualifiers win again Pakistan, arrived in November.

Al Hassan’s first goal this season showcased his potential, when at Al Riyadh in Matchweek 13, the midfielder made an overlapping run before slaloming past a number of defenders and finishing in the bottom corner.

Before Talal Haji broke the record, Al Hassan held the mark for the youngest player to debut in the RSL, coming back in 2021. For sure, he is part of an exciting generation of young midfielders emerging in Saudi Arabia.

Musab Al Juwayr - 20 - Al Hilal and Al Shabab

The talented Musab Al Juwayr, who announced himself as a star of the future with Al Hilal when he converted the fifth penalty against Wydad Casablanca at the 2022 FIFA Club World Cup, made the most of his season on-loan at Al Shabab.

With opportunities limited at a star-studded Al Hilal, Al Juwayr joined Al Shabab on-loan during the mid-season transfer window, where he then shone in the second half of the campaign with three goals and two assists - showing why he was so highly regarded within the youth ranks at Al Hilal.

His form earned Al Juwayr a call-up to the national team for the crucial Asian Qualifiers against Pakistan and Jordan. Against the former, he was named in the starting line-up - and promptly repaid Roberto Mancini’s faith with a goal in the 4-0 victory.

Meshari Al Nemer - 20 - Al Nassr

In a frontline featuring the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Anderson Talisca, opportunities are always going to be limited, so it’s important to grasp those that do come your way. And that’s what Meshari Al Nemer did this season.

Consigned to only two appearances off the bench in the deep depths of stoppage-time in the past two campaigns, the promising striker managed nine games in 2023-24 and was a consistent presence in the side throughout April and May to close the season.

His two goals, coming in each of the final two matchweeks, were important ones, too. Al Nemer’s first came in the 97th minute to rescue a point against Al Riyadh, while his second came four days later, this time in the 95th minute, to seal all three points against a fast-finishing Al Ittihad.

Muath Faqeehi - 22 - Al Hilal and Al Taawoun

Like Musab Al Juwayr, Muath Faqeehi is another that has blossomed having gone out on loan from Al Hilal.

The promising left-back made four appearances for the Riyadh giants last season but took the opportunity for more regular football with Al Taawoun this season and grasped it with both hands, being a dynamic force on the flank for the Wolves.

Named September’s Rising Star of the Month, Faqeehi was an integral part of the Al Taawoun defence that conceded only 35 goals this season - the joint-second best defence in the league.

Like so many others, his form was rewarded with a national team call-up.

Abdulmalik Al Oyayari - 20 - Al Taawoun

On the other flank to Muath Faqeehi at Al Taawoun this season has been the equally exciting Abdulmalik Al Oyayari, who turned in a series of eye-catching performances across the campaign.

The 20-year-old was the only player to be named the RSL Rising Star of the Month twice, coming in both August and May to bookend the season. It’s no surprise after the 2023-24 he had, in which Al Oyayari firmly established himself as part of the Al Taawoun side that finished fourth and qualified for Asia.

In fact, it was his goal in the 90th minute of the final game of the season that sealed the club’s place in next season’s AFC Champions League Two. It capped off a brilliant month for Al Oyayari – he also scored four days earlier in the 1-1 draw with Al Fayha.

Rayan Hamed - 22 - Al Ahli

The precocious defender is another who, while he didn’t have a plethora of opportunities this season in a team that was flying high, made the most of the chances that did come his way.

Al Ahli manager Matthias Jaissle isn’t afraid to give young players opportunities, and Hamed certainly benefited from that during the campaign, playing 10 games - seven of which he started.

A versatile defender, he was used as both a right-back and central defender, each with great effect, with seven of his 10 appearances resulting in a clean sheet for Al Ahli.

Hamed is another to have caught the eye of Roberto Mancini this season, earning selection to the Green Falcons’ squad for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. And while he didn’t feature, Mancini gave him his opportunity recently against Pakistan in March, starting Hamed on the right of a three-man defence in the 3-0 win.

It represented a huge sign of the faith the national team have in the 22-year-old.