The Liverpool Lads' RSL adventure

The 2023-24 Roshn Saudi League had a very direct connection to one of world football’s most celebrated clubs.

And it stretched the breadth of Saudi Arabia.

Whether it was in Dammam on the east coast, or Jeddah on the west, or in the country’s capital Riyadh in the centre, Liverpool supporters would have been keeping an eye on how a plethora on their team’s former stars were doing in the Kingdom.

Bona-fide Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard, considered by many the greatest player to represent the five-time European champions, was continuing his managerial career at Al Ettifaq, installed last summer to much fanfare.

It would see ex-Liverpool captains reunite, with Jordan Henderson following his predecessor at Anfield to Dammam. Not long after, another midfielder with strong Liverpool links would join them, in the shape of Georginio Wijnaldum.

Across the country, at twin Jeddah giants, Fabinho swapped Merseyside for 2022-23 RSL champions Al Ittihad, while Roberto Firmino traded the English Premier League side for an Al Ahli team seeking to mark their mark upon their return to the Saudi top flight.

Meanwhile, in Riyadh, former strike partner Sadio Mane added some serious star power to an Al Nassr team captained by a certain Cristiano Ronaldo.

Here’s how each of the “Liverpool lads” fared during their debut campaign in the RSL.

Steven Gerrard (Al Ettifaq)

Installed at Al Ettifaq last July, the former Rangers and Aston Villa manager sought to rebuild a coaching career that had stalled somewhat – and, in turn, contract a team capable of improving on the previous season’s seventh-placed finish. In the end, he did just that: Al Ettifaq came home sixth, with 12 wins and 10 defeats from 34 matches. The highlights included a 2-1 triumph over Al Nassr to open the season, and the 5-0 victory away at Al Ittihad in Matchweek 31.

Just imagine where Al Ettifaq could have finished if they would have turned some of those 12 draws into victories. Fortunately for the club, Gerrard will be the man tasked with doing just that next season: in January, he signed a new contract through until 2027.

Georginio Wijnaldum (Al Ettifaq)

Having moved from Liverpool to Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) in 2021, the Dutch international was back among familiar faces at Al Ettifaq following his September transfer. He is a hugely decorated star already, with league title wins in the Netherlands with PSV, France with PSG and, of course, England with Liverpool. During five trophy-laden years at Anfield, Wijnaldum also lifted the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup.

At Al Ettifaq, he was made captain once Henderson departed, and his leadership proved vital. In 29 appearances, Wijnaldum scored six goals and registered five assists, netting a brace in the 4-3 thriller against Al Tai in Matchweek 7 and again in the equally dramatic 3-2 win at Al Wehda four rounds later.

Sadio Mane (Al Nassr)

Part of that prolific triumvirate at Liverpool alongside Firmino and Mohamed Salah, the Senegal standout achieved pretty much everything during his six years with the club. Mane departed in 2022 as a UEFA Champions League winner, a Premier League champion, while he also captured the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup – all in the same side with Wijnaldum.

Add to that the FA Cup and English League Cup, and it’s easy to see why Mane is still so highly regarded at Liverpool.

He arrived at Al Nassr in August from a title-winning season at Bayern Munich in Germany, and promptly helped his new team life the King Salman Arab Clubs Cup. In the RSL, Mane manged 13 goals and eight assists in 32 appearances as Al Nassr finished runner-up to Al Hilal.

That haul included two goals in the superb 5-2 win at then-champions Al Ittihad in Matchweek 17.

Fabinho (Al Ittihad)

Another member of that all-conquering Liverpool team from 2018-19 to 2022-23, the Brazilian midfielder had practically won it all too: UEFA Champions League, Premier League, UEFA Super Cup, FA Cup, League Cup.

Bringing down the curtain on five years at Anfield, Fabinho chose to join Al Ittihad last July, making him one of the most high-profile players to move to the Kingdom.

However, his time in Jeddah has thus far not gone completely to plan: injury and suspension restricted Fabinho to 19 appearance in the 2023-24 campaign as Al Ittihad eventually finished fifth in the standings.

A defensive midfielder, he did chip in with a goal, albeit in the season-concluding defeat to Al Nassr, while he only recorded one assist. The hope is there is plenty more to come from the clearly talented 30-year-old.

Roberto Firmino (Al Ahli)

One of the headline-making additions to the RSL last summer – and the reason was obvious. Like his aforementioned teammates, the Brazilian contributed considerably to Liverpool’s recent success, integral to the Premier League title-winning run, the UEFA Champions League success – he was also twice runner-up – and the UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup, FA Cup and League Cup trophies.

Considering the eight years spent at Anfield, little wonder Firmino’s name is still sung on the Kop. Hence, the forward was welcomed with open arms when he arrived in Jeddah last July tasked with helping the three-time Saudi champions mark their return to the RSL in style.

“Style” is exactly how Firmino began his Al Ahli career: he struck a hat-trick in the season-opening 3-1 win at home to Al Hazem. However, he would surprisingly go six months without another goal, breaking the drought – finally – with a double in the 4-1 victory at Al Tai in Matchweek 21.

Firmino found the net in another four RSL matches to end the campaign with nine goals and six assists. Yet, as captain, he proved an excellent leader, guiding Al Ahli to an excellent third-placed finish.