Sports

Most successful teams, top goalscorers and format explained

There is one division stealing all of the headlines worldwide right now and that’s the Saudi Pro League.

Huge names from global football like Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante now compete in Saudi Arabia thanks to the major investment from the Public Investment Fund.

While its popularity is only picking up now due to some high profile transfers, the Saudi Pro League has been running since 1976 and its teams have enjoyed regular success in the AFC Champions League.

Here’s the history of the Saudi top flight, from the most successful teams and players to everything else you need to know.

The Saudi Pro League (SPL) began in 1976 and is also currently known as the Roshn Saudi League for sponsorship reasons.

It’s the highest division of football in Saudi Arabia and has had the occasional format change over the years. The league’s coefficient is high thanks to teams like Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad doing well in the AFC Champions League.

Al Ittihad v Al Nassr - Saudi Pro League

Al-Ittihad won the title last season / Khalid Alhaj/MB Media/GettyImages

The most successful team in the history of the SPL is Al-Hilal, who signed Ruben Neves and Kalidou Koulibaly during the 2023 summer transfer window.

They have won the SPL 18 times and been runners-up on 15 occasions, boasting more than double the number of titles than Al-Ittihad, the second most successful team in Saudi Arabia.

The city of Riyadh and its teams have won 33 titles between them, with teams from Jeddah winning 13. There are then two titles for Al-Ettifaq in Damman and one for Al-Fateh and the city of Al-Hasa.

Team

Titles

Runners-up

Al-Hilal

18

15

Al-Ittihad

9

8

Al-Nassr

9

7

Al-Shabab

6

6

Al-Ahli

4

9

Al-Ettifaq

2

2

Al-Fateh

1

0

The Saudi Pro League’s top goalscorer list is dominated by players from the home nation. There are only two players out of the top ten goalscorers in the history of the SPL who aren’t Saudi Arabian.

They are both still playing in the division, showing the lean towards foreign talent. If the top clubs have their way, this list will have a few more foreign names within a few years.

This shift is starting to happen and is evidenced by the fact a Saudi Arabian has not been the top scorer of the SPL since the 2013/14 season. Odion Ighalo and Bafetimbi Gomis are recent top scorers in the SPL.

Player

Nationality

Club(s)

Years active

Goals

Majed Abdullah

Saudi Arabia

Al-Nassr

1977-1997

189

Nasser Al-Shamrani

Saudi Arabia

Al-Wehda, Al-Shabab, Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad

2003-2019

167

Omar Al Somah

Syria

Al-Ahli

2014-2022, 2023-

144

Fahd Al-Hamdan

Saudi Arabia

Al-Riyadh

1984-2000

120

Yasser Al-Qahtani

Saudi Arabia

Al-Qadsiah, Al-Hilal

2000-2018

112

Abderrazak Hamdallah

Morocco

Al-Nassr, Al-Ittihad

2018-

110

Mohammad Al-Sahlawi

Saudi Arabia

Al-Qadsiah, Al-Nassr, Al-Shabab, Al-Taawoun

2005-2022

106

Sami Al-Jaber

Saudi Arabia

Al-Hilal

1988-2007

101

Hamzah Idris

Saudi Arabia

Ohod, Al-Ittihad

1992-2007

96

Obeid Al-Dosari

Saudi Arabia

Al-Wehda, Al-Ahli

1996-2005

91

While a host of big stars are making the journey to Saudi Arabia this summer, plenty of notable but minors names have been playing in the SPL for a few years.

Names such as Vincent Aboubakar, Luis Gustavo, Luciano Vietto, Ever Banega, Brad Jones, David Ospina, Felipe Caicedo, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Georgios Samaras, Wilfried Bony, Odion Ighalo, Bafetimbi Gomis, M’Baye Niang and Cristian Tello will be familiar with the European football audience.

FBL-KSA-NASSR-RAED

Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr are looking for glory in 2023/24 / -/GettyImages

The 2023/24 season will be very different in many ways for fans who have been following the SPL for a while.

Increased media attention began when Cristiano Ronaldo arrived at Al-Nassr at the very start of 2023 and will continue to grow as more stars move to the Middle East.

The other reason it will be a bit different is that the Public Investment Fund has taken Al-Nassr, Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahli and Al-Hilal under its control. Those newly monied teams are attracting new talent, but what it means for the rest of the clubs in the division remains to be seen.

The new season will see 16 clubs face each other home and away, with head-to-head being the key deciding factor if teams finish on the same points. Goal difference is the last resort. The season will run from August to May and the lowest three teams will be relegated to the Saudi First Division League.

The winners of the SPL go straight into the AFC Champions League group stage, while second place go into the qualifiers. Al-Ittihad – the side Benzema and Kante have joined – are the current champions, while Al-Nassr were runners-up, so Ronaldo will have to earn his place in the AFC Champions League group stage.

As things stand right now, there is no TV package in the United Kingdom that includes live matches from the Saudi Pro League. That could change very soon though, likely before the 2023/24 season gets underway.

The Athletic reported that the SPL has instructed IMG to secure a global TV deal for the new season given so many big names will be on show. IMG has been crucial to securing overseas deals for the Premier League over the years and it seems unlikely that it will fail at this task.

In the United States, there are some SPL games shown live on ESPN.

READ MORE ON THE PLAYERS LINKED TO SAUDI ARABIA & THE MONEY ON OFFER

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