Legendary former Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard has become the latest big name in football to be tempted by the lure of the Saudi Pro League. Gerrard has been appointed as manager of Al-Ettifaq on a two-year contract.
It comes as a u-turn by Gerrard after he had last month claimed that he had been invited to Saudi Arabia to look at a potential role, but had turned it down. Other managers including Jose Mourinho and Fulham’s Marco Silva have also rejected moves to the country, but it seems that Gerrard has had a change of heart.
Mixed Fortunes for Gerrard
This is Gerrard’s first role since being sacked by Aston Villa in October, by which time his team had won just twice and were only above the relegation zone on goals scored. His replacement Unai Emery took Villa up to seventh place and into the Europa Conference League play-offs.
Gerrard’s overall record at Villa saw him win just 13 out of 40 games, but he had enjoyed more success in his first role, at Scottish club Rangers. In the 2020-21 season, they won the Scottish Premiership title with 102 points, staying unbeaten in the whole campaign and conceding only 13 goals.
It was the first time in ten years that they had finished above neighbours Celtic and Gerrard has an even bigger job on his hands to bring success to Al-Ettifaq. His new club was formed in 1945 from the merger of three local clubs in the city of Dammam.
Mid-table form for Al-Ettifaq
Like Gerrard’s former club Rangers, Al-Ettifaq managed to go a whole season unbeaten en route to a league title, winning the Saudi Pro League in 1982-83. However, that was their first domestic title and they’ve only managed it once since, in 1986-87, and within the last decade they have spent time outside the Pro League after relegation.
Last season they finished well off the pace of champions Al-Ittihad, 35 points adrift in seventh place and closer to the relegation zone than the Champions League places. Having lost more games than they won, Al-Ettifaq will be looking to Gerrard to turn things around when he arrives in Saudi Arabia.
It has been reported that he will be backed with millions in transfer funds, but in a summer where the Saudi league has dominated the headlines, Al-Ettifaq have so far made little progress. Rumors have linked them with Gerrard’s former Liverpool team-mate Philippe Coutinho, who he signed for Aston Villa, while they have also been tipped to sign Alvaro Morata.
However, Gerrard’s new club is not one of the four clubs to have been bought by Saudi’s sovereign wealth fund Public Investment Fund (PIF) – Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad, and Al-Ahli. Three of them finished in the top three positions last season while Al-Ahli won the First Division to make a quick return to the top division.
Between them, the PIF-owned clubs have brought in Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, Ruben Neves, Kalidou Koulibaly, Edouard Mendy and Marcelo Brozovic already this summer, while Cristiano Ronaldo had joined in January. Roberto Firmino, Hakim Ziyech, Bernardo Silva and Neymar are all either linked or in talks to follow, so Gerrard and Al-Ettifaq have a big job on their hands to avoid falling further behind.
Written and distributed by Chat T Sports.