The Green Falcons train in Riyadh ahead of Pakistan trip

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A Saudi Arabian football season for eternity is planned.

Following last summer’s revolutionary transfer spree, the eyes of the world turned to the Kingdom and we saw Al-Hilal in stunning form, Al-Nassr icon Cristiano Ronaldo show off his everlasting skills and much more.

Here, Arab News analyses the highs and lows of an unforgettable 2023-24 season:

Best team: Al-Hilal

Al-Hilal has not only had Saudi Arabia’s strongest season, but also one of the best in football history.

Their numbers were staggering, with the returning Jorge Jesus winning the Saudi Super Cup, Roshn Saudi League and King Cup in the domestic league, achieving a world record 34 consecutive victories in all competitions and winning 31 of 34 matches in the top flight, scoring 101 goals and conceding just 23.

They had to be so good to keep disappointing the best player of the 2023/24 season.

Best player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Al-Nassr)

Ronaldo was the greatest, even amidst a surge in world-class talent.

A brace on the final evening against long-dethroned champions Al-Ittihad – which was celebrated with great jubilation – set a new record for the number of goals in an RSL season with 35 goals. Only Al-Ahli’s Riyad Mahrez (13) and his compatriot Ruben Neves (12) were more successful than him with 11 assists.

Moments of unrivalled quality and insatiable desire highlighted the 39-year-old’s ruthless ability to defy the waning effects of time, notably November’s ridiculous lob against Al-Okhdood. There was even the opportunity to collect four RSL match balls for hat-tricks.

Best Saudi player: Saud Abdulhamid (Al-Hilal)

Saud Abdulhamid deserves to top this prestigious list for his trademark “chair” celebration in April’s heated King’s Cup semi-final against his boyhood club Al-Ittihad – not to mention his impressive performances in the 2023/24 season.

The tireless 24-year-old right-back looked effortlessly at home amongst a new star-studded line-up, and he also equalled his previous season’s record of three league goals.

Links to Ligue 1 club Toulouse gave this defender, who overshadowed his celebrated colleague Salem Al-Dawsari and Al-Ahli’s 19-goal striker Firas Al-Buraikan, a tantalising glimpse of the global future.

Best coach: Pericles Chamusca (Al-Taawoun)

It takes something special to outshine Al-Hilal’s Jesus.

Pericles Chamusca provided that for underdogs Al-Taawoun. The gregarious Brazilian defied a series of summer departures, most notably assist machine Kaku and versatile Saudi Arabian defender Hassan Kadesh, as well as the winter sale of influential Spanish midfielder Alvaro Medran.

Amidst this whirlwind, a fourth-place finish – five points ahead of fallen giants Al-Ittihad – secured him qualification for the AFC Champions League Two, and he heads to ambitious Yelo League side NEOM SC with his head held high.

Best goal: Bernard Mensah (Al-Tai 1-4 Al-Ahli)

Take your pick from Bernard Mensah’s monumental campaign at relegated Al-Tai.

February’s George Weah-style run from distance through several Al-Ahli defenders and his pinpoint low shot past Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy narrowly trumps May’s illogical slalom run through a crowded penalty area against Al-Fateh.

Best new signing: Aleksandar Mitrovic (Al-Hilal)

An addition that was worth the wait.

Al-Hilal haggled with Fulham all summer for the colossal Serbian centre-forward, a push that was rewarded with 40 goals in 43 games, including an early opener in the King Cup final, a hat-trick in September’s iconic 4-3 win over defending champions Al-Ittihad and a brace in the 3-0 Riyadh derby victory over Al-Nassr in December.

This valued goal instinct and his tireless style helped Mitrovic outscore teammates Malcom and Neves, as well as Al-Nassr’s Marcelo Brozovic, Al-Ahli’s Franck Kessie and Al-Fayha’s Fashion Sakala.

Worst transfer: Habib Diallo (Al-Shabab)

Diallo’s efforts underlined that Al-Shabab, who were in eighth place, had had a forgettable season.

The new signing from Strasbourg only scored six times in 30 league games and had to endure a goal drought of almost five months between his second and third goals.

This mediocre contribution from the Senegalese striker was less significant than the brief stay of then-England captain Jordan Henderson at Ettifaq and the heartbreaking early end to the season of a Brazilian megastar.

Biggest disappointment (Neymar – Al-Hilal)

The events on the other side of the world echoed throughout the kingdom.

Neymar’s catastrophic knee injury in October, sustained in Brazil’s 2026 World Cup qualifier, brought an abrupt end to his tenure at Al-Hilal, putting a stop to the immense excitement generated by the epic performance in Riyadh in August following his arrival from Paris Saint-Germain.

The maverick Brazilian striker has made just three RSL appearances and scored a single goal in the AFC Champions League, with much more likely to happen in the 2024/25 season.

A season to forget: Al-Ittihad

Things can only get better for Al-Ittihad after their dismal defence of the RSL title.

A quantum leap was predicted when the club signed Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, French midfielder N’Golo Kante and Brazilian goalkeeper Fabinho after a 14-year wait for a top-flight trophy. However, RSL-winning coach Nuno Espirito Santo left in October and his depleted squad finished a distant sixth.

Coveted replacement Marcelo Gallardo then suffered a one-sided 3-1 defeat to Egyptian side Al-Ahly in the quarter-finals of the Club World Cup in Jeddah in December. The trophy-less team finished fifth – 42 points behind Al-Hilal – and failed to qualify for the AFC Champions League Elite. In an interrupted season, Benzema scored just 16 goals in 33 appearances.

Funniest moment: Noureddine Zekri’s survival celebration

A stunned Sadio Mane almost had a hilarious second look before the game when he saw the reflection of his twin brother Qassem, clubmate Ali Lajami, in Al-Fateh’s lineup.

But nothing beats Noureddine Zekri’s iconic reaction to save debutants Al-Okhdood from relegation. The 59-year-old coach caused a sensation with his slow-motion run across the pitch and his “Superman” flop at the final whistle of the relegation match of matchweek 34 against relegation-threatened Al-Tai.

Those to keep an eye on: (Al-Qadsiah)

A club owned by Saudi Aramco is expected to make a big splash in the 2024/25 season.

Dominant Yelo League winners Al-Qadsiah underlined their prospects last month by edging Roma to sign Uruguayan midfielder Nahitan Nandez – and there is much more in store.

A repeat of newly promoted Al-Ahli’s rise to third place is not out of the question based on initial impressions. Their recent reputation as a yo-yo team should be overcome once and for all.

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