Resurgence of Saudi Pro League players at Euro 2024

In France's victory over Austria in its first game of Euro 2024, it was not Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann or William Saliba to win player of the match. It was N'golo Kante, the 33-year-old defensive midfielder. For a time, Kante was one of the best midfielders in the world. He was an integral part of […] In France’s victory over Austria in its first game of Euro 2024, it was not Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann or William Saliba to win player of the match. It was N’golo Kante, the 33-year-old defensive midfielder. For a time, Kante was one of the best midfielders in the world. He was an integral part of France’s World Cup win in 2018 as he played in every contest. Yet, Euro 2024 has brought him back to the center of discussion after fading into memory with his move to Saudi Arabia. Some players still carry popularity despite their moves to the Middle East. Cristiano Ronaldo, given his dazzling career, will always draw attention. His goal-scoring output in the Saudi Pro League has been impressive even when considering the quality of the opposition. Likewise, Neymar always figures in conversation. His injury has been one of Brazil’s biggest stories ahead of the 2024 Copa America. Yet, N’golo Kante is one of several players benefiting from international soccer in terms of their career. Ruben Neves figures to play a role in Portugal’s squad at Euro 2024 alongside Ronaldo. Although, both may be starting on the bench. Most of Portugal’s recent international selections for a starting XI have come from players representing European clubs. Neves was one of the top Portuguese midfielders during his time with Wolves. Yet, he now falls into the category of fans hearing his name and thinking ‘Right, he used to play in the Premier League. He was pretty good there.‘ Here are some of the other players that fit that mold of returning to prevalence after operating in the Saudi shadow at the club level. Prevalence of Saudi Pro League players at Euro 2024 Marcelo Brozovic – Croatia Marcelo Brozovic has been one of the stalwarts of Croatia’s midfield in its recent years of success. He played regularly at each of the last two World Cups and Euro 2020. Before joining Al-Nassr, though, he was the captain of an Inter Milan side that reached the UEFA Champions League Final. Brozovic was by many accounts one of the most important midfielders in Europe. Moving to the Saudi Pro League at the age of 30 curtailed an impressive career for the Croatian. Things did not go to plan in Croatia’s first game of Euro 2024 against Spain, as the side lost convincingly in Berlin. Regardless, Croatia will need the Brozovic who captained Inter and performed well alongside Luka Modric if it wants success. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Aleksandar Mitrovic – Serbia Serbia has regularly been a team people see as a ‘dark horse’ at international tournaments. Chalk that up to two of its more important players. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic was a star with Lazio, often being the focus of rumors to top clubs across Europe. Likewise, Aleksandar Mitrovic made waves in England in both the Championship and the Premier League. Both opted for the money of the Saudi Pro League. Serbia narrowly lost against England with neither side generating strong scoring chances. Was that because two of its top attacking players had avoided the level of competition England presented? Perhaps, but it is also the first game of the tournament. Teams, like Croatia for example, are finding their footing. Mitrovic will need to convert chances like the one he missed against England if he is to maintain his spot in the Serbia starting XI. Georginio Wijnaldum – The Netherlands Wijnaldum is one of the veterans of this Dutch Euro 2024 squad. He played in every game going back to the 2014 World Cup. In major games and competitions, Wijnaldum features for the Dutch. He only missed the 2022 World Cup because of a broken tibia. His career has petered out since he was one of the starlets of Dutch and European soccer. However, he can provide something much of this Dutch side needs: experience. He reached the semifinals of the World Cup in 2014. Since then, the Netherlands has flailed in international competition. At Euro 2024, he will be a role player off the bench barring injuries to starters. Regardless, he can make a difference from that spot. The ‘what-could-have-been’ players The Saudi Pro League did more than just bring in recognizable names. Some of the players at Euro 2024 from the Saudi Pro League made somewhat unexpected moves given their age. Ruben Neves would fit that mold, certainly. As would a player like Belgium goalkeeper Koen Casteels. Casteels went from Wolfsburg to Al Qadsiah when he was starting to draw attention from the Belgium hierarchy. Now, with Thibaut Courtois relegated off the squad because of injury and off-field disagreements, Casteels is thrown into the action. Casteels played well despite a historic loss against

Resurgence of Saudi Pro League players at Euro 2024
In France's victory over Austria in its first game of Euro 2024, it was not Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann or William Saliba to win player of the match. It was N'golo Kante, the 33-year-old defensive midfielder. For a time, Kante was one of the best midfielders in the world. He was an integral part of […]

In France’s victory over Austria in its first game of Euro 2024, it was not Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann or William Saliba to win player of the match. It was N’golo Kante, the 33-year-old defensive midfielder. For a time, Kante was one of the best midfielders in the world. He was an integral part of France’s World Cup win in 2018 as he played in every contest. Yet, Euro 2024 has brought him back to the center of discussion after fading into memory with his move to Saudi Arabia.

Some players still carry popularity despite their moves to the Middle East. Cristiano Ronaldo, given his dazzling career, will always draw attention. His goal-scoring output in the Saudi Pro League has been impressive even when considering the quality of the opposition. Likewise, Neymar always figures in conversation. His injury has been one of Brazil’s biggest stories ahead of the 2024 Copa America. Yet, N’golo Kante is one of several players benefiting from international soccer in terms of their career.

Ruben Neves figures to play a role in Portugal’s squad at Euro 2024 alongside Ronaldo. Although, both may be starting on the bench. Most of Portugal’s recent international selections for a starting XI have come from players representing European clubs. Neves was one of the top Portuguese midfielders during his time with Wolves. Yet, he now falls into the category of fans hearing his name and thinking ‘Right, he used to play in the Premier League. He was pretty good there.

Here are some of the other players that fit that mold of returning to prevalence after operating in the Saudi shadow at the club level.

Prevalence of Saudi Pro League players at Euro 2024

Marcelo Brozovic – Croatia

Marcelo Brozovic has been one of the stalwarts of Croatia’s midfield in its recent years of success. He played regularly at each of the last two World Cups and Euro 2020. Before joining Al-Nassr, though, he was the captain of an Inter Milan side that reached the UEFA Champions League Final. Brozovic was by many accounts one of the most important midfielders in Europe. Moving to the Saudi Pro League at the age of 30 curtailed an impressive career for the Croatian.

Things did not go to plan in Croatia’s first game of Euro 2024 against Spain, as the side lost convincingly in Berlin. Regardless, Croatia will need the Brozovic who captained Inter and performed well alongside Luka Modric if it wants success.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Aleksandar Mitrovic – Serbia

Serbia has regularly been a team people see as a ‘dark horse’ at international tournaments. Chalk that up to two of its more important players. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic was a star with Lazio, often being the focus of rumors to top clubs across Europe. Likewise, Aleksandar Mitrovic made waves in England in both the Championship and the Premier League. Both opted for the money of the Saudi Pro League.

Serbia narrowly lost against England with neither side generating strong scoring chances. Was that because two of its top attacking players had avoided the level of competition England presented? Perhaps, but it is also the first game of the tournament. Teams, like Croatia for example, are finding their footing. Mitrovic will need to convert chances like the one he missed against England if he is to maintain his spot in the Serbia starting XI.

Georginio Wijnaldum – The Netherlands

Wijnaldum is one of the veterans of this Dutch Euro 2024 squad. He played in every game going back to the 2014 World Cup. In major games and competitions, Wijnaldum features for the Dutch. He only missed the 2022 World Cup because of a broken tibia. His career has petered out since he was one of the starlets of Dutch and European soccer. However, he can provide something much of this Dutch side needs: experience. He reached the semifinals of the World Cup in 2014. Since then, the Netherlands has flailed in international competition.

At Euro 2024, he will be a role player off the bench barring injuries to starters. Regardless, he can make a difference from that spot.

The ‘what-could-have-been’ players

The Saudi Pro League did more than just bring in recognizable names. Some of the players at Euro 2024 from the Saudi Pro League made somewhat unexpected moves given their age. Ruben Neves would fit that mold, certainly.

As would a player like Belgium goalkeeper Koen Casteels. Casteels went from Wolfsburg to Al Qadsiah when he was starting to draw attention from the Belgium hierarchy. Now, with Thibaut Courtois relegated off the squad because of injury and off-field disagreements, Casteels is thrown into the action. Casteels played well despite a historic loss against Slovakia on Monday, June 17. Several of his saves kept the Belgians in the game, but his side failed to give him any support.

His teammate Yannick Carrasco has had one of the more bizarre careers. One move to China put his Atletico Madrid on hiatus. In Spain, Carrasco was a good player, albeit never one of the best players in Spain. However, he did enough to court a big-money move to the Middle East. When he is playing well, Carrasco is a great talent. With strong Belgium teammates, he can make a difference at Euro 2024, should Belgium bounce back from its opening howler against Slovakia.

Finally, it is worth mentioning Nicolae Stanciu. The Romanian will not be the first name soccer fans think of when they ponder the Saudi Pro League. Nor will he be the first though for Romanian soccer, as that still goes to Gheorghe Hagi. Yet, the captain of this Romanian squad scored a stunning goal in the historic 3-0 win over Ukraine. He also plays in the Saudi Pro League, but he is making Euro 2024 his most memorable moment.

PHOTOS: IMAGO

Euro 2024

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2024 Soccer Calendar: Get the lowdown on what will be a busy year in soccer