Arab football

Article: Top 10 Arab Football Players by Brian Beard

As there is no list of merit regarding the Top 10 Arab footballers some may regard those mentioned here as very subjective but then football is a game of opinions. Having stated that it would be remiss not to begin with the current Arab Footballer of the Year, Medhi Benatia. He received that accolade in 2014 and later that year joined Bayern Munich from Roma but his move was not without its controversy. The Morocco centre back said he was disappointed to leave the Italian club but was told he had to be sold because Roma needed the money, a quote which was greeted by the club president, James Pallotta with, “I have sold a poisonous liar.”
 
Benatia made his Bayern debut against Manchester City in the Champions` League and although Munich went out to Barcelona in the semi-finals the defender scored his first CL goal for them in the second leg, they did win the Bundesliga.
 
In Arda Turan Atletico Madrid have one of THE best Arab players in the world and one of the most prized assets in European football. An integral part of Diego Simeone’s disruption of the Barcelona/Real duopoly in La Liga The Turkey midfielder helped Atletico win the Spanish title in 2014 and despite being just 28 he captains the national side for which he has won nearly 80 caps.
 
Ali Al Habsi makes this order of merit because in 2013 he became the first Arab footballer to win the FA Cup when he was a member of the Wigan squad that lifted the trophy after that historic victory over Manchester City. The Omani goalkeeper captains his country and is rapidly approaching the 100 cap mark having played in all three AFC Asian Cup tournaments. Ali joined Wigan from Bolton in 2011and has made 132 appearances for The Latics in the four years since then.
 
Riyad Mahrez is one of the most highly regarded players in the Premier League and his influence on Leicester City’s miraculous escape from relegation cannot be underestimated. The Algeria winger can sometimes drift through games but with the ball at his feet he can be an exciting spectacle. He has an eye for goal and his speedy runs into the penalty area can entice a rash challenge and a penalty from any defender, though his goal return should be far greater for a player of his undoubted ability. Riyad made his debut for Algeria as recently as 2014 when he played in the Brazil World Cup and has gone on to become a regular for his country winning 16 caps and scoring three goals.
 
Mohamed Salah is probably the most widely known Arab footballer of recent times. His outstanding performances for Basel in European club competitions brought him to the attention of Chelsea and led to his transfer to Stamford Bridge, in 2014, for a fee reported to be £11 million, making him the first Arab footballer to play for Chelsea. His appearances for Jose Mourinho were limited during his first season but he continued to be a regular for Egypt, for whom he has 36 caps and an impressive total of 20 goals. In 2013 Salah scored his first international hat trick when Egypt beat Zimbabwe in a World Cup qualifier.
 
At the beginning of 2015 Chelsea announced that Salah was to join Fiorentina on loan as part of the deal that brought Juan Cuadrado to Stamford Bridge. In Italy Salah’s nine goals in 25 appearances for the Serie A club underlined how reluctant the London club are to let him leave permanently.
 
After making his international debut for Algeria as recently as 2014 Nabil Bentaleb has amassed 16 caps and scored twice for the international side. Incredible though it may seem the midfielder is still only 20 and has only been a regular at Tottenham Hotspur for 18 months after being given his chance by Tim Sherwood. Bentaleb continued his meteoric rise when he was named in Algeria’s squad for the Brazil World Cup, where he played in all three group matches before ending the tournament as an unused substitute in the 2-1 Round of 16 defeat to eventual winners Germany. In the season just ended he was in the losing side against Chelsea in the 2015 Capital One Cup.
 
Bentaleb is that rare combination in a midfield player, capable of great skill but not afraid to get involved in the physical side of the game. Such an attitude has seen him linked with several Premier League clubs.
 
Ali Adnan is a name that is not widely known but that may change after his move from Turkish club Rizespor to Udinese in Italy in 2015. Ali was voted the 2013 Asian Young Footballer of the Year in 2013 the same year he left his first club Baghdad FC, for whom the young Iraqui left back netted six goals in 16 games, for Rizespor. Often referred to as the Asian Gareth Bale Ali is equally comfortable at left back and as a left sided midfielder where his blistering pace is a potent weapon. For such a tall player, 6 feet 2 inches, he has tremendous ability on the ball and his proficiency at long-range free-kicks has made him a target for both Chelsea and AS Roma as well as many other top European clubs who see great potential in the player who is not 22 until December 2015.
 
Aymen Abdennour is a 25 year old centre back who plays for mega-rich Monaco in the French top flight as well as Tunisia for whom he has 33 caps. He first came to prominence in 2011 when he joined Toulouse. In three seasons he established  himself in the side and made 77 appearances that lead to a loan spell at Monaco. He impressed so much that they offered him a four year deal which still has three years to run. A tall and commanding central defender his still has time on his side to develop into one of the best Arab players in the world.
 
Islam Slimani is yet another Algerian player who is making a name for himself in top European club football as well as being a regular in the national side. At 26 he is just entering his prime but already his goal record is making people take notice. He has won 36 caps and scored a very respectable 14 goals for his country but it is his record at club level that has seen his signature courted by some of Europe’s top clubs.
 
His 50 goals in 118 games for Cheraga and Belouizdad earned him a 2013 move to Sporting Lisbon and in his 47 games for the Portuguese giants he has a goal return of 20, only just under the goal `every other game` yardstick by which the very top marksmen are judged.
 
Adlene Guedioura, the Crystal Palace midfielder, completes this list of ten Arab players after helping the London club avoid relegation from the Premier League. His father Nacer is a former Algerian international and his mother Enriqueta was a Spanish basketball player so his gene pool is of the highest calibre.
 
Aged 29 Adlene has had a chequered career at club level and after six years with a number of French clubs he joined Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2010 and helped them stay in the Premier League. In 2011 the player, known as `Rocket Factory` for the power of his long range shooting recorded a notable achievement when he won `Goal of the Season` for both Wolves and Nottingham Forest, where he had a spell on loan. He is the first player to win that award with two different clubs in the same season.
 
Adlene made his international debut in 2010 when he played in the 3-0 defeat to Ireland. He was named in the Algeria squad for the 2010 World Cup although his three appearances as Algeria finished bottom of their group, were all as substitute. He has won a total of 32 caps and is now captain of the national team.
 
This list of the Top 10 Arab Players is in no particular order of merit but is indicative of the growing presence of Arab footballers in top flight European football.
 
Written by Brian Beard

 

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