Elton of Arabia
If there was one player the vast majority Saudi fans admired no matter their allegiances, it has got to be this diminutive magician from Brazil. Elton Jose followed a well-traveled path from Bucharest to Riyadh when he swapped former European Champions Steaua for Al-Nassr in 2007.
Elton’s arrival saw mixed reactions from Al-Nassr fans with many critical of his tiny stature at just 158 cm. He started off with a couple of mediocre performances before turning in a man of the match performance in a 3-0 away win to Al-Ahli. From there Elton never looked back, establishing himself as one of the country’s most entertaining players. Equally capable of playing on either flanks or down the middle, his combination of freekicks, pinpoint passes and Brazilian trickery made him a fan favourite. Following two successful seasons with Al-Nassr where he scored 15 goals from midfield and assisted many more, he moved back to Brazil for a brief spell with Fortaleza before returning to the Middle East through Dubai SC & Al-Wasl in UAE.
It wasn’t long though, before Elton returned to his beloved Saudi Arabia with minnows Al-Fateh. The following couple of years would see Elton earn comparisons with a certain similarly short left-footed Argentine.
After one season of mid-table mediocrity, Elton did a Diego Maradona, leading Al-Fateh to arguably the greatest surprise in the history of Saudi football when they snatched their first ever league title against all odds in a season when Elton scored career high 11 goals. Al-Fateh became the first team from outside Riyadh & Jeddah to win the league in 25 years and just like Maradona at Napoli, Elton became his team’s all time top goalscorer in the top division with 34 goals. and continues to be an icon in the eastern province oasis town of Al-Hasa where the team hails from.
Adapting to life in the kingdom can be a daunting task for many foreigners, especially so for a young man from Brazil where beaches and parties are the order, but Elton did an exceptionally good job at it, quickly integrating into the Saudi lifestyle, learning a fair bit of Arabic and even studying the Quran.
Watch a collection of Elton’s free kick goals at Al-Fateh.
This Is Where My Heart Is.
February 15th, 2015, A 35-years-old Swede by the name of Christian Wilhelmsson announces his retirement from football. It was a sad day for Swedish fans waving good bye to the midfielder who made 79 appearances for the national team over the course of 12 years.
One of the few players to have turned out for clubs in the English Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1, Wilhelmsson left a positive mark wherever he has gone, but for fans of one club, his impact was unrivaled.
Rewind 7 years to 2008, Saudi Arabia’s biggest club spent close to €10 millions to bring in the skillful right winger from Spain’s Deportivo La Coruna. The deal raised many eyebrows across Sweden and the then 29 years old was regarded as throwing away his career and national team future in chase of money. Willie as the Saudis called him, set to prove doubters wrong as he built a name for himself with Al-Hilal while earning 13 more caps and scoring 4 goals for Sweden.
Wilhelmsson reinventing his game at Al-Hilal from a traditional right winger into a free-roaming role, occasionally even appearing in a striker position. He also discovered a great goalscoring form that saw him bag 43 goals in his 4 seasons in the Saudi Capital. A combination of pace, trickery and cool headed finishing made him a club icon and his understanding with fellow midfielder Thiago Neves was second to none, helping the team win 2 league titles and 3 domestic cups during his four seasons in Riyadh.
The former Roma man has no doubts as to what his favourite team is, “The place that made most impression on me and still stays strong in my heart is Al Hilal in Saudi” Wilhelmsson declared in a recent interview “because I had a great time and the people really appreciated my play”. The passion is certainly mutual, on the day Willie announced his retirement, the hashtag #Bye_Wilhelmsson was one of the highest trending in the kingdom and the fans demanded the club holds a farewell game for their beloved player. He is often mentioned in the same breath as the legendary Rivellino as the best foreigner to ever represent the club.
Following his four years spell at Al-Hilal, Willie joined UAE’s Baniyas but his stint there was marred by injuries and barely made an impact apart from winning the lowly GCC Champions League in his early days with the team. He is now back home in Sweden but says he still gets in touch with Al-Hilal to offer his advise on players’ recruitment.
Watch all of Christian Wilhelmsson’s 43 goals for Al-Hilal in just over 8 minutes.