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Fahad Al-Ghesheyan: Cruyff of the Desert

Fahad Al-Ghesheyan was one of the best right wingers in the history of Saudi football, a talented footballer whose acrimonious transfer from Saudi giants Al-Hilal to city rivals Al-Nassr in the late Nineties put a premature end to his career at the age of just 27.

The Saudi player was the first footballer from the Kingdom to play professionally in Europe when he was loaned for a three month spell in the Netherlands at AZ Alkmaar where he was known as de Cruyff van de woestijn (“Cruyff of the Desert”). At the time, the player described his short professional experience in the Netherlands as worth 100 years of professionalism in Saudi Arabia.

Fahad Saleh Al-Ghesheyan was born on August 1, 1973 in Riyadh but he grew up in the city of Al-Khobar where he was a class mate of Prince Faisal bin Turki. At a young age he went with friends from his neighbourhood for a trial at the Al-Hilal Football School wearing a yellow Al-Nassr jersey – which was subsequently torn by the coaches for the youngster’s betrayal for wearing the shirt of a rival. Fahad spent majority of his football career at Al-Hilal, where he graduated from the juniors to the first team.

The player looked up to Al-Hilal legend Youssef Al-Thunayan and saw the Saudi midfielder as an example on the field and imitated him in training and also the legendary Al-Nassr and Saudi Arabian striker Majed Abdullah, however his coaches advised him not to emulate the two but find his own calling and position on the field. Al-Ghesheyan on his day was a quick darting winger who could beat defenders with a turn of pace or a piece of trickery.

Al-Ghesheyan in his early years at Al-Hilal

Al-Ghesheyan in his early years at Al-Hilal

He had starred for the Saudi U-19s side at the 1993 FIFA World Youth Cup in Australia, where the team supervised by Brazilian Carlos Roberto Cabral performed admirably drawing 0-0 with Brazil and Norway and losing 2-1 to Mexico. By then Al-Ghesheyan had already made his international debut at the 11th Gulf Cup tournament in Doha in 1992 under another Brazilian coach, Nelson Martins, scoring on his debut in a 2-0 over Oman and two years later with 21 appearances to his name, he was on the plane to the World Cup in the United States.

The player however failed to make any starts at the World Cup, with Saudi’s coach Jorge Solari preferring to bring on the gifted winger in the latter stages to open up fatiguing defences. Al-Ghesheyan made two substitute appearances against Morocco in New York and in the Round 16 with Sweden, where he came on and waltzed through the Swedish defence to score Saudi’s only goal before they bowing out of the tournament.

After returning from the World Cup, he was unable to regain his old form after a series of injuries spent a year studying in the United States. He returned to form with Al-Hilal in 1997 and broke into the national side under Nelo Vingada but with a chronic back injury, Al-Ghesheyan never got the opportunity to play for the national side again.

The dribbling run and finish past Sweden’s Thomas Ravelli was the most memorable moment in Al-Ghesheyan’s 33-match international career scoring four goals for Al-Akhdar from 1992 to 1995.

Al-Ghesheyan moved to the Netherlands to become the first Saudi footballer to play professionally in Europe

In March 1999 after a trial match for AZ Alkmaar against ADO ’20, the Saudi midfielder signed a three-month loan deal with AZ, worth $80,000 USD with an option to extend the contract at the end of the season. The Dutch club were managed at the time by Willem van Hanegem, who had remembered the young winger from his season in the Kingdom managing Al-Hilal to a league title.

The winger appeared nine times in the Eredivisie at the end of the 1998-1999 season. He made his debut as a 71st minute substitute replacing Brazilian Deivison Nascimento at home to Fortuna Sittard and after another brief substitute appearance in 2-0 home defeat to Feyenoord, Al-Ghesheyan made his first start in an away game at Willem II, one of five league starts while at the Dutch club.

He started the four final games of the season and the Saudi winger looked set for a move on a permanent basis, but according to the player, the board at his club Al-Hilal and primarily the club president were responsible for a breakdown of his move to the Netherlands. AZ had wanted to renew the contract with Al-Ghesheyan and also sign Saudi right back Ahmed Dokhi for the new season.

A third Saudi player, striker Sami Al-Jaber, had received a similar offer from AZ after Al-Ghesheyan had worked as an intermediary in the deal. However, officials at Al-Hilal Club swiftly rejected the offer. Al-Hilal also refused Al-Ghesheyan to leave despite the Dutch club having offered near to $2m USD to sign the Saudi player.

Saudi striker Sami Al-Jaber later went onto play for Wolves in England.

Saudi striker Sami Al-Jaber later went onto play for Wolves in England.

After the stance of Al-Hilal and the presence of the club president, the player felt he couldn’t remain at the club any longer and made a controversial move to rivals Al-Nassr thanks to his old school friend Prince Faisal bin Turki later Al-Nassr’s club president, who facilitated the move.

It was the first transfer of a player from Al-Hilal to their traditional rivals Al-Nassr, but the move proved to be “a complete failure” in the words of the player and after four matches in the Al-Nassr jersey, with unpaid dues from both his former clubs, he retired from playing.

The winger, at only 27, declared that he was bored with the game and unwilling to play professionally after his bitter experiences after his move from Al-Hilal.

The player went onto launch a scathing attack on the game in Saudi Arabia with its underdevelopment and accused football officials of hypocrisy. A pioneer in Saudi football who is remembered for his dazzling goal at the 1994 World Cup.

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