Neymar & five stars in Saudi Arabia who could leave in January

Tom Weber
Tom Weber
  • Updated: 18 Oct 2023 16:55 BST
  • 6 min read
Neymar, Al-Hilal
© ProShots

The Saudi Pro League caused quite a stir in the summer, but it's not been rosy for every star player who headed to the Middle East.

The nouveau riche division splashed the cash, with the Big Four - champions Al-Ittihad, Al-Hilal, Al-Ahli and Al-Nassr - smashing the domestic transfer record several times and eventually making Neymar one of the most expensive signings in the world at €90 million.

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Despite this move being still relatively recent and the Brazilian megastar reportedly earning eye-watering sums, he could be one of those to depart in January already.

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Neymar (Al-Hilal)

While the Saudi Pro League and the Saudi government will be loathe to lose one of the league's biggest names, Neymar has made no bones about the fact that he does not envision himself ending his career in the Middle East.

The 31-year-old has already publicly expressed his desire to return to boyhood club Santos, while also mentioning that he is keen to play in Major League Soccer. The latter appears to be the most sensible next destination for him and while he would be ridiculously expensive, the Lionel Messi to Inter Miami deal has shown that the US league is ready to pull out all the stops to land a big name.

However, the injury he suffered while on international duty with Brazil could make a move impossible. The worst fears are that he suffered ligament damage which would mean that the injury-prone star could be set for yet another lengthy spell on the sidelines.

READ: Neymar nightmare! Al-Hilal star suffers major setback

Neymar has once again suffered an injury setback
© ProShots - Neymar has once again suffered an injury setback

David Ospina (Al-Nassr)

From one injured star to another, David Ospina has not featured for Cristiano Ronaldo's Al-Nassr since January 2023. An elbow fracture that was initially supposed to keep him out for only six weeks turned into a nightmare for the former Arsenal man and a return date is still not known.

Because of this injury, the 35-year-old was not registered for the current season and Al-Nassr were shopping for a new goalkeeper in the summer, with David de Gea linked. Ospina is out of contract in the summer and wouldn't be able to play at least until January even if he were to return to fitness soon.

It could be the ideal time for him to move on.

Jota (Al-Ittihad)

Former Celtic man Jota has been the protagonist of one of the strangest sagas in the Pro League this term. Signed for a whopping €30m by Al-Ittihad, there were reports that the attacker had fallen out of favour mere weeks after arriving.

Al-Ittihad were even said to be considering a contract termination at one point, and yet, the Portuguese continues to play in Nuno Espirito Santo's side. It seems all but certain that Jota will leave Saudi Arabia in January.

Seko Fofana (Al-Nassr)

The star midfielder as Ligue 1 side Lens finished as shock runners-up to PSG last season, Seko Fofana was courted by some big sides in Europe in the summer. But the 28-year-old decided to head to Saudi Arabia at the peak of his powers for €25m, yet Al-Nassr supporters have barely seen the Ivorian in action.

To date, Fofana has only started three times for the Riyadh club, the first Pro League start coming in a 2-0 loss to this season's surprise package Al-Taawoun after which the 28-year-old did not even make the Al-Nassr squad for the following five matches - and not because of injury, as far as we can tell.

Recently he has returned to the side but almost exclusively as a substitute, playing a combined 45 minutes in his last three league appearances. He did start against perennial Tajik champions Istiqlol in the AFC Champions League recently, but it's clear his move to Saudi Arabia was a mistake.

Former Lens captain Seko Fofana has fallen out of favour at Al-Nassr
© ProShots - Former Lens captain Seko Fofana has fallen out of favour at Al-Nassr

Merih Demiral (Al-Ahli)

Merih Demiral's story is almost a carbon copy of Fofana's. A sought-after star in the summer, the 25-year-old spurned a move to a large European club and instead left Atalanta to join Al-Ahli.

After a promising start, things quickly went south when the defender featured in an embarrassing 5-1 loss to Al-Fateh, in which he also received a red card. Brought back into the side after his suspension, Demiral again shipped a boatload of goals when Matthias Jaissle's side lost 4-3 to Al-Nassr.

Since that defeat, Demiral has not featured again despite being fit. At 25, the Turkey international has already played for seven clubs, so he's not afraid to quickly move on when things aren't going his way. It could happen again in January.

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