The tides of international football are shifting, and Saudi Arabia stands as a focal point of this transformation. The Saudi Pro League has sent shockwaves through the world of football, attracting an array of high-profile European players with its hefty contracts and lavish fees. With iconic figures like Cristiano Ronaldo and Steven Gerrard leading the charge, Saudi clubs have secured some of the sport’s biggest names, seemingly poised to emerge as a major player on the global football stage. However, amidst this influx of talent, a surprising trend has emerged – many players are opting to call Bahrain, Saudi’s neighbour, home.
The mega deals are painting Saudi Arabia as a footballing Mecca, capturing the attention of fans and analysts worldwide. Headlined by Cristiano Ronaldo’s groundbreaking £173-million-a-year contract with Al Nassr, the league has witnessed a star-studded parade of talent. Names like Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, Ruben Neves, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Roberto Firmino have joined the ranks, turning the once-marginalised Saudi Pro League into a hotbed of action.
While the limelight has been captured by these jaw-dropping signings, an intriguing subplot is unfolding behind the scenes. It appears that not all players, despite signing lucrative deals, are entirely sold on the idea of making Saudi Arabia their permanent residence. A growing number of footballers and their families are opting to settle in Bahrain, a neighbouring nation with a significantly different lifestyle.
For many devout Muslim players, the shift to Saudi Arabia might not be a significant adjustment. However, the allure of Bahrain, with its more liberal lifestyle and relaxed regulations, is proving to be an enticing prospect. Unlike Saudi Arabia, Bahrain permits the consumption of alcohol and boasts a thriving nightlife. Luxurious bars, licensed restaurants, and upscale off-licences, such as ‘CUT,’ a Michelin-starred restaurant by Wolfgang Puck, offer a vibrant scene for players and their families to unwind.
Beyond the entertainment scene, Bahrain provides a wealth of amenities and attractions that appeal to the footballers’ discerning tastes. Shopping havens like the Bahrain World Trade Centre, Seef Mall, and Avenues cater to their lifestyle needs with a plethora of renowned brands. Popular residential areas like Amwaj Islands and East Riffa offer a comfortable and modern living environment, while the capital city of Manama is a mere stone’s throw away from Dammam, where Gerrard’s Al Ettifaq team is based.