Patience has rarely been a characteristic associated with football in Saudi Arabia, where 18 coaches from 10 different countries have led the national team in the last 22 years.
But in the more than three years since Herve Renard was appointed to helm the Green Falcons, the country has begun to reap the benefits of a new-found stability that extends throughout the sport in the country.
The Frenchman, hired in 2019, is Saudi Arabia’s longest-serving coach over the last four decades and he has already signed a contract extension until 2027, by which time he will have been in the job for eight years.
“It doesn’t happen in history to keep a coach for three years or four years,” former Saudi Arabia striker Sami Al Jaber says of the mood within the country.
“If you see the professional work, everything is like a vision, they are following a vision exactly.”
“It’s not like you to wake up one day, or with one result and (the coach) can be sacked or changed. There are cases (where that happens), but I see the work of the federation and the ministry of sport is really top, professional.”
Saudi Arabia are appearing at the World Cup for the sixth time and the country has not passed beyond the group stage since reaching the last 16 in their debut appearance in 1994.
Last week’s surprise 2-1 win over Argentina means victory over Mexico on Wednesday would take Saudi Arabia into the next round in Qatar and the Green Falcons’ improved performances have come as a result of increased professionalism domestically.
That has been fostered by the authorities, with crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, known universally in Saudi Arabia as MBS and the country’s de facto ruler, taking the lead.
“What happened is from what the government did, what MBS did for sports in general and football specifically,” says Al Jaber, who represented Saudi Arabia at four World Cup tournaments.
“The change happened when they were thinking the clubs had to be under governance and under control.”
“All the clubs, the biggest, the medium or the small clubs, they treat them equally. They give them money, but spend it in the right way. Make the balance, don’t spend more than what’s your income.”
A steady increase in the number of foreign players has enhanced the standard of the 16-team Saudi Professional League while Riyadh’s Al Hilal have been crowned Asian Champions League winners in 2019 and 2021.
The work being done to develop the league, which will expand to 18 teams in 2023, stands in stark contrast to tabloid tales that Saudi Arabian players were rewarded with Rolls Royce Phantoms for their opening victory over Argentina.
“It’s not true,” said Saudi striker Saleh Al Shehri. “We’re here to serve our country and to do our best, so that’s our biggest achievement. That’s the only reward.”
Renard, a two-time African Cup of Nations winner with Zambia and Ivory Coast, knows he can afford to take a long-term view with another five years remaining on his contract.
“We have a very serious federation, we have a very serious ministry of sport and it’s not the time to get something at this moment,” he said ahead of Saturday’s loss to Poland.
“We only won one game. There is nothing true about this comment.”
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