Middle East remains enamoured by Spanish football talent

The quality and profile of Spanish football needs little introduction, particularly given the success enjoyed by the national team and the most famous clubs in La Liga, which inevitably continues to attract widespread interest around the world. Many top talents have also been lured elsewhere, showcasing their playing skills or managerial expertise abroad, and this now includes emerging leagues and competitions within the Middle East. 

Spanish football has forged strong ties within the region, underlined by Saudi Arabia hosting the Supercopa de Espana on three of the last four occasions, with local fans treated to enticing contests between top sides from LaLiga. This has inevitably been quite a lucrative proposition for the RFEF, although Spanish Federation is far from alone, given that many players and managers are also doing the same. 

The Middle East is quickly becoming much more than just a “where are they now” collection of names. From the relatively obscure, to various high-profile names that many fans will instantly recognise, these are the Spaniards currently employed by clubs in the three main leagues of the region.  


Although gambling is typically frowned upon within the country itself, fans in Qatar do still enjoy betting on matches, often doing so via international operators. But safety and security must always be of paramount concern for punters, according to industry experts at ArabianBetting, who provide in-depth reviews covering overseas betting sites available to Qataris. Importantly, they only recommend reputable companies with proven records. 

Intriguingly, reputation has also become a key factor for clubs in the Qatar Stars League, especially when attempting to recruit high-profile coaches and players, and none more than reigning champions Al-Sadd. They are currently managed by Juanma Lillo, the vastly experienced manager and former assistant of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, while the star player in the team is none other than former Spain international Santi Cazorla. 

Underlining the strength of Iberian connections at Al-Sadd, 57-year-old Lillo became the club’s third consecutive Spanish manager, upon replacing Javi Gracia in June 2022. And the latter was hired after Xavier Hernandez returned to Barcelona in November 2021, having successfully cut his managerial teeth in the Qatar Stars League, after also concluding his playing career at the club. Real Madrid icon Raul also played for Al-Sadd, between 2012 and 2014. 

This affection for Spanish stars has also touched various other Qatari clubs, including Al-Wakrah, where Bartolome ‘Tintín’ Marquez has been head coach since 2018. Former Barcelona and Stoke City defender Marc Muniesa is now in his fourth campaign with Al-Arabi, while midfielder Javi Martinez is in his second with Qatar SC, after leaving Bayern Munich in June 2021. 

Saudi Arabia 

Now famed as the home of Cristiano Ronaldo, the Saudi Pro League has recently enjoyed a massive boost in profile, thanks to the Portuguese superstar officially joining Al-Nassr on 1st January. However, he wasn’t the only Iberian import who arrived in the January transfer window, as former Barcelona and Real Betis winger Cristian Tello made his own Saudi switch, arriving at Al-Fateh following a brief spell with Los Angeles FC in the MLS. 

Tello follows in the footsteps of defender Fran Velez, who signed for Al-Fateh in 2022, himself something of a football journeyman with previous adventures in Poland and Greece. They are not alone within a growing Spanish contingent, featuring several high-profile players and a notable manager, all with valuable experience in LaLiga and elsewhere under their belts. 

Following his appointment as manager of Al-Shabab in July 2022, former Mallorca and Espanyol boss Vicente Moreno lured striker Santi Mina to the cause, landing the 27-year-old on loan from Celta Vigo for the 2022-23 campaign. After two seasons in the MLS with Chicago Fire, midfielder Alvaro Medran is now his second campaign with Al-Taawoun, having previously represented Real Madrid, Getafe, Valencia, Alavés, and Rayo Vallecano. 

Bearing the full name of Jose Antonio Delgado Villar, better known as ‘Nono’ by fans of Real Betis and Elche, the 29-year-old midfielder is enjoying his second season with Damac FC. The Spanish signings are all proving highly popular with fans of their clubs, which suggests that in the years to come, yet more could be tempted to give serious consideration to joining teams in Saudi Arabia. 

United Arab Emirates 

Boasting 12 goals from 19 international appearances for Spain, numerous opportunities beckoned for 29-year-old striker Paco Alcacer, once it became clear his time at Villarreal was coming to an end. But few predicted the destination he would ultimately choose, and especially making such a lengthy commitment, penning a three-year deal with UAE outfit Sharjah in August 2022. 

While this move came as quite the surprise for many, considering Alcacer can be regarded as a player still in the prime of his elite footballing career, the UAE Pro League is determined to compete with other leagues in the Middle East, attracting high-profile talents as part of a serious recruitment drive. Over the last decade, many notable players arrived to form part of a growing contingent of marquee signings, especially those with valuable top level experience. 

Indeed, the desire to import established professionals is very strong in the UAE, which is precisely why former Spain international Juan Antonio Pizzi was hired to manage Al-Wasl, who are mounting a genuine bid for the 2022-23 Pro League title. Within a highly competitive race featuring several contenders, Manolo Jimenez arrived for his second spell as manager of Al Wahda in October 2022, following a fourth stint as AEK Athens boss in Greece. 

Beyond the pitch and the dugout, former Arsenal and Watford goalkeeper Manuel Almunia is goalkeeping coach at Al Jazira Club in Abu Dhabi, although his duties also include translation according to the club’s official website. Intriguing to say the least, whilst highlighting a Spanish influence in the Middle East which already has great respect, rapidly gaining further influence as the sport evolves throughout the region.

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