The Saudi Pro League has appointed former Chelsea technical director Michael Emenalo as its first director of football. The 57-year-old Nigerian will be responsible for overseeing all football matters in the league, including player recruitment, coaching, and youth development.
Emenalo is a highly respected figure in the world of football. He spent six years at Chelsea, where he played a key role in the club’s success, helping to sign players such as Eden Hazard, Mohamed Salah, and N’Golo Kante. He also had a brief stint as sporting director at AS Monaco.
The appointment of Emenalo is a significant boost for the Saudi Pro League, as he is seen as a man who can help to raise the standards of the league and attract top players and coaches to the country.
Emenalo is “intrigued by the audacity” of Saudi League new acquisition and youth development strategy.
“I believe this is a role that I’ve spent the last 45 years preparing for, I am intrigued by the audacity of the project and the ambition,” said the 57-year-old Nigerian.
The league says it has appointed Emenalo, who oversaw Chelsea’s recruitment and restructured the club’s academy and scouting system while technical director from 2011 to 2017, to “ensure a dynamic, young yet sustainable future”.
High-profile players such as Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante and Ruben Neves have followed Cristiano Ronaldo to Saudi Arabia this summer, while Steven Gerrard has been named manager of Al-Ettifaq.
The country’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has also taken over four of the SPL’s leading clubs as the league aims to become one of the top five in the world.
The Saudi Pro League is one of the richest leagues in the world, and it has been investing heavily in recent years in an attempt to improve the quality of its football. The appointment of Emenalo is a further sign of the league’s ambition.
“This project has been in the making for a while,” added former Nigeria defender Emenalo, who was sporting director at French side Monaco from 2017 to 2019.
“It’s not a spur-of-the-moment decision, it’s well thought out. I’m impressed by the knowledge and input that’s gone into this.
“The Saudi Pro League offers a new opportunity first and foremost for the entire industry, and I think will create avenues for good competition and for more development of young talent,” he added.
The new strategy aligns with the Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s youth programme and aims to “foster young Saudi talent alongside securing the best international talent and improving the governance of all clubs for long-term success”.
Among a number of new regulations to be implemented from the 2023-24 season, the SPL will reduce the age of eligibility for Saudi players from 18 years old to 16, and reduce squad sizes from 35 overall to 25 senior players plus 10 under the age of 21, from 2025-26.
Saad Allazeez, the SPL’s interim chief executive and vice chairman, said:
“There is much potential for new talent arriving in Saudi Arabia and a central function providing control and strong governance will ensure our investments are smart and benefit all in the league moving forward.
“Every club in the Saudi Pro League will get the opportunity to improve their squad through this innovative new model, and Michael is the perfect man for the job.”