Saudi Stars Arrive in Spain, With One Eye on Russia

“I’ve dreamed about playing in Spain for a club as big as Villarreal,” Dawsari said once the website was fixed and the traffic was rerouted to YouTube. His move was, he added, “a dream come true.”

Shortly after, Dawsari and his entourage had their pictures taken with the club’s falcon, a seemingly astute piece of cultural sensitivity on the club’s part, given the popularity of falconry in Saudi society.

The bird’s handler, however, was a little confused. He and the falcon had come to the stadium for pest control, to catch rats. But he didn’t let on.

Nobody wanted to ruin the moment.

The Deal

In October, the General Sports Authority, the government body that effectively runs sports in Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi Arabian Football Federation announced that they were embarking on a soccer experiment. It was time to showcase the country’s players, nearly all of whom play domestically, to the outside world. A heavily subsidized deal was signed with La Liga, opening the way for the country’s best players to be lent to Spanish teams ahead of the World Cup.

It will not be Saudi Arabia’s first World Cup finals. At the 1994 tournament in the United States, Saudi…

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