Aymeric Laporte reveals challenges of Saudi Pro League move: ‘There are many players who are dissatisfied’

Aymeric Laporte became the latest player to voice displeasure with his experience after moving to the Saudi Pro League on Friday in an interview with AS. Laporte joined Suadi Pro Leauge side Al-Nassr during the summer from Manchester City and has made 14 league appearances, registering two goals and one assist, but as the defender opened up on his experience of playing in Saudi Arabia, it shows that some of the promise of the Saudi Pro League isn’t match the reality of players’ day-to-day experiences.

From the demands of playing matches every three days to promises not being kept and spending three hours per day in the car, Laporte stopped short of saying that he’d like to exit Al-Nassr but did leave the option open if things don’t change in the future.

“Let’s see, you’re fine… It’s a big change compared to Europe, but in the end it’s all adaptation. They haven’t made it easy for us,” Laporte said on how he’s adjusting to life in Saudi Arabia. “In fact, there are many players who are dissatisfied, but hey; We are working on it every day, negotiating so to speak, and seeing if it improves a little because this is something new for them too, having European players who already have a long career. Maybe they are not used to this and have to adapt to a little more seriousness.”

Coming on the heels of Jordan Henderson’s exit to Ajax and Karim Benzema not reporting to camp with Al-Ittihad, two other players who arrived last summer as part of the league’s unprecedented spending spree in Europe, it’s clear that playing soccer in Saudi Arabia isn’t what some players expected it to be. Laporte, however, is one of the first to go in-depth on some of the direct struggles that he faces in the country, even down to negotiations. which was an issue that Henderson faced as most of his salary was deferred. Even when it comes to contract provisions, Laporte said, “You negotiate something and then they don’t accept it after you have signed it.”

It’s a reminder that Saudi Arabian soccer falls outside the auspices of UEFA in Europe and has more freedom to-self govern which can lead to contract are enforcement issues (not that players going unpaid is unheard of in Europe, of course). With clubs like Al-Nassr being owned by that Saudi Public Investment Fund, that only adds more intricacies to contracts. Despite currently playing his soccer with one of the biggest public supporters of the Saudi Pro League, Cristiano Ronaldo, Laporte acknowledged that in Europe athletes are better taken care of.

Does that means he’s ready to follow Henderson’s example and do an about face and leave the country six months after arriving. “No. Let’s see. At the moment, I haven’t thought about it, but if I’m disappointed in such a short time, you wonder what to do,” Laporte said when asked if this would lead to his exit from Al-Nassr. “That moment has not yet arrived, but in the future, it could be if this dynamic continues.”  

When it comes to life in the city of Riyadh, Laporte went on that while the shopping and cleanliness of the city are exceptional, traffic makes it almost impossible to enjoy, due to needing to spend at least an hour and a half in the car. He had different expectations, but looking beyond the economic aspects, there is room for improvement for the Spanish international.

“The thing is that we are almost never [home], because we play games every three days and it is exhausting. I would say it’s more exhausting than boring,” Laporte said. “There are many games played and very close together, and that doesn’t allow you to rest too much. Between that and then you go to the National Team and they don’t give you days off and such, mentally and physically it is complicated, even if the pace is different or somewhat lower. It’s something hard.”

While playing multiple matches per week is something that is done around the world, the rest days in between are critical for recovery. Following the interview, Laporte did apologize for his statements during a live stream and said that he is happy in Saudi Arabia. Still. three makes a trend. And on the heels of Hnderson and Benzema, it’s clear the Pro League is struggling to meet the promise of its spending.

Something will have to give as with more coming out about the experience in Saudi Arabia, recruitment of top athletes will become harder, but it feels like we’re coming to a crossroads in the Saudi project to grow the league to become one of the best in the world. The league is still in competition with places like Major League Soccer, and while the American organization might have challenges of its own (and players coming from Europe frequently are in for a rude awakening when it comes to travel), it certainly has stable contract provisions for the same players and some of the amenities in larger cities they’re used to. And of course the Pro League doesn’t want to simply compete with the American destination. It’s lofty goals including becoming one of the best leagues in the world. Things will need to improve for Saudi Arabia to continue its rapid pace attracting top athletes.

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