The Egyptian Messi, the Desert Pele, and Arabian Jewel are notable nicknames for Arab players in the top five leagues all over the world. Let’s review the legends of Arabian football.
So, we take a look at some of the best Arab players of all time as football takes tentative steps back toward normality.
Cutting down a list that ran to more than 50 players is quite difficult, but considering the player’s career based on their individual, international, and club honors yields a system with which to assess their performance over years.
Ali Abdullah Harib Al-Habsi, born 30 December 1981, is an Omani professional footballer who plays as a goalkeeper.
Al Habsi became the first Omani to play in Europe, for Norwegian team Lyn Oslo, before transferring to Bolton Wanderers in 2006. He is the only Middle Eastern footballer to play in the Premier League.
Al Habsi is the first Arab player to win the FA Cup. The 1.96m goalie led Oman to win the Gulf Cup of Nations for the first time and got his 100th cap with the national side in the 2015 Asian cup.
Al-Habsi is an icon in his native country. He is the only player from the Gulf on the list, and one of a handful to try his luck abroad.
"I was so happy," he said. "I was the first player from the Middle East to sign and play in Europe. To be honest I didn't know anything about Norway. When I arrived there I was shocked, the snow and the dark all day. But when you have a dream you forget everything else. It was a fantastic three years."
Having started at local club Al-Mudhaiba, his career has seen him play for Norway’s Lyn Oslo before a move to England and stints at Bolton, Wigan (where he won an FA Cup medal despite not playing in the 2013 final against Manchester City), Brighton and Reading.
A two-year spell in the Saudi Professional League with Al-Hilal was followed by a return to England and West Brom, where he presently plays at the age of 39.
Al Habsi is married and has three daughters. He is admired and loved everywhere he has gone, and is considered a role model and hero in his country and across the Gulf.
"You can't imagine how happy people are when they see me on the TV playing," Habsi once said to reporters.
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Ismail Matar Ibrahim Khamis Al Mukhaini Al Junaibi, born 7 April 1983 in Abu Dhabi, is an Emirati footballer who plays as an attacking midfielder or forward for Al Wahda and captains the UAE national team.
Matar was awarded the Golden Ball at the 2003 World Youth Championships. He led the UAE to their first ever trophy, the 2007 Gulf Cup of Nations in Abu Dhabi, scoring five goals in five games as player of the tournament.
During the match between Oman and UAE, Ismail Matar raced along the right flank and unleashed a deft right-footed shot. It left the Oman goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi, the first GCC player to play in the Premiership, shocked and bewildered.
The UAE claimed its first Gulf Cup success in 18 attempts which was considered to be a big achievement for them.
Matar has always been a precocious talent, who forced the world to sit up and take notice.
Matar once said to reporters, “I grew up with four older brothers and we were all obsessed with football. When you play with bigger and stronger guys you have to learn to think quicker and be faster.”
Sami Abdullah Al-Jaber, born 11 December 1972, is a retired football striker from Saudi Arabia. He spent the majority of his career from 1988 to 2008 with Al-Hilal.
Al Jaber is Saudi Arabia's second highest international goal scorer from 1992 to 2006. He appeared in four consecutive FIFA World Cup tournaments, from 1994 to 2006, scoring in three of them.
Al Jaber was also a member of the Saudi squads which won the AFC Asian Cup in 1996. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest Arab players ever.
The current manager of Al Wahda, Abu Dhabi, enjoyed a long and distinguished career for both club and country. Al Jaber won the Saudi League seven times with Al Hilal, as well as two Asian Champions League titles. Moreover, he played at Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2000/2001 for a short time.
Al Jaber played at four World Cups, won 163 international caps and scored 46 goals for the Kingdom in a two-decade career, before retiring in 2008.
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Hossam Hassan Hussein, born 10 August 1966, is an Egyptian former professional football player who played as a striker. He is Egypt's goal-scoring machine with 69 goals in 169 appearances.
Hassan is definitely one of the best Arab players. He briefly left Africa to play for clubs such as Greece's PAOK Thessaloniki FC and Switezerland's Neuchatel Xamx FC.
Hassan is certainly the greatest African of his generation. His twin brother Ibrahim also played professional football, and they shared teams for most of their extensive careers.
Egyptian retired striker and manager of Al-Ittihad Alexandria since 2014 is one of the top ever scorer of the country. He represented the national team in the 1990 World Cup and in seven Africa Cups of Nations.
Hassan first played for Al-Ahly at 18 and won 25 titles with the club, including 11 leagues.
For a player who started his career back in 1983, it's amazing that he was still strong in 2008, when he finally retired at the age of 40 after a 25-year-long successful career.
After retirement, Hassan started managing different teams like Al-Masry, Itesalat, and Zam.
Rabah Mustapha Madjer, born 15 December 1958, is an Algerian former footballer who used to play as a striker. He played for Porto during the 1980s, being widely regarded as one of the best Arab soccer stars of all time
Madjer took Algeria to the final in the 1980 African Cup of Nations after a 12-year absence, and captained the team to their only win a decade later, as well as taking them to two World Cups.
Madjer scored 29 goals for FC Porto between 1985 and 1988, including the equalizer that got Porto their first European Cup.
Porto and Algeria legend gained worldwide acclaim with the equalizer for Algeria in their stunning 2-1 win over West Germany at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. That proved to be an inspiration for a stellar career.
After seven years at hometown club NA Hussein Dey, Madjer joined Racing Paris in 1983, before moving on two years later to Portuguese giants Porto, where he enjoyed the best and most memorable years of his career.
Madjer scored a memorable back-heeled equalizer against Bayern Munich in the 1987 European Cup Final, which Porto eventually won 2-1.
Later that year, he scored an extra-time winner against Penarol of Uruguay as Porto won the Intercontinental Cup in Tokyo.
Three Portuguese league titles and 50 goals in six years confirm him as one of the best Arab football stars in history.
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Achraf Hakimi Mouh, born 4 November 1998, is a Moroccan professional footballer who plays for Real Madrid and the Morocco national team. Although he is a right-back, he can also play as a left-back or a winger.
Hakimi spent a decade as youth and first team player at Real Madrid. He had also proved himself as one of the continent’s best right-backs with Borussia Dortmund.
His individual use of space to attacking success and goal contributions have resulted in comparisons with Liverpool’s Trent Alexander Arnold as both are among the best soccer players in that position.
After his two-season loan deal in Germany, the Madrid-born 22-year-old should return to his parent club, where Coach Zinedine Zidane could well consider him ready to be starter.
Despite not playing in the 2017-18 Champions League final against Liverpool while still at Madrid, Hakimi claimed a winners’ medal to become the first Moroccan to achieve that feat.
Hakimi was part of Morocco’s squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and with 28 caps to his name already, a long and successful career at both club and international level.
Omar Abdulrahman Ahmed Al Raaki Al Amoodi, born 20 September 1991, known as Amoory, is an Emirati professional footballer who plays for Al Jazira as an attacking midfielder and the UAE national football team.
ESPN FC ranked Abdulrahman #1 in the Top ten Asian players of 2012. In 2013, Abdulrahman was listed by FIFA in the most promising future stars in Asia. Abdulrahman was ranked thirty-nine on the Goal 50 list for the best 50 players of the season 2012–13
“A very good player, a very good talent. It’s important for him, for Arab players, for the country also [to play abroad]. Omar can be a pioneer and make it easier for other to follow,” Xavi Hernandez commented.
Taking the UAE to third place in the 2015 Asian Cup, Abdulrahman has turned his back on any imminent European move, despite interest from different clubs by inking a four-year deal with Al Ain (with whom he’s been since he was 15) thought to be worth AED 14m a year.
Various clubs such as Manchester City, Arsenal, Benfica, Hamburg, Valencia, Espanyol and Basel expressed their interest in signing the rising star but have failed to prize him away from Abu Dhabi!
Hakim Ziyech, born 19 March 1993, is a professional footballer who plays as an attacking midfielder or winger for Premier League club Chelsea and the Morocco national team.
Ziyech only came to wider attention in the past two years, but at 27 he is already a veteran of eight years of top-flight football in Holland’s Eredivisie.
After spending two years each at Heerenveen and FC Twente, he truly blossomed after joining Ajax in 2016.
Despite representing the Netherlands at age group levels, the Dutch-born Hakimi eventually chose to play senior international football for Morocco, and in 2018, he was part of the team that acquitted itself so well at the World Cup in Russia.
In 2018-29, he delivered some outstanding displays as Ajax progressed to the Champions League semifinal, where they were ultimately beaten in heartbreaking fashion by Tottenham, and also won the Eredivisie title.
His performances against Real Madrid and Juventus, as well as his consistency in the Dutch top flight, quickly marked him out as one of the Arab hottest prospects.
In fact, Holland’s loss is the Premier League’s gain since Chelsea emerged as the big winners in the race to sign Ziyech, paying €40 million for his services.
Riyad Karim Mahrez, born 21 February 1991, is a professional footballer who plays as a winger for Premier League club Manchester City and captains the Algerian national team.
The gifted Algerian winger’s two Premier League titles have been with Leicester City in 2015-16, known as one of football’s most unlikely triumphs, one that to this day stretches credibility and also in 2018-19, along with Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Manchester City side that claimed the Premier League trophy for the second year running.
The above-mentioned achievements make his relatively modest introduction to English football all the more remarkable.
After joining Leicester from Le Havre at the start of 2014, Mahrez helped the club to win the Championship a few months later and, after a difficult first season in the top flight, that miraculous Premier League title as well as the PFA Player’s Player of the Year for good measure.
Mahrez is among a selected group of 10 players who have won English football’s biggest prize with two different clubs.
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Mohamed Salah Hamed Mahrous Ghaly, born 15 June 1992, is an Egyptian professional footballer who plays as a forward for Premier League club Liverpool and the Egypt national team.
The best Arab player of 2019 is predominantly known for his speed, agility, dribbling skills, ball control, and clinical finishing.
Salah excelled at Basel in the Swiss Super League, and then struggled to get playing time at Chelsea, before a spell in Italy with Fiorentina and Roma set him on the path for global domination.
Since signing for Jurgen Klopp’s team in the summer of 2017, he has become one of the world’s best players, his move coinciding with, even inspiring, Liverpool’s transformation from contenders to proven winners.
In his first season, the Egyptian King finished top of the Premier League scoring charts with a record 34 goals and played a key role in Liverpool’s march to the Champions League final, where he famously was injured and substituted in a 3-1 loss. He also won FIFA’s Puskas award for a solo effort against Everton.
The following season, Salah retained the Golden Boot as Liverpool just missed out on the Premier League title, but made up for it with Champions League success, the forward scoring the opener in the 2-0 win over Tottenham in the final.
The 28-year-old Salah finds himself on the verge of winning the Premier League trophy, something Liverpool have not done in 30 years.
Having led Egypt, for whom he has scored 41 international goals, to the 2018 World Cup, his legendary status, at home and for Liverpool, is beyond debate.
As a quick, hard-working, and tactical player, Salah stands alone as the greatest Arab footballer of all time.