BARCELONA: In 2019, the Saudi Scholarship for Developing Football Talent was launched by the Ministry of Sports with the aim of providing young players from the Kingdom with a pathway to play the game at professional level at home and in Europe.
The program, “Future Falcons,” is targeted at Saudi youth aged 18 and above, and has since grown to include a base in the city of Salou, near Barcelona, Spain.
Those that qualify for the initiative get the opportunity to live in Spain under the supervision of international coaches as they train and compete in matches against European clubs.
Arab News visited the program’s base as the Future Falcons faced Dinamo Zagreb, with the Croatian youngsters eventually running out 2-1 winners.
Ghassan Felemban, general director of the program, explained how the initiative has evolved in the past few years.
“In the third year, what we did was we actually started to provide Saudi players to (other clubs in) Europe,” he said. “One of the requirements for other clubs to join this tournament is to bring their scouts and to follow our matches, and then they have to provide trials for our players.
“I do believe that Saudi players have a lot of talent, the only thing they need is the opportunity, so this program is to give them the opportunity to prove themselves.”
In the past four years, the Future Falcon program has successfully signed 37 contracts with European clubs for its graduates.
“Eleven of them are active now,” Felemban said. “For example, Abdumalik Al-Jabel, he is now playing in the Bosnian championship as a starting player.
“At the same time we have Rayan Hamza Idris, he was playing in OFI Crete and now he is on a loan to a different team,” he said. “Mohammad Al-Rashidi is playing with PAOK in Greece.”
The program has ambitious goals to produce the next generation of professional Saudi football players, and Romeo Jozak has been appointed technical director to execute this mission.
The Croatian coach has an impressive resume, including coaching the Kuwaiti national football team, prior to him joining Future Falcons.
Jozak’s approach with the young players is to implement his own philosophy, which he developed over the years.
“Our philosophy is fulfilling the dreams,” he said. “Each one of them wants to be the young footballer, and it’s not easy to make it nowadays. There is a huge competition, coming to Europe, for example to Spain, where we are at. It’s the middle of the football world, let’s put it this way.”
Jozak calls the program a “space shuttle,” which will have a positive impact on the football world.
“I think it’s worth that the whole world knows about it, about what the Saudi Arabia government is investing and doing to help the younger players,” he told Arab News.
“Believe me, one day, after a couple of years, people are going to speak about the program because then they will see its effects.”
The program has been carefully tailored to include a daily training schedule where the players learn football skills, ethical discipline, healthy nutrition and the experience of living in a different environment. It also includes general studies such as English language and university courses, should a player wish to continue their academic education.
“The adaptation and professionalism is something that you feel responsible for,” Jozak said. “You are representing Saudi Arabia here (in Spain).”