KARACHI: The announcement wasn’t as elaborate or spectacular as the ones Saudi Arabian football clubs have recently made for the arrival of star names like Sadio Mane, but it was still high in its significance.
Dammam-based Eastern Flames on Friday night announced the signing of Pakistan women’s football team captain Maria Khan for the upcoming season of the Saudi Women’s Premier League, a development that came after a string of strong performances by Ms Khan for Pakistan in the Four-Nations Cup last year in the kingdom.
The club announced the move on microblogging site X, formerly Twitter, saying Maria Khan was their first foreign acquisition for the upcoming season.
Saudi Arabia has significantly increased its investment in football in the last year. And since Al-Nassr Football Club signed Cristiano Ronaldo in December and the country’s Public Investment Fund acquired four top clubs, there has been a flurry of big-name arrivals during the current transfer window.
Investments have also been made to develop women’s football, with Saudi Arabia not having hidden its ambition in emulating Qatar and hosting the World Cup in the coming years.
“I had the opportunity to go to Saudi before the influx of investment into the women’s game,” Ms Khan, 31, who was playing her club football in the United Arab Emirates, told Dawn on Saturday.
“However, my circumstances at the time didn’t allow me to make the move. Now, however, I’m at a point in my life where I am able to take this opportunity and really look forward to it.
“Being in the Gulf for over 10 years, I’ve watched the growth of women’s football in the region. More than anything, I’m looking forward to being given the opportunity to try my best not only to represent but also try to bring awareness to fellow Pakistani athletes,” she said.
The Saudi Women’s Premier League replaced the Saudi Women’s National League as the country’s top-tier women’s competition last year. The revamp also saw a significant influx of foreign players, including Morocco’s Ibtissam Jraïdi, who scored at the ongoing Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Women’s football has taken significant strides in Pakistan in the last year, and although a league structure has been non-existent, the national team has put in good performances.
And Maria is hoping her transfer creates a pathway for other players to secure moves to foreign clubs. “I hope this starts to create opportunities for Pakistani athletes and the talent that a lot of times goes unnoticed,” she said.
Published in Dawn, August 13th, 2023