Pele’s decision to play in the USA in the 1970s came as a huge shock to football fans around the world. Since then, however, the American game has enjoyed a huge influx of world-class performers such as Franz Beckenbauer, Lothar Matthaus, Roberto Donadoni, Youri Djorkaeff and Hristo Stoichkov, not to mention the more recent arrivals of David Beckham and Thierry Henry.
In the 1990s, Japan welcomed a similar flood of foreign stars, with the likes of Gary Lineker, Zico, Salvatore Schillaci, Dunga and Pepito all helping to take the country's football to the next level.
It now appears that clubs in the Arab world, and particularly those in western Asia, are following that example by bringing in some big-name imports themselves – a genuine prospect to relish for the region’s fans. With this in mind, FIFA.com takes a look back over the most recent activity and reveals which stars will be on show in the Gulf States this year.
A new home for Cannavaro
While the world was still captivated by events in South Africa, Al Ahli of the United Arab Emirates announced the capture of Italy captain and 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ winner Fabio Cannavaro.
Speaking shortly after the move was announced, the centre-back had this to say: “The Emirates is a fantastic country as everyone knows. I negotiated my transfer with the director of football, who assured me that Al Ahli are investing in the future, and he made it an easy decision.
"I hope to finish my career at this club. My decision to join Al Ahli was not made for financial reasons but done with the backing of my family. They made the best offer for my family and after twenty years in Spain and Italy it was time for a change.”
The Emirates is a fantastic country. After twenty years in Spain and Italy it was time for a change.
Al Ahli have also made changes to their coaching staff, bringing in the former Aston Villa and Leeds United manager David O’Leary, who expressed his happiness at joining the club: “I’m very pleased to be appointed Al Ahli coach. I was impressed with their development plans for this season and I am looking forward to achieving success and becoming an integral part of the club.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of Dubai, Al Wasl were not to be outdone, announcing the signing of Athletic Bilbao’s Spanish midfielder Francisco Yeste. The 30-year-old said, “I came to Dubai to enjoy my football, I will try my hardest along with my team-mates to succeed in our aspirations. I have come here to win titles with this massive club.”
Yet more stars in Qatar
The Qatar Stars League is set to live up to its name with the addition of several leading figures from South Africa 2010. In an attempt to bring Al Gharrafa’s three-year domination of the league to an end, Al Sadd have signed Ivorian Abdul Kader Keita for a second spell at the club along with Algerian international Nadir Belhadj, who played three games for Les Fennecs in the 19th FIFA World Cup.
Belhadj’s Algerian team-mate Yazid Mansouri has signed for Al Siliya, while Côte d'Ivoire striker Aruna Dindane has joined recently-promoted Lekhwiya along with his international colleague Bakari Kone from French champions Marseille.
Al Rayyan, meanwhile, have drafted in Brazilian Marcelo Bordon from German outfit Shalke, while Qatar’s Al Ahli have captured Mali international Mamadou Diakite from Belgian side Mouscron. Not to be outdone, Umm Salal have added the experienced Spaniard Gabri from Ajax together with the former Dutch international Mario Melchiot from English club Wigan Athletic.
Coaches take prominence in Saudi Arabia
The biggest signings for the Saudi Professional League this summer have been connected with backroom staff rather than players. Former Marseille coach Eric Gerets announced that he would be leaving champions Al Hilal to take over in the Morocco hot-seat. Moving in the opposite direction, however, is the Italian Walter Zenga, who has taken up the reins at Al Nasr, while Al Shabab revealed that their new coach would be Uruguayan Jorge Fossati, who led his country to third place in the Copa America 2004.
In May, Al Ittihad signed a contract with Portuguese tactician Manuel Jose, who coached Angola at the CAF African Cup of Nations 2010 and also achieved enormous success with Egyptian giants Al Ahly during a six-year spell at the club. Al Ittihad have also recruited two Portuguese players, Nuno Assis from Vitoria Guimaraes and Paulo Jorge from Maritimo.