Al Shabab superstar Ever Banega’s Roshn Saudi League adventure
Before Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Al Nassr, there was another blockbuster Roshn Saudi League transfer in January three years ago.
It may not have been the capture of a five-time Ballon d’Or and multiple Champions League winner, but Al Shabab’s unveiling of one of Europe’s premier playmakers certainly sent tongues wagging. Enter, Ever Banega.
While the deal was announced in winter, shortly before his contract expired at Sevilla, he would swap Andalucia for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the conclusion of the much-delayed 2019/20 season.
Indeed, a starring performance in his last game for the Spanish side, August 2020’s Europa League final where they beat Inter Milan 3-2, not only proved a fitting swansong for a trophy-laden stint in southern Spain, but certainly whet the appetite for an exciting new chapter in Saudi Arabia.
His starting debut for Al Shabab had come just seven weeks after the conclusion of that thrilling final in Cologne, playing the whole match in a 1-0 win over Abha. Such was the thrill of having a continental star in Al Shabab’s ranks that the Argentina international picked up the captain’s armband almost immediately, scoring two goals in his second and third starts for his new side.
Al Shabab had looked like a veritable title challenger throughout that 2020/21 season with Banega’s entry into the side complementing a fearful attacking trio involving compatriot Cristian Guanca and Fabio Martins, from Portuguese side Braga.
The addition of Odion Ighalo gave the impression that Banega was the final piece of the jigsaw in an assault on the championship, one which Al Shabab had failed to take since 2011/12.
A stunning record of 18 goal involvements in 27 appearances in his maiden season had cemented the Argentine’s status as a fan favourite, and his popularity did not waver despite second-placed Al Shabab’s stuttering end of season that included four defeats from eight matches.
Goals and assists continued throughout the 2021/22 season, but Al Shabab’s wait for a title continued following a fourth-placed finish.
The 2022/23 season saw a slight transformation under new boss Vicente Moreno, moving Banega deeper from his usual position at the top of an attacking midfield.
Nonetheless, Al Shabab remain in the ascendancy and led the 2022/23 league consistently in the early exchanges before a New Year-hiccup.
Now, nearly two-and-a-half years into his stint in the Kingdom, Banega is keen to ensure it is complemented by a winner’s medal. He is a player who has grown into life in Saudi, with respect and admiration from his peers and adulation from his Al Shabab supporters.
A highly popular player, he has successfully adapted to a new adventure, quickly settling into and becoming a key player for his club.