Nuno Santo talks to SPL Extra: On his new life in Saudi Arabia, ‘amazing’ Al Ittihad fans, big drive to grow and building for a bright future
It has been a strong debut campaign for Nuno Santo in Roshn Saudi League.
The 49-year-old arrived at Jeddah giants Al Ittihad last summer, since guiding a talented side that features the likes of Egypt centre-back Ahmed Hegazi and inventive Brazilian playmaker Igor Coronado to top spot.
We caught up with the Best Coach in March’s Monthly Awards, presented by Roshn Real Estate, to discuss his latest adventure in Saudi Arabia.
How have you found your first season in Roshn Saudi League?
“Since the moment that the club approached me, I knew that we were coming to a very competitive league, with a new environment.
“As a technical staff, we prepare everything so we can start immediately putting together our ideas along with the squad.
“We knew it was competitive, we had the chance to see a lot of games and the reality is that it is a tough league.”
How have you found life in Saudi Arabia?
“It is different. You know when you are in this job, as a coach, you have to be ready to change countries, change cultures.
“It is up to us to adapt to a new culture, to a new way of living. But at the same time, it is always good for us as human beings that we can take the opportunity to live new experiences, new people, new places, new situations.
“It can only make you better as a human being. That is why we are here, trying to adapt and trying to live as good as possible.”
How much do you enjoy the vibes in the league games and the passion of the Al Ittihad fans?
“It is amazing. Our fans are so supportive, I think they enjoy being alongside the team.
“Not only here in Jeddah, but always when we go away from home we feel their support.
“It is very good for the team, especially for the players, it is always nice to play with the support of the fans behind you.”
How important is the role of big names like yourself and Ronaldo in raising the league’s quality?
“I think it is important that top players in the world come to Saudi. It is to help.
“We are all aware that it is a project behind with the government to make the Saudi league as good as possible.
“Bringing quality players is always helpful.”
Do you agree with Ronaldo that the Saudi league will be among the strongest in the world in the upcoming five years?
“I think it is a good project, to have the idea of making the league stronger and being competitive. But I think it is a long way, it is a long way.
“It requires everybody that is here to work very hard, to make a lot of changes. I think there must be the intention of changing some things.
“The league can be as competitive as European leagues. But me in my personal aspect, I am here to help as much as I can, try to develop the players, try to help the club that I work for.
“Hopefully, the Saudi league can be as good as European leagues in the future. I hope so.”
How much passion do the Al Ittihad fans give you when you are working as their coach?
“We work for them, we work for the fans. The fans are what guides us.
“We are always trying our best to make the fans happy.”
How important is your work with the young players?
“I think it has to start from there, it has to start from the young players. In five, six, seven years’ time, they will be in the professional leagues.
“So, if we can develop them and help them become better, the quality of the game will improve.
“Here in Ittihad, we are trying to always bring young players to work with us, try to see what they need, try to develop.
“This is the first step for the improvement of the club in terms of the future squad, because you cannot always rely on bringing, you have to produce, you have to make them grow, you have to make them better, so they can be Ittihad players in the Saudi league.
“When these young players become better, the national team will become better and the future of Saudi football will be better.”
How positive is it that the 2023 FIFA Club World Cup and 2027 AFC Asian Cup are coming to Saudi Arabia?
“I think it is good for the country. It is good for the fans that are going to enjoy high and top-quality games between national teams, between great clubs.
“I think it is inside of the main project. It is a good step and a good idea.
“In the future if everything becomes better, it is better for you, for me, for everybody.”