Back at Al-Wehda, Craig Goodwin enjoying being part of Saudi football’s revolution
Australian World Cup star Craig Goodwin was expecting to wear red this season. What he was not expecting was the badge that would adorn his red kit.
Instead of his hometown club, Adelaide United, where he scored 15 goals and provided 10 assists last season as one of the A-League Men’s best players, he is instead wearing the red of Al-Wehda. This comes after the Makkah-based club bought the 32-year-old winger late in the transfer window.
Goodwin, who scored against France at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, is no stranger to Saudi football, having played for Al-Wehda and Abha between 2019 and 2021.
Such has been the revolution in Saudi football, however, that despite being only a few years ago, that period feels like a very different time in the Kingdom’s football. While he has been back in the country for only a matter of weeks, Goodwin has noticed the change after the recent spate of investment and headline-grabbing signings.
“First and foremost, just the publicity and the hype about it from outside of the country, there’s just a lot more eyes watching the league now with the ridiculous quality of player that’s coming here,” he told Arab News.
“It’s a nice change, and it’s definitely, from the football perspective, good being able to test myself against not only some good players, but some of the best players in the world.”
Having experienced elite football at the World Cup — where the late bloomer was one of Australia’s best performers as the Socceroos made the Round of 16 and almost pulled off a stunning upset against eventual champions Argentina — the opportunity to play with some of the best footballers in the world was a deciding factor in choosing to pursue a second chance in the Saudi Pro League.
“It was obviously one of the factors in wanting to pursue this opportunity,” the winger explained.
“But, I think, especially from playing at the World Cup, and having a really good impact there against the same caliber of players, it gave me a lot of confidence that coming into these games week in, week out knowing that I can perform at a top level.
“It is really nice to be able to test myself against this quality and know that I’m more than matching it.”
While he returned to Saudi Arabia only in early September, his impact has been instant, finding the back of the net three times in four league games.
“Obviously (I’m) really happy with how it’s started football-wise,” he said before last week’s game with Al-Fayha.“I’ve played three games in the league and came off the bench and in the midweek cup game. So we’ve won three games, lost one, and (I’ve) scored three goals in the three league games.
“So, I’m really happy with how it’s started from that perspective.”
However, the decision to leave Adelaide United was tough and clearly still a sore point for Goodwin — who was captain of the club — almost a month after his move.
“It was extremely difficult (to leave),” he admitted.
“I was in a position where I would have rather had to stay than to go, but unfortunately an offer to extend my contract wasn’t on the table, and that put me in a position where the club didn’t want to extend my offer and this offer was too good to pass up.
“It is a life-changing financial opportunity, as well as from a football perspective, as I’ve said, being able to play against some of the best players in the world week in, week out and really testing myself.
“So definitely there was that aspect that I wanted to stay. But it was made clear that an offer wouldn’t be put on the table at this time.
“That kind of made my decision for me, that if that wasn’t available, then I needed to go and take up this opportunity because I would never be able to have an offer like this come again.”
It has not, however, diminished his love for the club at which he spent seven years.“I did have my frustrations with the way the transfer saga went; I think it was a bit frustrating from my side. But, having said that, I have nothing but love for the club,” he said.
“Love for the fans, first and foremost, but for the playing group and the staff, and then a lot of the people in the office. It’s been my hometown club, it’s been the club I’ve loved playing at. (I’ve) worn my heart on my sleeve and given absolutely everything to Adelaide United.
“But I think looking at it, this is the best move for myself.”
His next game, however, will be in neither Saudi Arabia nor Australia. He will live out a boyhood dream when he walks out for the Socceroos at a sold-out Wembley Stadium in a friendly with the Three Lions on Oct.13.
“It’s not very often that you get to play for Australia against England, and, in particular, at Wembley, such an iconic stadium that every kid dreams of playing at,” he said.
“England (are) one of the best national teams in the world, but we go in there with massive confidence (from) over the last 18 months, and the performances since the World Cup as well against some high-quality opposition and holding our own and doing well.
“I think it’s going to be a really exciting game and I’ve also got a lot of relatives and cousins that will be coming to watch as well.”