“Women’s football is booming in Saudi Arabia”

On the same day as Cristiano Ronaldo, former Paris Titi Lina Boussaha joined Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr. A change of trajectory for this promising midfielder, who wanted to reconcile religion and football, while wanting to discover another league. He confides in RMC Sport.

RMC Sport: How are the first weeks going for Al-Nassr?
Lina Boussaha: Great! I integrated well into the team. The club has also integrated me well. It’s not very easy in terms of communication, but I can express myself in English. I feel very good here, at the level of the country, of society. I’m comfortable and that’s the main thing for now.

You are the first French player to evolve in the Saudi league…
I didn’t know this when I signed up. Once again it is a pride to be the first to discover a championship, perhaps it will pave the way for other profiles like me, players who wear the veil or not. Profiles who feel comfortable in a country like Saudi Arabia.

What prompted you to embark on the adventure?
The priority was to be able to play football again with my veil. And therefore leave France, because you cannot evolve with the nijab, the veil (the French Football Federation forbids it, ed). In itself, my career plan wasn’t to leave France, but suddenly it was a bit forced. At that time, my advisors from Rising Partners put steps in place to facilitate my departure abroad, and we had this contact with the Al-Nassr club. We managed to reach an agreement. The sports project is interesting, they highlight the women’s section and will continue in the coming seasons. Reconciling religion and football is why I came here.

“There is still a level, there are international players”

You make sports concessions on an early career plan, right?
My dream was to evolve in England, but it’s not possible. As we grow up, we see things differently. Before, I prioritized football over family, religion and other things in life. During my injury, I realized that my priority had to be religion, I felt more comfortable that way. I decided to wear the veil. And by wearing it I knew that the doors would close, and in particular that of football, of the evolution in Europe, of living my dream in England or many other goals. But since I prioritized my religion, the rest didn’t matter to me… Even if it’s still difficult, a difficult choice, a choice I accept and am proud of.

How does the Saudi league work?
The championship is very young, I think it was created two years ago. There are only eight teams. We start in September and finish in February. It is very recent and in full development. We are entitled to seven professional contracts per team and only four professional players can play in a match situation. The level is not as high as in Europe or France. The girls have at most three, four or five years of experience. But there is still a level, there are international players. Clubs have the means and use them to develop rapidly (in Al-Nassr the salary on professional contracts averages 3,000 euros). But in terms of infrastructure and intensity in the game, there really is a gap with Europe.

What is the level?
From what I have been able to evaluate, I would say a medium or low level D2 table. Not at the top of the table, because we have excellent teams in D2.

In what conditions do you train?
We are not at the training center with the boys in Riyadh. We are a bit out of the way, we have our own infrastructure, stadium, etc. But it’s still less attractive than going to the training center with the kids where they have everything they need. There are many things to improve, it’s not as developed as in France. In Le Havre, where I was able to evolve, we were at the training centre. In Lille it was great too. But I think they will put the means in soon, with the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo who will push to develop football in the years to come, I don’t worry.

“The arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, the enthusiasm around football has exploded”

What is the speech of the Al-Nassr sports leadership?
Their ambition is to keep the national title, to remain on the roof of Saudi Arabia. We also have the Asian Champions League which will come into force in 2023. The idea is to find an interesting place and why not win it. They have high goals, like in boys, that’s what I liked. I stay competitive in my mind, and those are lofty and interesting goals. And then why not go to the Algerian selection (has dual nationality).

Is there a real desire to promote women’s football in Saudi Arabia?
It is still proposed by the club, with the means they have put in. We truly have everything at our disposal, we are by no means set aside. We still play in beautiful stadiums in the league. I think they really want to develop women’s football, and that’s something we see here. A soccer girl isn’t something bad from what I’ve seen so far. I was able to watch a match, there weren’t many people, but there were people all the same! And the stadium was with a small grandstand and a superb lawn, it was a cake!

You signed the same day as Cristiano Ronaldo!
I signed before him (laughs)! People tell me I’m in Al-Nassr because Cristiano is there, but I signed before him! If you had told me two or three years ago, I would have said to you: “But who will play in Saudi Arabia? Never a Christian in my life, neither will I!” How football goes fast.

He must have created an incredible wave of excitement on the spot?
There has been a very big impact here. It’s everywhere, all over the advertisements, in the media. It exploded. It’s a global effect. We saw it during Thursday’s game, PSG came to play here. It’s not just sporting, it’s also the marketing plan, communication, it’s exploded.

Interview by Anthony Rech

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