Michael Emenalo presents N'Golo Kante as a Chelsea player in 2016Michael Emenalo was instrumental in signing N’Golo Kante for Chelsea in 2016 and the France midfielder left for Al-Ittihad this summer

The Saudi Pro League’s new director of football Michael Emenalo is “intrigued by the audacity” of its new acquisition and youth development strategy.

Emenalo will lead a player acquisition centre of excellence to provide a centralised approach to luring more “world-class international players”.

The former Chelsea technical director will also assist with “squad mapping”.

“I believe this is a role that I’ve spent the last 45 years preparing for,” said the 57-year-old Nigerian.

“I am intrigued by the audacity of the project and the ambition.”

The league says it has appointed Emenalo, who oversaw Chelsea’s recruitment and restructured the club’s academy and scouting system while technical director from 2011 to 2017, to “ensure a dynamic, young yet sustainable future”.

High-profile players such as Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante and Ruben Neves have followed Cristiano Ronaldo to Saudi Arabia this summer, while Steven Gerrard has been named manager of Al-Ettifaq.

The country’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has also taken over four of the SPL’s leading clubs as the league aims to become one of the top five in the world.

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“This project has been in the making for a while,” added former Nigeria defender Emenalo, who was sporting director at French side Monaco from 2017 to 2019.

“It’s not a spur-of-the-moment decision, it’s well thought out. I’m impressed by the knowledge and input that’s gone into this.

“The Saudi Pro League offers a new opportunity first and foremost for the entire industry, and I think will create avenues for good competition and for more development of young talent.”

All clubs can benefit from ‘innovative new model’

The new strategy aligns with the Saudi Arabian Football Federation’s youth programme and aims to “foster young Saudi talent alongside securing the best international talent and improving the governance of all clubs for long-term success”.

Among a number of new regulations to be implemented from the 2023-24 season, the SPL will reduce the age of eligibility for Saudi players from 18 years old to 16, and reduce squad sizes from 35 overall to 25 senior players plus 10 under the age of 21, from 2025-26.

Saad Allazeez, the SPL’s interim chief executive and vice chairman, said: “There is much potential for new talent arriving in Saudi Arabia and a central function providing control and strong governance will ensure our investments are smart and benefit all in the league moving forward.

“Every club in the Saudi Pro League will get the opportunity to improve their squad through this innovative new model, and Michael is the perfect man for the job.”

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