Skip to main content

The top 10 Middle Eastern footballers in Europe today

European teams are increasingly looking to recruit players from the Middle East. MEE assesses the top ten currently plying their trade
From Egypt's Mohamed Saleh to Algeria's Yacine Brahimi, many players from the Middle East are making their mark in the football arena worldwide

As more European teams look to the Middle East to recruit players, MEE assesses the top ten currently plying their trade.

Mohamed Salah – Egypt – Fiorentina (Italy)

Fiorentina's Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah looks on during the Italian Tim cup football match Juventus Vs Fiorentina on 5 March at the 'Juventus Stadium' in Turin (AFP)
Fiorentina's Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah looks on during the Italian Tim cup football match Juventus Vs Fiorentina on 5 March at the 'Juventus Stadium' in Turin (AFP)

Undoubtedly the star man of the Middle Eastern game at the moment, Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah has set the Italian Serie A alight with some incredible performances since joining Fiorentina in January. Salah has showcased his skills on the highest stage, having played for Chelsea in England and represented the Egyptian national team 35 times. An attack-minded player with quick feet and close control in abundance, Salah has also been praised for his work-rate. Remarkably, the 22-year-old has scored 20 goals for his country and it is not inconceivable that Salah could one day overtake Hossam Hassan’s record 68 goals to be his nation’s top scorer.

Did you know?

Before moving to Chelsea Salah had already played football in London, having represented Egypt at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Arda Turan – Turkey – Atletico Madrid (Spain)

Atletico Madrid's Turkish midfielder Arda Turan celebrates after scoring the first goal during the UEFA Champions League group A football match in Madrid on 1 October, 2014 (AFP)
Atletico Madrid's Turkish midfielder Arda Turan celebrates after scoring the first goal during the UEFA Champions League group A football match in Madrid on 1 October, 2014 (AFP)

Turkish midfielder, Arda Turan has become one of the region’s prized assets after playing a crucial role in the recent domestic success of Atletico Madrid. A key component of the side that snatched the Spanish title from the duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona in 2014, Turan showcased his faultless technique and close control as Atletico swept all before them. Prior to moving to Spain, the Istanbul-born playmaker was a regular for boyhood club Galatasaray. Vastly experienced at both club and international level, Turan has represented Turkey at every level from under-16 and amassed 78 caps for the national team.

Did you know?

Often described as a volatile player, dating back to his time at Galatasaray, Turan caused controversy in January after throwing his boot at the assistant referee in Atletico’s Spanish Cup fixture against Barcelona. Remarkably, he escaped without a ban.

Yacine Brahimi – Algeria – Porto (Portugal)

Porto's Algerian midfielder Yacine Brahimi (C) celebrates after scoring a goal during the Portuguese league football match in Porto on 23 February (AFP)
Porto's Algerian midfielder Yacine Brahimi (C) celebrates after scoring a goal during the Portuguese league football match in Porto on 23 February (AFP)

Another of Algeria’s so-called Golden Generation of burgeoning talent, central midfielder Yacine Brahimi is a player who has been tipped to be amongst European football’s elite in the coming seasons. A powerful and attack-minded playmaker in the mould of his hero Zinedine Zidane, Paris-born Brahimi made his name in the French Ligue 1 at Rennes before moving to Granada in Spain. It was his subsequent transfer to Porto that allowed him to flourish, with several top-drawer performances catching the eye of the continent’s top clubs. Despite representing France, at youth team levels up to the age of 21, Brahimi opted to represent Algeria at senior level. He put in some scintillating performances at the 2014 World Cup as Algeria defied expectations. Brahimi is certainly a player to keep an eye on.

Did you know?

Brahimi turned down a host of top European clubs as a 16 year old to sign a contract with Rennes, citing their commitment to education of young players as a crucial factor, allowing him to attain a Baccalaureate.

Sofiane Feghouli – Algeria – Valencia (Spain)

Valencia's French midfielder Sofiane Feghouli (R) celebrates his goal with Valencia's German defender Shkodran Mustafi during the Spanish league football match in Valencia on 13 December, 2014 (AFP)
Valencia's French midfielder Sofiane Feghouli (R) celebrates his goal with Valencia's German defender Shkodran Mustafi during the Spanish league football match in Valencia on 13 December, 2014 (AFP)

Another star of Algeria’s World Cup campaign, Sofiane Feghouli has become a household name in Spanish and European football following a series of influential displays for Valencia. The Spanish giants signed the 25 year old in 2010 and he has been a regular in the first-team ever since, amassing more than 100 league appearances for the club. Feghouli is a pacy and skilful winger, often played on the right of midfield. Although born in Paris and representing France at various youth team levels, Feghouli pledged his allegiance to Algeria and since making his debut in 2011, has represented the Eagles on 23 occasions.

Did you know?

Feghouli scored Algeria’s first World Cup goal in 28 years in 2014, firing home a penalty against Belgium in their opening fixture of the World Cup in Brazil.

Islam Slimani - Algeria – Sporting CP (Portugal)

Algeria's forward Islam Slimani celebrates after scoring a goal during the 2015 African Cup of Nations group C football match in Mongomo on 19 January (AFP)
Algeria's forward Islam Slimani celebrates after scoring a goal during the 2015 African Cup of Nations group C football match in Mongomo on 19 January (AFP)

An imposing striker, Islam Slimani has become a key figure for Portuguese powerhouse Sporting. Having being plucked from Algerian club CR Belouizdad, Slimani initially struggled in Lisbon. However, a wonderful 2013-14 season saw the strong forward establish himself in the first team for club and country, as well as being rewarded with the 2013 Algerian Player of the Year award. Slimani led the line for Algeria during their memorable World Cup campaign in Brazil and is becoming an increasingly sought-after player in European football.

Did you know?

Slimani moved to Europe in controversial fashion, taking former club Belouizdad to court over a contract dispute, centred on the club’s failure to provide him with an apartment. His contract was terminated and he was free to move to sporting.

Aymen Abdennour – Tunisia – Monaco (France)

Monaco's Tunisian defender Aymen Abdennour (C) celebrates his team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League round in London on 25 February, 2015 (AFP)
Monaco's Tunisian defender Aymen Abdennour (C) celebrates his team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League round in London on 25 February, 2015 (AFP)

The strong centre back has been a rock at the heart of one of the meanest defences in Europe. Having arrived at neuveau riche Monaco in January 2014, Abdennour has cemented his place at the back and has won plaudits for his recent displays. Although starting his career in his native Tunisia, the powerful defender has spent much of the last five years in Europe, playing in both France and Germany. Called up to the Tunisian national team at the tender age of 20, Abdennour has gone on to win 33 international caps and has been tipped as a future captain of his country.

Did you know?

Abdennour began his career as a promising left-winger before being converted into a left-back and finally a centre-back upon arriving in Europe.

Ali Adnan – Iraq – Caykur Rizespor (Turkey)

Iraqi player Ali Adnan (R) fights for the ball with Kuwait's Fahad Alenazi (L) during their Gulf Cup football match in Riyadh on 14 November, 2014 (AFP)
Iraqi player Ali Adnan (R) fights for the ball with Kuwait's Fahad Alenazi (L) during their Gulf Cup football match in Riyadh on 14 November, 2014 (AFP)

The precocious talents of pacy left-back Ali Adnan has seen him become one of the few Iraqi players to break into a European league. Although playing for lowly Caykur Rizespor, Adnan has caught the eye of several of Europe’s top clubs, including Chelsea and Roma, whilst Turkish club Galatasaray and Italian powerhouse Napoli have already seen bids for his services rejected. His performances in Turkey have seen him become one of his club’s most valuable players, a responsibility he appears to relish despite having only recently turned 19. A member of the Iraqi squad which came 4th at the 2015 Asian Cup, Adnan has been seen by many as one of the best players of his generation and has already drawn comparisons to the world’s most expensive player, Gareth Bale.

Did you know?

The son and nephew of former Iraqi internationals, Baghdad-born Adnan comes from strong footballing stock and is a graduate of the famed Amo Baba Football School.

Javad Nekounam – Iran – Osasuna (Spain)

Osasuna's Iranian midfielder Javad Nekounam (R) vies with Malaga's Brazilian defender Weligton (L) during the Spanish league football match in Pamplona on 23 April, 2012 (AFP)
Osasuna's Iranian midfielder Javad Nekounam (R) vies with Malaga's Brazilian defender Weligton (L) during the Spanish league football match in Pamplona on 23 April, 2012 (AFP)

Iranian veteran Javad Nekounam has been a staple member of the Iranian side since making his debut in 2000 and has gone on to amass an incredible 150 international caps. A tough-tackling midfielder with an eye for a goal, Nekounam caught the attention of several European clubs after some solid displays at the 2006 World Cup. A move to Osasuna in Spain followed, where he has become a fan favourite following two spells at the club. Despite entering the twilight years of his career at the age of 35, Nekounam has proven himself to be an important figure at the club and has featured in the first team throughout the season.

Did you know?

Following his transfer from Al-Sharjah in UAE to Osasuna, Nekounam became the first Iranian to play in the Spanish top flight.

Beram Kayal – Israel – Brighton (England)

Celtic Glasgow's Israeli midfielder Beram Kayal (R) vies with Rennes' Togolese striker Razak Boukari during the UEFA Europa League football match on 20 October, 2011 in Rennes, France (AFP)
Celtic Glasgow's Israeli midfielder Beram Kayal (R) vies with Rennes' Togolese striker Razak Boukari during the UEFA Europa League football match on 20 October, 2011 in Rennes, France (AFP)

Arab-Israeli midfielder Beram Kayal is a midfielder with a burgeoning reputation in the European game following some strong performances at Scottish powerhouse Celtic, before a move south of the border to Brighton. Having caught the attention of Israeli side Maccabi Haifa as a 16 year old, Kayal progressed through the ranks to become a key player in the title winning squad between 2007 and 2010. A move to Celtic followed, where Kayal established himself as a fans favourite, clearly enjoying the responsibility of playing at a higher level. The young midfielder has used his rare position as an Arab playing for the Israeli national team to call for greater unity, as well as speaking of his “pride at wearing the shirt of the country of his birth”.

Did you know?

Kayal has been considered the leading member of a young generation of Arab-Israeli players who have opted to represent Israel, with the likes of Moanes Dabour and Taleb Tawatha breaking into the national team.

Ali Al-Habsi – Oman – Wigan (England)

Oman's goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi claps to the crowd at the end of his team's 2014 World Cup Asian qualifying football match in Doha on 12 June, 2012 (AFP)
Oman's goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi claps to the crowd at the end of his team's 2014 World Cup Asian qualifying football match in Doha on 12 June, 2012 (AFP)

Oman goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi is a player who has already etched his name into the history books of English football, having been a key member of Wigan Athletic’s fairytale FA Cup victory in 2013. A popular figure throughout his time in England, Al-Habsi has won rave reviews for his athleticism and his ability to save penalties. The 33 year old has also received recognition for his efforts, having been voted Wigan’s Player of the Year in 2011. A vastly experienced goalkeeper, Al-Habsi has won 101 caps for the Omani national team and has appeared at three Asian Cups. Al-Habsi has spoken of his pride at being the first Omani to gain recognition in Europe and hopes to inspire a future generation of Gulf players.

Did you know?

Al-Habsi is a fully trained fireman in his native Oman, previously working at the Seeb International Airport in Muscat.

Let us know what you think of our rankings. Comment in the section below.