Roberto Rivelino: Elevating Saudi Football to New Heights

In the summer of 1978, Roberto Rivelino, a football legend who left an indelible mark on Saudi football, came to Riyadh. As a member of the Brazilian national team that won the 1970 World Cup, Rivelino ushered in a new era for the Kingdom’s burgeoning football scene. His influence on and off the pitch changed the landscape, setting a precedent for foreign players in Saudi Arabia and establishing himself as one of the country’s football pioneers.

Rivelino’s Decision As a Turning Point

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Roberto Rivelino’s trip to Saudi Arabia was nothing short of iconic. The Rio-born Brazilian champion received a euphoric welcome from Al-Hilal fans on his arrival in Riyadh, heralding a football revolution. At the time, Saudi football was still in its infancy, as the first professional league was only two years old. Rivelino’s decision to join Al-Hilal marked a turning point for the kingdom, as he had enjoyed a stellar career in Brazil.

Rivelino’s Pioneering Impact

In his debut season, Rivelino shone alongside Tunisian striker Nejib Limam and led Al-Hilal to the title. His impact went far beyond statistics: Rivelino’s skill and flair with the ball was unparalleled, and a remarkable goal straight from a corner left fans in awe. Although he was often deployed in deep midfield, he scored 23 goals in less than 60 games, a testament to his exceptional ability.

Rivelino’s influence off the pitch was also huge. The Brazilian’s arrival marked the emergence of foreign players in the Saudi league, a trend that would continue to shape the country’s football landscape. Also, the contracts of Saudi Arabian clubs with the stars of world football increased the popularity of football betting among local fans.  All about bonuses on online football betting sites as well as the most famous Arab football leagues for betting you can find on The first Brazilian star’s signing opened doors for subsequent Brazilian talent, and the prospect of Zico moving to Al-Hilal underlines Rivelino’s appeal.

Adaptability Triumphs

However, the luxury and glamour of Rivelino’s arrival was offset by the challenges of the football infrastructure in Saudi Arabia at the time. Several teams trained together on artificial pitches to beat the scorching heat in Riyadh. However, Rivelino’s adaptability and commitment showed as he overcame these challenges and delivered outstanding performances.

The First Brazilian Maestro in Saudi Soccer

In addition to his exploits on the pitch, Rivelino also left his mark on Saudi football off the pitch. His time at Al-Hilal laid the foundations for the influx of foreign players and coaches into the league, a practice that continues to shape the modern Saudi football landscape. The legacy of his contribution is evident in the contracts and international interest that current players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Hakim Ziyech bring to the Saudi league.

Rivelino’s time in Saudi Arabia, which ended in 1981, left an indelible mark on both Al-Hilal and the wider football community. His departure, which was marked by a disagreement with Prince Khaled over the release of a transfer, did little to diminish the impact he had on the sport in the region.


As Saudi Arabian football continues to evolve, Roberto Rivelino’s legacy remains unbroken. His transformative influence on and off the pitch laid the foundations for the internationalization of the Saudi league. Rivelino’s commitment to excellence and his pioneering spirit have resonated through generations of footballers who have followed in his footsteps. Al-Hilal and Saudi football will forever hold a special place for the Brazilian champion.

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