Al Hilal are AFC Asian Champions League title holders
Al Hilal are AFC Asian Champions League title holders Image Credit: Al Hilal

Dubai: Christian Wilhelmsson, the former Al Hilal and Bani Yas winger, has predicted a strong future for Saudi Arabia’s Asian champions.

Speaking on the Twitter to Murad Al Masri from Arabic daily Al Ittihad, Wilhemsson – who spent four seasons with the Riyadh club before a short stint with Abu Dhabi’s Bani Yas – agreed that his former club from Saudi Arabia have continued displaying their hunger to shine on the continental and domestic stages.

“The club have come a long way. At the moment, they have a great management in addition to the other aspects that are needed to make it even more successful, including training facilities and a sound academy that can continue producing quality players all the time,” Wilhelmsson said.

“The club have moved up a lot in recent times. And one of the main things that has kept them ahead of the rest of the clubs is their hunger to continue with their success, both on the domestic and Asian levels,” the 40-year-old Swede added.

Overall, Al Hilal have won 59 official titles on the national and international stage, including a record 15 league crowns and also a record seven AFC trophies that consists of three Champions League titles (1991, 2000 and 2019), two Asian Cup Winners Cups (1997 and 2002) and a couple of Asian Super Cups (1997 and 2000).

Christian Wilhelmsson played for Al Hilal during his time in Saudi Arabia

During his four-year stint in Saudi Arabia, Wilhelmsson helped Al Hilal to win the Asian Champions League in the second year of his contract while scoring nine goals and making 10 assists in his 20 appearances to eventually walk away with the Player of the Season award.

And now, being in the region for a long time, Wilhemsson feels he can give back something to the game. For the moment, he is a consultant for a few clubs in the Middle East while using the UAE as his base.

“No doubt, I became very close to Al Hilal and I have a strong attachment to the club. They had waited for a long time to become [Asian] champions and it meant a lot to everyone. Now they can move forward and become a greater club in the whole of Asia,” he said.

“I find that the local Saudi Arabian players now take a lot of responsibility on the field, and this has made them into much better players and that results into a really strong and competitive team.”

Born in Malmo, Wilhelmsson started his career with Mjallby in 1997 before moving off to the bigger stage with Anderlecht in Belgium in 2003. Nicknamed ‘Chippen’, the left winger played in France, Italy, England and Spain before heading to Al Hilal during the late 2000s.

One of the jarring, yet memorable moments of his national team career, where he went on to win 79 caps for Sweden, was when he was kicked by the brash and temperamental Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the sidelines of a training session.

The Swede lives in Dubai with his family - wife Oksana and sons Lennox and Leon-Prince, who go to school here. “Basically, living in Dubai was such a simple choice for us. The education here is great,” Wilhemsson said.

“And then there is the safety aspect. It’s the best in the world. We all feel safe and comfortable here, and I am particularly happy to be here during this period of the pandemic. Of course, there is always the hope that we will all come out of this this safe and sound and things will finally open out. We need to find a way back through this, while also finding ways to manage it in a good manner.”

Being in the region has also helped the Swede to further build up on his networking. “For sure, it is an opportunity for me to work in the region, but something connected with football,” he said. “To work with clubs here in the region is a dream. I have been in discussions with Bani Yas and Al Hilal, but not as a coach, but more as the sports director position. I know this region very well and I have the experience and know-how. May be in the long term, the opportunity may come up and I will grab it.”