Martin Boyle opens up on life in Saudi Arabia and says Hibs return is off if Ryan Porteous is made captain

When he left Hibernian in January, Martin Boyle made it clear he would not rule out a homecoming later in his career.

“It’s not goodbye it’s see you later,” he posted on social media, while he was even more transparent when he told Hibs TV that he hoped he could return one day.

Hibs harbour similar sentiments, including a buy-back clause in the deal with Saudi Arabian side Al Faisaly.

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However, now settled into life in Harmah City, Boyle jokes his plans might change if his buddy and fellow training-ground jester Ryan Porteous has been promoted to club captain by then.

Martin Boyle is enjoying life in Saudi Arabia with Al Faisaly - but admits he would jump at the chance to return to Hibs in the future. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

“I tell you one thing, if he is captain, I will not be going back,” laughs Boyle. “I will go back to Montrose instead because I am not giving him the chance to take fine money off me!

“To be fair, Paul Hanlon and Lewy Stevenson will probably be on to their second testimonials by then, so there’s no way he will have the armband.”

After so many years at Hibs, a place where he developed from the football equivalent of Road Runner to a more rounded and influential international player with his sights on World Cup involvement, Boyle is unable to step away from the banter and the goings-on at a club he parted with on good terms.

He has not missed a match yet, tuning in from afar.

Martin Boyle earns a penalty for Australia after being fouled in the box by Oman goalkeeper Faiyz Issa Al Rusheidi during last month's World Cup qualifier in Muscat (Photo by Adil Al Naimi/Getty Images)

And, although he had to be kicked out of the official WhatsApp team chat – “some people write long leaving messages but I kept mine short and sharp and got out of there” – the many side groups allow him to keep in touch.

However, while he misses family and friends, “and I know that they miss me too, which is nice”, he has no regrets about moving on.

Just more than a month after joining, the forward has enjoyed just one victory, leaving new club Al Faisaly embroiled in a relegation battle.

That has led to upheaval, with Daniel Ramos, the manager who signed him, having been axed in late February and replaced by the former Greek defender Marinos Ouzounidis.

Martin Boyle keeps in touch with wife Rachael and daughter Amelia through FaceTime.

However, discussing life on the field and off it, Boyle sounds content.

“You know me, I’m always happy”, the 28 year-old says.

And, one of life’s more ebullient characters, that is true. But this was a major decision. One he is being very well compensated for, but tough nonetheless.

At Hibs he was a pivotal player at a club that finished third in the Premiership last term and is a near constant feature in the latter stages of the domestic cup competitions.

He was also involved in European action and attracted international recognition with Australia while at Easter Road.

With wife Rachael also playing for Hibs, it offered them a comfortable home life with their young daughter Amelia.

The choice to accept Al Faisaly’s lucrative offer was difficult.

It forced Boyle to canvas the opinion of many others, from former gaffers and team-mates, fellow Socceroos who had experience of playing abroad and, more particularly, in the Saudi league, as well as his international manager Graham Arnold, to ensure it would not diminish his chances of involvement in the remaining World Cup qualifiers and, hopefully, the squad for Qatar at the end of this year.

Most of all, there were hours and hours, days and days of soul-searching as husband and wife decided what was best for their family.

“I probably can’t really describe just how hard it was, if I’m being honest with you,” admits Boyle.

“Rachael will never officially move over here, which was obviously another hard decision for us to make.

“Because we have a lot of family there, she has a lot of support and she enjoys her football and Amelia has just started nursery. It took her a few months to settle in, but now she is really enjoying it and making new friends, which is good.

"With the Covid situation, Amelia didn’t have the opportunity to have a lot of friends or go to parties etc before so I think it would be selfish of us – of me – to take that away from her.

“In this day and age we have the opportunity to FaceTime. It means I am always in touch and the time difference isn’t bad. I just have to brave it up and get on with it, but that has been easier because everyone here has been so friendly.

“But it wasn’t just a financial decision. I had to consider that side of it as well because it’s not often these things come around for someone from where I came from, but it was about going on to a new chapter and a new adventure as well. I’m quite an adventurous guy. I have always said to Rachael and my family that I would like to play overseas and experience different cultures and stuff like that. Thankfully this came up and we are a big club out here, the facilities are really good, the city is nice and everything is brilliant. I have settled in well. But if I get the chance to go back one day then I would jump at it.”

His new team-mates, who are predominantly home-based players or Brazilians, have had more than a few chuckles at his expense as he adapts to a completely different way of life, new schedules and an altogether different climate.

“As we speak, the sun has just come out and is battering my neck,” he says. “The other boys just laugh because they are rolling up to training in massive jackets and tights and jumpers and I’m like, ‘nah, this can’t be happening - I’ve got shorts and a T-shirt on and I’m still sweating’. I’ve been warned that in the next few months it will get a bit wild, but we will deal with that when it comes.

“But I barely see daylight. My sleeping schedule is very different. I am going to sleep at 4 or 5 in the morning, waking up at 2 or three to train at night so by the time I wake up the day is gone, which is quite crazy.

“But it is just the way they live over here in terms of praying and things like that, the heat and the fact that they eat later than us. It was just a case of accepting that and getting used to it. But it’s not too bad.

“Because of the heat, most of the games are at night and in terms of praying, they will either pray before or after training and there is always a plan in place so they don’t miss it. They pray at least six times a day so for away games they have to stop the bus! But that’s all right. At the end of the day, it is their traditions, their religion and way of life and you have to respect that.

“It is quite interesting to be about it. It is completely different compared with Scotland but, yeah, I’m really enjoying it.”

The heat also impacts on the style of football, with the emphasis on technique and working the ball.

“It is nowhere near as fast as Scottish football, but I’m getting used to it. Getting a goal in my first match helped me settle in and took some of the pressure off, but we need to start winning games.

“We still have loads of games left and we are still in a position where we can climb that table and we have a good team spirit.”

As one of the few English speakers, Boyle has a translator who follows him around and, while he suspects that writing and reading Arabic is beyond him, he is picking up the odd word.

“Obviously, you Google a place and try to see what it is like and you normally get people’s horror stories, but that has not been the case for me. If I’m not fully buying into the experience of me being here and joining in with their way of doing things then it is completely pointless.

“When I go around to the lads’ houses for dinner it is usually quite traditional and there is a lot of rice and meat and they eat with their hands, so there is not a lot of cutlery!

“Some of them give me a spoon, which is great. I try to fit in as much as I can and respect their culture and traditions, but I’m sure there are times they are taking the mick out of me, but they are very encouraging.

“I think they appreciate that I’m willing to try stuff, so it has been brilliant.

“The only complaint is the away games. The travelling is a bit different. There is not much scenery, let me tell you! It is just seven hours of straight road and desert, so nothing much to look at. We travelled to Riyadh and we came out of the city and I was like ‘woah’, because there was nothing there. But, as I keep saying, I’m really enjoying it all. We just need to start winning.”

The money in the bank was always going to mollify any issues Boyle encountered but cash cannot guarantee happiness. That comes from within and is a currency Boyle has always traded in. The fact he is still able to be content says a lot about him and Al Faisaly. It may be warm in Saudi but so has been the welcome, and thus far the experience - on and off the field - has not proved too hot to handle.

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