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The Saudi Takeover

The Saudi Takeover

Last year five time Ballon d’Or winner and football icon Cristiano Ronaldo again captured the whole football world’s attention when he swapped the city life of Manchester, England for a spot in Saudi Arabia to go play for nine time Saudi Pro League champions Al Nassr. Just about a year later his former Real Madrid teammate and current Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzema made the journey over to Saudi Arabia to sign with Al Ittihad – with other stars in the top leagues in Europe set to follow in his footsteps and make their way over to the Saudi Pro League as well. This certainly raises the question, is Saudi Arabia taking over football?

A multi time European champion and global superstar like Cristiano Ronaldo signing for Al Nassr was already a big time move, but now Karim Benzema, a star in his own right has left Real Madrid for Al Ittihad. For a long time there have been rumours of the Frenchman leaving the Spanish capital and with his contract having expired at the end of last season he is headed to Saudi Arabia. He had previously stated that he wished to end his career in Madrid but in a twist of the tale changed his plan. He was quoted saying, “It really hurts… It’s not easy. I really wanted to retire here but sometimes directions change.” His deal with Al Ittihad is reportedly going to earn him about 200 million Euros per season.

There is a question over the Saudi Pro League’s quality in terms of talent within the league but on a personal note for Benzema he would probably be pleased to get a reunion with former teammate Ronaldo when they face off on opposite sides when Al Nassr clash with his side Al Ittihad. With Benzema’s move to Saudi Arabia completed there is obviously an opening at the starting striker’s spot at Real Madrid and there are definitely plenty of options Madrid could go for, with obvious target PSG star Kylian Mbappe leading the way. However with reports coming out of Paris stating that Mbappe could well be on his way out of PSG, Saudi clubs are on high alert and could try and make an offer for the World Cup winner in a bid to boost talent and star power in the Saudi Pro League. However Mbappe would rather prefer to sign for another European club given the exposure and prestige European leagues possess. Tottenham Hotspur’s leading man and England captain Harry Kane is also a more than capable option. German giants and current Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich have recently seen their 80 million Pound bid for the prolific scorer get rejected and with Tottenham finishing in eighth place in the Premier League last season and missing out on a chance to play European football next season, Madrid could well swoop for him.

Real Madrid strongly considered a move for former Chelsea player Kai Havertz to replace Benzema but that move won’t be happening with the German opting to sign for North London side Arsenal for 65 million Pounds on a five year deal. His former Chelsea teammate N’golo Kante is also on his way to Saudi Arabia to link up with his compatriot Benzema at Al Ittihad.

The most fascinating thing about the transfers to the Saudi Pro League and Saudi Arabian football in general is that this is all part of a Saudi Public Investment Fund. This means that Al Ittihad, Al Ahli, Al Nassr and Al Hilal are all being funded by the Saudi government. It is part of a sports club investment and privatization project which basically turns these four teams into organizations that can be funded by Saudi Arabia itself – this equates to an endless supply of funds. With the backing of their government it means that these teams can offer astronomical wages to players of their choosing since other teams wouldn’t be able to compete with them on a financial level due to financial fair play rules put in place by FIFA. Using Benzema as an example, you could go as far as to say that he was signed by the Saudi government and all he had to do was pick which team he wanted to play for out of the four in question.

With a majority of European clubs unable to compete with Saudi investments and deals being made by the Saudi clubs, it could possibly prove to be problematic for the lesser European clubs as we could see a lot of top talent being enticed to go the Saudi route. With the ridiculous amounts of wages being offered in Saudi Arabia we could see an influx of elite players headed over to the Saudi Pro League. Cristiano Ronaldo may be referred to as a pioneer for moves to Saudi Arabia and this could have tempted other players to at least consider Saudi League football as an option. Ronaldo was quoted saying, “I am happy here in Saudi Arabia. I will stay here. If they do what they want to do, the league could be one of the top leagues in five years.” We could very well soon be living in an age where Saudi League football is at the top of the food chain. Who knows what lies ahead…

Other recent notable signings made by Saudi Pro League clubs include:

Edouard Mendy – From Chelsea to Al Ahli for 18.5 million Euros

Roberto Firmino – From Liverpool to Al Ahli on a free transfer

Marcelo Brozovic – From Inter Milan to Al Nassr for 18 million Euros

Ruben Neves – From Wolverhampton Wanderers to Al Hilal for 55 million Euros

Kalidou Koulibaly – From Chelsea to Al Hilal for 23 million Euros

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Shukrani Maina

    Looking forward to their future

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