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Why Are Saudi Clubs Signing Premier League Stars?

Roger Hampel


FOT: THE SUN


The Saudi Pro League has been making headlines with its recent high-profile signings from the Premier League, such as Wolverhampton Wanderers' captain Ruben Neves, who has been transferred to Al-Hilal for £47m, setting a new record for the club. Furthermore, Chelsea's goalkeeper Edouard Mendy is also reportedly close to securing a deal with the Saudi Pro League. Big names in football like Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and N'Golo Kante have already made the move, with other top players like Kalidou Koulibaly, Hakim Ziyech, and Thomas Partey also on the radar.


Despite former Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville's request for a pause on these transfers due to concerns over the integrity of the game, the influx of top-tier players to Saudi Arabia shows no sign of slowing down. The reason behind this wave of transfers is the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF)'s recent acquisition of four leading clubs in the country, one of which signed Ronaldo last December. However, there are questions about PIF's potential stakes in Chelsea's owners, private equity firm Clearlake Capital, which is reportedly denied by club sources.


Neville has suggested an immediate halt on transfers to Saudi Arabia and a thorough investigation into the appropriateness of these transactions, especially in relation to Chelsea's ownership structure. His concerns come at a time when Saudi spending in football is increasing, creating challenges for English clubs that need to balance their finances. Both Chelsea and Wolves are currently making difficult recruitment decisions to stay within the Premier League's three-year £105m loss limit under Financial Fair Play rules.


The recent rise of the Saudi Pro League has prompted questions about its potential to significantly impact the global transfer market. It has a long-standing interest in football, with its national team having qualified for six of the last eight World Cups, and has also started hosting other high-profile sporting events. They aim to improve their league with big names, and their funding appears to be more secure and sustainable than that of the Chinese Super League, which experienced a similar surge and subsequent fall in spending.


However, the growing prominence of the Saudi Pro League poses challenges for European football, especially if key players at their peak, like Neves, start departing for Saudi Arabia. These moves could potentially strain European clubs financially and may even affect the status of the Champions League if its top stars start to migrate elsewhere.


In response, Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin has criticized the Saudi strategy, arguing that it would be better for Saudi Arabian football to invest in local player development and academies rather than buying players nearing the end of their careers. He also stated that the top competition in football remains in Europe, where players strive to win.


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