June 20, 2024

Ronaldo, Benzema & Co.: How the Saudi Professional League Attracts Superstars


Updated on 6/6/2023 at 5:37 PM

With Cristiano Ronaldo, a global star has found his way to the Saudi Football League, with Karim Benzema, a former teammate now joining the team. It is no coincidence that more and more football players are associated with moving to the country.

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like Cristiano Ronaldo When he announced his move to Al-Nasr Club from the Saudi capital, Riyadh, in the winter of 2022, he was given one thing above all: malice. Because it was not one of the most prestigious clubs in the Champions League who wanted to sign the Portuguese star at the time – as previously announced. Instead, with great fanfare, Ronaldo moved to the Saudi Professional League – a league that, while among the best in Asia, had previously received little attention in world football. Even if Ronaldo made a lot of money with it, the change seemed out of necessity rather than desire.

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A few months later, it was clear: the 38-year-old’s transition to the absolute kingdom was not an isolated case. Because Karim Benzema, who has played with Ronaldo at Real Madrid for years, is also drawn to the Saudi Professional League next season. The Frenchman signed a three-year contract with his new club, Al-Ittihad, which should bring him a three-figure amount. That’s why it’s solved Benzema He even voluntarily gave up his contract with Real Madrid, which runs until 2024.

Messi already has ties with Saudi Arabia

And rumors of established football stars moving to clubs in the Saudi League are increasing: Lionel MessiSergio Busquets Sergi RamosPierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Luka Modric – several former Barcelona and Real Madrid pros are among the players who have been linked with several clubs in Saudi Arabia in recent weeks.

Messi in particular, whose time at Paris Saint-Germain will almost certainly end in the summer, is particularly sought after – Riyadh-based Al-Hilal are said to have offered the Argentine €400m a year. Because the world footballer has already established good relations with Saudi Arabia: Messi has been the country’s tourism ambassador since May 2022. The change will not only fulfill his professional obligations, but also his former rival Cristiano Ronaldo: “When big players and big names come, young players, players Senior: If that happens, the league will be even better,” said the 38-year-old. old.

The Saudi sovereign wealth fund acquires four clubs

The fact that clubs from Saudi Arabia are suddenly being attracted with big offers is not a coincidence, but part of a plan by the government. The Saudi Ministry of Sports announced this week that the sovereign wealth fund PIF, known in Europe as the majority owner of Newcastle United, will acquire four major Saudi clubs, each with a 75% stake. With the takeover of Ronaldo’s Al-Nasr club, Benzema’s Al-Ittihad club, as well as Al-Hilal and Al-Ahly clubs, private companies should once again be able to invest money in formerly state-run clubs.

It is also said that private companies are involved in other clubs in the country, such as the oil company Aramco in the second-division club Al-Qadisiyah. According to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the money will soon make the Saudi Professional League one of the top ten football leagues in the world, and the country wants to increase the league’s sales to 480 million euros by 2030. In order to achieve this, of course, the big names will have to find Its way to the country’s football clubs – and to be paid accordingly.

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Does Saudi Arabia follow the example of China?

It is not a new phenomenon for professional footballers to move to Gulf country leagues at the end of their careers, when they can still expect exorbitant salaries even in their old age. So far they have mainly played in Qatar or the United Arab Emirates. Great neighbor Saudi Arabia preferred to rely on players from their country in their league.

In 2010, another rival was the Chinese Super League, which for the first time became a serious competition for European clubs for the best players for Oscar – the league’s record transfer Oscar was only 25 years old when he moved from Chelsea to Shanghai. The Chinese Football Association put an end to this by imposing a 100 per cent tax on transfers from abroad and introducing a salary cap by 2019 at the latest.

Investing in football is part of Vision 2030

The Saudi Professional League could now become the new league for the rich, able to compete with European clubs, at least financially. Because unlike in Europe, there are no financial constraints for clubs in Saudi Arabia – and the human rights situation in the country does not seem to prevent at least part of the footballing elite from making a difference.

The project to privatize Saudi football was initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The project is part of “Vision 2030”, through which the country wants to diversify its economy, which is largely geared towards oil production. Saudi Arabia also seems to want to put its footballing ambitions on another footing. So far, with the acquisition of the English Premier League club Newcastle United, the country has followed the example of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, which bought Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain clubs with state-linked investment funds and led them to the top of Europe.

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And it can be assumed that the Kingdom’s sports plans are not over yet: because part of the “2030 Vision” announced by Saudi Arabia is also hosting the World Cup finals in the same year, which the country has been interested in for a long time.

Sources used:

  • DPA
  • Al-Jazirah: Saudi Arabia specializes in football clubs and is looking for big-name signings
  • Athletic: The Public Investment Fund will take control of the four biggest clubs in Saudi Arabia as part of a major shake-up of the professional league.
  • Reuters: Saudi wealth fund to take control of football star Ronaldo’s club