May 27, 2024

With its sovereign wealth fund, Saudi Arabia is bypassing the rules of football

Ronaldo started it

Saudi Arabia bypasses football rules with sovereign wealth funds

Today, 06/22/2023 | 14:00

The five most expensive players who signed with Chelsea last season are Enzo Fernandez, Wesley Fofana, Mykhailo Modric, Mark Cucurella and Raheem Sterling. Cost point for this unobtrusive quintet: around 393 million euros.

Overall, the Blues spent up to €611.49 million. With only €67.83m on the outgoing side, this results in a huge transfer minus €543.66m. On the other hand, what came out of it in the end was less exciting. Twelfth place in the English Premier League, from the quarter-finals of the European Champions League, without a title.

Chelsea need to generate revenue – and that’s where the Saudi sovereign wealth fund comes in

Now the club, which was sold in the spring of 2022, is under pressure to generate revenue to comply with financial rules in the English Premier League and UEFA. This is where Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, which is personally chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, comes into play.

In the English Premier League, he is best known for leading a consortium that bought Newcastle United in 2021. So far, PIF is not actively coming to the fore. But in the background, the fund takes a lot of money in hand – but one by one.

It all started with Ronaldo – and now the Chelsea army will follow

On January 1, 2023, Cristiano Ronaldo signed with Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia – a huge coup for the club. But the commitment also deserves Ronaldo. About 500 million euros will flow into his account for two and a half years. In the summer, it becomes apparent that it was only the Portuguese who opened the door.

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In early June, Al-Ittihad announced the signing of Karim Benzema from Real Madrid. The transfer of N’Golo Kante from Chelsea came a little later. The two probably won’t be the last players. There is also interest from Saudi Arabia in Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Hong-min Son (Tottenham Hotspur) and Ruben Neves (Wolverhampton Wanderers). But the interest in so many Chelsea players is remarkable.

Al-Nasr digs in Hakim Ziyech, the league’s competitor, Al-Hilal, in Kalidou Coulibaly, and Al-Ahly went up to goalkeeper Edward Mendy. Forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is also linked with seeing off Saudi Arabia. All of these players have contracts with the Blues, they will fetch good transfer fees and Chelsea will provide great salaries.

A Saudi fund linked to the Chelsea owners – now it can solve all your money problems

But it only becomes benign when you look at the ownership structure of said clubs. Al-Nasr, Al-Ittihad, Al-Hilal and Al-Ahly, like Newcastle United, are all owned by the Public Investment Fund. But the fund also has excellent relations with Clearlake Capital Group – the investment company that bought Chelsea FC in the spring of 2022 under the leadership of Todd Boyley.

In the UK, the Public Investment Fund is reported to have invested several billion euros in the private equity firm Clearlake Capital. If you think further, it becomes clear that the Saudi sovereign wealth fund has an interest in rearranging Chelsea and its battered balance sheet.

Speculation that the Public Investment Fund was involved in the Chelsea takeover has so far been denied. In addition, the Premier League examines the ownership structure of clubs when taking over. At the request of Sports Show But so far, Chelsea and the Premier League have responded to Clearlake Capital regarding the Blues’ ownership structure and the potential impact of the PIF.

If Chelsea play international again, UEFA will be in big trouble

Problems at the international level also threaten if Chelsea qualify for the European Cup again. There it is forbidden for a natural or legal person to control more than one club. Especially in the case of private equity, and the collection of borrowed capital for investments, there is a risk of a transparency problem.

Problems like this are not unheard of in Saudi Arabia. If club owners want to upgrade the league and invest billions in transfers to do so, they can do it – no matter how many clubs they own. There are no financial rules in Saudi Arabia of the kind that must be observed in Europe.

For “Vision 2030,” the Saudi state fund wants to host the 2030 World Cup

This will not lead to the main objectives of the sovereign wealth fund. Little by little, the Public Investment Fund will become the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world. The Saudi government has already published a development plan for this with “Vision 2030”. Meanwhile, Lionel Messi also announces for Saudi Arabia and is handsomely rewarded for it.

Sporting events should also be part of this vision. After the Asian Football Championship in 2027 and the Asian Winter Games in 2029 (with temperatures between 25 and 35 degrees in winter), they should be one size larger. Saudi Arabia wants to bid alongside Egypt and Greece to host the 2030 World Cup. This will be the first World Cup to be held on three continents.

There is competition here from South America, among others, with a group of four from Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay wanting to advance. Exactly 100 years later, this will be a return to the roots. However, anyone who knows FIFA and its president Gianni Infantino knows that financially weak countries have good chances of hosting the World Cup. The fact that Argentina’s most famous footballer announces the competition using the hashtag #VisitSaudi is just a side note at this point.

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