The Saudi Pro League has taken the footballing world by storm this summer with their transfer window activities.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s January move to Saudi Pro League sent shockwaves throughout the footballing world. Ronaldo is not just any footballer, he is one of the very finest proteges of the game, as well as one of the most marketable and followed sports persons in the world.
Such a move has brought unprecedented attention and viewership to a league previously unknown to many people around the world. Many would argue at the time that with the kind of money involved, it was almost impossible for a player of his age, who had passed his prime as a footballer, to reject; others would say that it is probably a one-off wonder for a league with so little followership outside the shores of Saudi. Yet, the move held many promises for the league as it showed a statement of intent from the Saudi Pro League.
In less than six months, other high-profile players began to follow suit, most notably the current Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, World Cup winner Ngolo Kante, Kalidou Koulibally, Liverpool trio of Roberto Firmino, Jodan Henderson, and Fabio, amongst other high-profile seasoned footballers across Europe.
Still some might still argue that these players are beyond their footballing prime as they are all well into their 30s, and that’s understandable given how many years they have played at the top level of football.
The comparison to the Chinese super league still persists. A few years ago, the Chinese super league embarked on such similar project as the Saudi Pro League, by luring star players from Europe with hefty wages and contracts.
Further, most of the players targeted were past their prime albeit some notable ones like Oscar and Yannick Carrasco joined the Chinese super league in their mid-20s. But unlike the Chinese super league, the Saudi Pro League has begun targeting not just veterans, but prime world-class talents from Europe’s top leagues as their recent acquisition of Ruben Neves, Sergej Milinkovic Savic, Marcelo Brozovic, Sesko Fofana, and Alex Telles would attest to.
Also, several other world-class players plying their trade in Europe have been heavily linked with making a move to the Saudi Pro League at some point in the current transfer window. Riyadh Mahrez is nearing a move to Al Ali after Manchester City agreed a deal worth €35m for the five-time Premier League winner. His teammate Bernardo Silva is continually linked with making a move to the Saudi Pro League. Neymar, Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Marco Silva, Son Hung-Min, Allan Saint-Maximin, among others have all been linked with the Saudi League this summer.
The biggest of them all is Kylian Mbappe. The French forward is subject to a €300m world record bid from Al Hilal after he refused to sign a new deal with the PSG. The 2018 World Cup winner is currently in a contractual stand-off with the Parisian club after he was left out of their prep season tour of Japan, with the club looking to find a suitable offer for him unless he signs a new deal.
With their transfer activities and the allure of better payment and lesser taxes, the Saudi Pro League is taking one more step ahead of the Chinese super and major league soccer in threatening to shift the football paradigm from just Europe.
It remains to be seen whether they can maintain such a high influx of talented footballers from all over the world for a long time. After all, the Chinese super league before now could not sustain such a trajectory as the financial implications of such moves proved prohibitive over a long period of time.
The arguments could be that the Saudi Pro League could therefore end up as the Chinese super league, as football in Saudi Arabia is not yet self-sufficient like in Europe, but on the other hand, it could also be that the Saudi Pro League has come to stay, just like the powerful leagues in Europe.
However, with the Saudi Government-owned public investment fund in the recent acquisition of the four biggest clubs in the league, the Saudi league does not look to slow down, at least not anytime soon.