THE RISE OF THE SAUDI PRO LEAGUE

2023-06-26 · 3 min read · Saudi Pro League/Soccer
Karim Benzema of Al-Ittihad and Ruben Neves of Al-Hilal

Al-Ittihad Club's Official Twitter (@ittihad) | Focus Images/Russell Hart

In early June, Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) took control of four teams in the Saudi Pro League. Those being the founding members - Al Ahli, Al Ittihad, Al Hilal and Al Nassr. Since then, some big-money moves have already taken place with more to follow before the season gets underway.
Cristiano Ronaldo joining Al Nassr in January was the first significant arrival for the league. It's very likely that he will be lining up alongside and against other major names from the European game in the coming months.
Who has already signed in the Saudi Pro League?
While the rumours continue to fly around social media, a few high-profile players have already made the switch to Saudi Arabia. We've already mentioned Ronaldo above, while attempts to lure across Lionel Messi proved to be unsuccessful - he instead opted for MLS outfit Inter Miami.
Karim Benzema
Club: Al-Ittihad
The first major player to make the move in the summer window, Karim Benzema put pen to paper on a deal with Nuno Espirito Santo's champions Al-Ittihad. The 35-year-old departed Real Madrid after 14 years, winning the Champions League five times as part of a trophy-laden spell in the Spanish capital.
N’Golo Kante
Club: Al-Ittihad
Joining Benzema at Al-Ittihad is N'Golo Kante, who joins the Jeddah-based club on a free transfer from Chelsea. The France international midfielder won the Premier League and Champions League during his time at Stamford Bridge, while also being a key part of Leicester's remarkable rise to the title in 2016.
Ruben Neves
Club: Al-Hilal
Barcelona had long been linked with a move for Ruben Neves but signing for Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal in a deal worth £47million came as a significant boost to Wolves' transfer budget. Neves established himself as a modern-day legend at Molineux, scoring 30 goals in 253 appearances across six seasons at the club.
Kalidou Koulibaly
Club: Al-Hilal
Another player to leave Stamford Bridge for the top-flight of Saudi Arabian football, defender Kalidou Koulibaly joined Al-Hilal in late June. He would depart less than a year after signing for Chelsea with others expected to join him. Koulibaly made 32 appearances during his time at the club.
While the headline element in all this has been the staggering money offered for so many prime players, the main effect has been how it has abruptly changed the plans of every major club. It is difficult to remember anything like it. It’s all the more pronounced since this was expected to be a frenetic summer anyway. Saudi Arabian interest weighs over everything, even with players that wouldn’t yet dream of going there. It points to the biggest issue of all. Saudi Pro League money has completely inflated the market. Many within the industry are complaining that it has introduced instability. Fees have gone up and wages have gone up. As an example, United had been looking at Hojlund for a potential price of £45m but, in the last week, Atalanta have almost doubled the price.
Players that would have been £40m two years ago are now available at £70m. This is one other reason plans have been put off. Some clubs are waiting to see if all this settles down. Right now, though, various sources are describing a situation of “chaos”. Whether this is good or bad for the sport is up for you to decide. Personally, seeing tens-of-millions of dollars being thrown around is close to insanity. All though who is to judge, the English Premier League started this trend (looking at you Chelsea) overpaying for nearly every new signing without a worry of losing the money.
Sports Tree Profile

By: Aaron Cantin

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