According to transfer expert Ben Jacobs, the Saudi Pro League is determined to attract the world’s best players, including Bernardo Silva from Manchester City and Son Heung-min from Tottenham Hotspur.
The Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), which owns major teams in the Pro League and Newcastle United, has set its sights on 20 top-tier players to strengthen their rosters significantly.
Increasing Player Movement and Potential Impact
Already, notable names such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and N’Golo Kante have made the switch to the Saudi Pro League, but Jacobs believes this is just the beginning. He reports that there are currently over 20 ongoing discussions between Saudi dealmakers and European players.
The league is closing in on securing transfers for Hakim Ziyech (Al-Nassr), Kalidou Koulibaly (Al-Hilal), and Edouard Mendy (Al-Ahli). N’Golo Kante has already signed for Al-Ittihad. Although Chelsea may not receive exorbitant fees for these outgoing transfers, they are making progress in offloading several players. Furthermore, potential deals for William Carvalho (Al-Nassr) and Ruben Neves (Al-Hilal) are underway, with Neves’ transfer estimated at €55m.
The capture of Neves, a 26-year-old midfielder who expressed his desire to play in the Champions League, is a significant coup for the Saudi Pro League.
Bernardo Silva and Son Heung-min: Concrete Targets
While Bernardo Silva is considered a concrete target for the Saudi Pro League, it is believed that he prefers to remain in Europe for now. On the other hand, there is less confidence that Son Heung-min will move to Al-Ittihad in 2023, as Tottenham Hotspur is reluctant to sell. However, the situation may change in 2024, depending on any dramatic developments.
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The Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth fund, PIF, which also controls Newcastle United, has ownership stakes in four major clubs: Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal, Al-Ahli, and Al-Ittihad. They aim to secure around 20 elite players and make a total of over 50 signings.
The goal is to create captivating rivalries in Riyadh and Jeddah that attract global attention. Additionally, the English-speaking TV rights for the upcoming season will be up for sale, further fueling the league’s ambitions.
The Future of the Saudi Pro League
The plans of the Saudi Pro League are poised to disrupt football, and it remains to be seen if this surge in player movement is a temporary trend, reminiscent of the Chinese Super League’s brief prominence, or if the league and its substantial financial resources are here to stay. While some players being targeted are over 30 years old, the capture of Ruben Neves from Wolves at the age of 26 showcases the league’s ability to attract younger talents.
Rather than dismissing the entire concept, it would be prudent for the Premier League and other leagues to carefully analyze the realistic threat posed by PIF’s aspirations.