Saudi investment into sports
Over the previous year’s Saudi Arabia have got much more involved in professional sports. First it was the staging of tennis, boxing, Formula 1 and European club football finals, among many other events.
Boxing was the first significant sports event as they staged some of the biggest matches in recent history including professional fights between fighters such as Antony Joshua and Usyk. They have also entertained the world with hosting ‘celebrity’ fights which have a huge number of viewers.
This is important information as it shows the willingness to get involved in some of the biggest sports worldwide. Saudi have also been involved in creating a new golfing organisation called LIV.
The shock deal that golf's traditional tours have agreed with Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF) - which bankrolled the breakaway LIV series. This is a stunning example of the shift in power that the kingdom's investment in sport is bringing about.
Under its ruling crown prince, the country's multi-billion-pound interest in sports through acquisitions, hosting and sponsorship is now well established.
Saudi Pro League
The Saudi Pro League has got a lot of interest over the past year, more so than ever when they signed the world’s biggest star Cristiano Ronaldo!
Ronaldo stared up a huge controversy just before the 2022 World Cup after he decided to do an exclusive interview with Piers Morgan where he lost all respect for the hierarchy at Manchester United.
This led to a frantic January transfer window which left every supporter of Ronaldo on the edge of their seat. He was linked with numerous clubs including a return to Real Madrid or Sporting Lisbon.
However, over time it was clear to see these transfers where not going to materialise and he accepted a huge proposal from Saudi Pro League team Al Nassr.
This was huge news across the sporting World as the biggest football star has decided to go to a league which is not part of the top 5 leagues in the world. Ronaldo brought so much coverage to the league and began a huge shift in momentum for players to follow in his footsteps.
There are many factors as to why players may want to join the Saudi League, the most common factor is the payment structure. With Saudi Arabia having almost unlimited funds with no financial fair play means they have a lot of persuasive power to influence European stars to come and play within Saudi Pro League.
This may feel very similar to China when they also gained the services of many top talents including Hulk, Oscar, and Carlos Tevez. This is to do with potential World Cup bids in the future and wanting to improve their national team as well as their domestic league. This created incredible news around the world however, this did not last very long.
Chinese Super League eventually decided against this policy and instead the Communist Party in China decided to invest in their homegrown players as they "didn't like how this large amount of money was flowing out of China and into Europe and foreigners' pockets."
Why have Saudi Arabia decided to invest so much?
Saudi Pro League is different to the Chinese super league situation as they want to be a global sports power, hosting the biggest stars in the biggest sports. They want to build a good reputation within sport and have self-sustainability within football.
There is another key reason to why they want to invest in sports such as football. Saudi Arabia rely heavily on gas and oil, and this is how they have made a large majority of their fortune in previous years.
The country is reliant on selling money through oil and with a global cutdown on gas due to a global plea to try and implement a greener world. This is known to a big influence as to why they are trying to push other major sources of income. This is a huge factor as to why they are trying to sign some of the best players. They want to make the Saudi Pro League one of the most competitive leagues in world football; to bring in another revenue source.
Another reason is Saudi Arabia pure passion for football. Football is the number one sport in the country, and they were the most supported team in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar where they beat eventual champions Argentina.
Saudi-led consortium took over Newcastle in 2021 which ended Mike Ashley's 14-year ownership of the club. This made Newcastle one of the richest clubs in Europe and across the globe. This led to people believing that this might be the start of Saudi owners taking over many teams across Europe.
Instead, we see a change of heart, the rulers of Saudi Arabia state: 'instead of other people making money from our population's interest in sport, let's make it ourselves and keep the money within our borders.' It wants to put Saudi Arabia on the map and raise its profile.
This shows the intent of the country and the reasoning of why all these deals have started to take place. This makes complete sense for a country that love football and have the power to entice players to play in front of their own fans.
What players are Saudi Arabia attracting?
Many people would argue that some of the transfers are big money pay-outs for players that are entering their twilight years such as Ronaldo, Kante, and recent Ballon d’or winner Karim Benzema.
The two Frenchman were offered contracts by their former clubs, and they still opted to join Saudi side Al-Ittihad. This demonstrates the power and lure Saudi are now proposing to some of the best players in the World.
One transfer that did shock everybody is former Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves. The young Portuguese midfielder signed for Al Hilal to become the latest European player to join the Saudi League.
He spent six years with the Premier League club Wolverhampton Wanderer. This came as a surprise for the public as he is just entering his prime years as a footballer and was heavily linked with European super team Barcelona.
There have been numerous concerns across Europe about transfers from the Premier League across to Saudi Pro League. Former Manchester United captain Gary Neville has called for the Premier League to ban transfers to Saudi Arabia to 'ensure the integrity of the game'.
Garry Neville stares up controversy with his comments over Saudi Transfers
This is a bold statement and might be reviewed over time if transfers carry on persisting throughout the European leagues. Saudi teams are doing no wrong in wanting to persuade top talents to their league; they have a lot of money to provide these players with long term contracts and on higher wages than they would be offered within Europe.
The start of the transfer window has brought us a lot of interesting stories involving the Saudi Pro League. It is a very interesting outlook as to how this will pan out, so far there is only a handful of players who have made the journey. Although, if this momentum carries on there could be many more and it could provide Europe with some very big competition.