In a stunning turn of events, Saudi Pro League (SPL) clubs have set the football world ablaze with a breathtaking spending spree of nearly one billion dollars during their recent transfer window, concluding on September 7th.
This unprecedented splurge caters to domestic competition onto the global stage by luring some of the planet’s most celebrated players. Deloitte’s analysis has revealed that the Saudi clubs’ extravagant outlay of $957 million has eclipsed the expenditures of four out of Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues, with only the Premier League in England surpassing their lavish spending.
In this article, we delve into the significance of this spending bonanza, the marquee signings, and the prospects of Saudi football.
Breaking European Dominance
Deloitte’s Izzy Wray highlighted, “This marks the first time since 2016 that another international league has outspent any of Europe’s ‘big five’ during a football transfer window.” This monumental shift underscores the ambitious trajectory of Saudi football.
European football remains the global standard, but Saudi Arabia’s substantial investment is poised to pivot the sport’s focus towards infrastructural enhancement, thereby elevating the standard of Asian football.
SPL Director’s Perspective
SPL Director of Football, Michael Emenalo, a former Chelsea stalwart with seven years of experience, expressed optimism in a recent interview with Sky Sports. He stated, “We look back with great satisfaction that we have put the league in a better place than it was previously.” Emenalo also emphasized the league’s ability to attract and integrate some of the world’s finest players, signifying its newfound prominence.
Earlier this year, the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) unveiled the Sports Clubs Investment and Privatization Project, involving league champions Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahli, Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal, and several star players.
The most significant transfer came from Al-Hilal, who secured the services of forward Neymar from Paris St. Germain for a staggering 90 million euros ($96.34 million). Al-Hilal invested substantially in Aleksandar Mitrovic, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Ruben Neves.
On the other hand, SPL champions Al-Ittihad secured Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, and Fabinho. Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr brought Otavio, Sadio Mane, and Aymeric Laporte, among other talents.
Fresh from a season in the second division, Al-Ahli embarked on a spree with signings like Gabri Veiga, Riyad Mahrez, Roberto Firmino, Edouard Mendy, and Alain Saint-Maximin.
Wray pointed out, “The implementation of the Kingdom’s privatization program is likely to draw a wave of interest around the SPL, potentially fueling the current spending pattern for the windows to come.” The Saudi clubs are investing in a sustainable football future.
Despite their lavish spending, the SPL missed some of their most coveted targets. Al-Ittihad’s attempt to lure Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah with a reported offer of 150 million pounds ($187.10 million) was rebuffed. Ambitious bids from Al-Hilal for Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe also fell through. These near-misses highlight the league’s aspirations to compete at the highest level.
A Broader Saudi Vision
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has embarked on massive investments in various sports, including soccer, Formula One, boxing, tennis, and golf. Critics have accused the nation of “sportswashing” to divert attention from human rights concerns.
However, Emenalo refuted these claims, stating, “… I’ve not seen a clear indication that this is anything but wanting to have one of the best leagues in the world to provide quality entertainment and leadership examples to the people of Saudi Arabia.”