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  • Writer's pictureSebastian Friedrich

The richest league in the world - the Saudi Pro League

Sports washing


Saudi Arabia suffers from a bad reputation based on human rights violations and restrictions on free speech. However, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (estimated fortune 200 billion euros) is trying to improve his country's image and change the global perception of Saudi Arabia. One strategy he employs is what's known as "sportswashing," which uses sporting events to distract from the negative and promote a more positive portrayal of Saudi Arabia. This method is used by different countries to improve their international reputation.


Housing the 2030 World Cup


Saudi Arabia plans to host 25 World Cups in various sports by 2030 and has expressed interest in hosting the Soccer World Cup in 2030 or 2034. These efforts should not only improve the country's international reputation, but also its image among its own population. Investments and the hiring of well-known sports stars are intended to distract and satisfy the people of the country in order to prevent potential unrest and criticism of the royal family. The Saudi government expects sporting expansion to create investment opportunities, improve public health and develop sporting infrastructure.


The country's state fund, the PIF (Public Investment Fund), recently took ownership of the country's four largest football clubs - Al Ittihad, Al Hilal, Al Ahli and Al Nassr - taken over. These four clubs are collectively referred to as Saudi Arabia's "Big Four". In addition, four other teams received investments from other state-owned companies.


Mega Transfers


Saudi Arabia is willing to shell out big bucks to sign more top stars for the league. After Cristiano Ronaldo's signing, more high-profile players appear to be following the superstar's lead. The first big name after Ronaldo to make the move to Saudi Arabia is Karim Benzema, who has joined Al-Ittihad. Benzema is reportedly being paid a whopping €200m per season. He will stay with Al-Ittihad for two years but has the option to extend his contract until 2026 if he feels comfortable there.


In addition to Benzema, N'Golo Kanté and Diogo Jota have also been brought to Al-Ittihad. Kanté will reportedly earn slightly less than Benzema. Ruben Neves, on the other hand, joined Al-Hilal while Kalidou Koulibaly also joined Al-Hilal. Édouard Mendy joined Al-Ahli and Marcelo Brozovic was signed from Al-Nassr.


Saudi Arabia was also able to gain a familiar face as a coach: Steven Gerrard took over the post at Al-Ettifaq. Other well-known players and coaches are expected to move to Saudi Arabia in the summer of 2023.


Here are all mega transfers at a glance (as of July 4th, 2023):

Ruben Neves

  • Age: 26

  • Nation: Portugal

  • Position: Defensive Midfield

  • Releasing club: Wolverhampton Wanderers

  • Receiving club: AL-HILAL SFC

  • Transfer fee: €55.00 million

  • Estimated salary: 30 million euros / season

Jota

  • Age: 24

  • Nation: Portugal

  • Position: Left Wing

  • Releasing club: Celtic Glasgow

  • Receiving club: AL-ITTIHAD CLUB

  • Transfer fee: €29.10 million

  • Estimated salary: 25 million euros / season

Kalidou Koulibaly

  • Age: 32

  • Nation: Senegal

  • Position: centre-back

  • Releasing club: FC Chelsea

  • Receiving club: AL-HILAL SFC

  • Transfer fee: €23.00 million

  • Estimated salary: 30 million euros / season

Edouard Mendy

  • Age: 31

  • Nation: Senegal

  • Position: Goalkeeper

  • Releasing club: FC Chelsea

  • Receiving club: AL-AHLI SFC

  • Transfer fee: €18.50 million

  • Estimated salary: 14 million euros / season

Marcelo Brozovic

  • Age: 30

  • Nation: Croatia

  • Position: Defensive Midfield

  • Releasing club: Inter Milan

  • Receiving club: AL-NASSR FC

  • Transfer fee: €18.00 million

  • Estimated salary: 33.3 million euros / season

Karim Benzema

  • Age: 35

  • Nation: France

  • Position: Center Forward

  • Releasing club: Real Madrid

  • Receiving club: AL-ITTIHAD CLUB

  • Transfer: free

  • Estimated salary: 200 million euros / season

N'Golo Kanté

  • Age: 32

  • Nation: France

  • Position: Defensive Midfield

  • Releasing club: FC Chelsea

  • Receiving club: AL-ITTIHAD CLUB

  • Transfer: free

  • Estimated salary: 100 million euros / season

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