Was this just the beginning? Saudi Arabia’s transfer offensive explained

 Was this just the beginning?  Saudi Arabia's transfer offensive explained

It was not the Premier League, but the Saudi Professional League that made the most spectacular headlines this transfer summer, because it lured numerous prominent players and coaches from Europe into a league that had previously been completely insignificant in terms of sport with a lot of money. This Friday the new season begins with completely new media attention. The most important questions and answers.

Where does the Saudi Arabian transfer offensive come from?

The country has launched a billion-dollar government program with which it wants to secure power and influence through sport, among other things, and make it less dependent on oil. The image, which has been battered by many human rights violations, is to be polished both externally and internally – in football also through the commitment of many other stars after Cristiano Ronaldo started in winter. The goal is to make the league one of the ten highest-grossing in the world by 2030, and to bring a World Cup to the country soon.

Who all moved to Saudi Arabia?

The most prominent transfers ended up at five clubs: champions Al-Ittihad, Ronaldo club Al-Nassr, record champions Al-Hilal, last year’s seventh Al-Ettifaq and promoted Al-Ahli. An overview of the most important obligations:

Al-Ittihad (Nuno Espirito Santo coach): Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), N’golo Kanté (Chelsea), Fabinho (Liverpool), Jota (Celtic)

Al-Nassr: Coach Luis Castro (Botafogo/Brazil), Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan), Seko Fofana (RC Lens), Alex Telles (Manchester United), David Ospina (SSC Napoli), Sadio Mané (FC Bayern)

Al Hilal: Coach Jorge Jesus (Fenerbahce), Ruben Neves (Wolverhampton), Malcom (Zenit St. Petersburg), Sergei Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio), Kalidou Koulibaly (Chelsea)

Al-Ettiq: Coach Steven Gerrard (last Aston Villa), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Moussa Dembelé (Olympique Lyon), Jack Hendry (Club Brugge)

Al-AhliCoach: Matthias Jaissle (RB Salzburg), Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Edouard Mendy (Chelsea), Allan Saint-Maximin (Newcastle United), Franck Kessié (Barcelona)

Others, despite dizzying offers, had other plans. The clubs lured Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé, Luka Modric, Diego Simeone and José Mourinho in vain.

Where does the money for the transfers come from?

In June, the state fund Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is also in charge of Premier League club Newcastle United, had 75 percent each in Al-Ittihad, Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal and – because of the large fan base – Al -Ahli and lets the clubs splurge thanks to his almost immeasurable resources. There are no financial fair play rules to be observed. The other clubs are said to have a pot from the Ministry of Sport available to also make isolated transfers of millions. That would explain Al-Ettifaq’s actions.

Which transfers particularly polarized?

Liverpool’s ex-captain Henderson, in particular, had to put up with a lot of criticism, who had campaigned for the LGBTQ+ movement for years, but is now ultimately being paid by a government that makes homosexuality taboo and punishes it with imprisonment or even the death penalty. The fact that Saint-Maximin, a player from one PIF club to another, also raised eyebrows. And Jaissle – along with ex-Bundesliga professional Robert Bauer (Al-Tai) one of two Germans who switched to the league – left Salzburg immediately before the start of the season.

What are the consequences of the offensive for football in Europe?

Negative, but also positive. On the one hand, the new competition makes it much more difficult to work on the transfer market because prices are rising and important players (or the coach) can turn their heads at any time. On the other hand, in the Premier League in particular, the lavish transfer fees for mostly dispensable players should have been received with joy in order to relieve the books.

How long is the transfer window open?

Unlike noted by FIFA, apparently not by September 20th, but by September 7th. But that only partially changes the criticism made by Liverpool coach Jürgen Klopp, for example, that the clubs in Europe’s top leagues may still lose players after the “Deadline Day” on September 1 without being able to sign a replacement.

How is the league going? And what can be expected from the sport?

In the course of the offensive, it was increased from 16 to 18 teams. There are therefore 34 match days, analogous to the Bundesliga. The bottom three teams are relegated. The new players, but above all the new coaches, should raise the level significantly, which is also supported by the sometimes remarkable results in the summer preparations, some Al-Nassr’s draw against PSG (0-0) and Inter Milan (1-1). However, the unequal distribution of the millions should increase the gap within the league. “My car is a small Japanese sedan and I’m expected to compete against Lamborghinis and Ferraris,” said Al-Shabab’s outgoing club boss Khalid Al-Baltan.

How sustainable is the whole project?

It’s still difficult to estimate, but the European elite shouldn’t count on it disappearing into thin air as quickly as China’s billion-euro offensive once did. This is also shown by the other sports in which Saudi Arabia has been investing heavily for years. “It’s not a spontaneous decision,” says Michael Emenalo, director of football for the Saudi Pro League, “but well thought out.” The calculation hoped for in Saudi Arabia and feared in Europe is: The more top players can be lured, the more top players can be lured.


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