The Arabian Super League | Sports

Two and a half years after Florentino Pérez announced in El Chiringuito his intention to “save football” by refounding the business with a closed competition called the European Super League, it turns out that Mohamed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, has materialized a analogous idea. As Raúl Caneda, the Galician coach who led two of the four Saudi soccer giants —Al-Ittihad and Al-Nassr— says: “This is the real Super League!”

The Saudi Pro League starts next Friday, August 11 after seven wild months. What began with the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo by Al-Nassr, last January, has spread in the form of purchases with an impact on the entire traditional football industry, especially on the big clubs, those that compete to win the Champions League.

“The influence of Saudi Arabia at the moment is enormous,” said Jürgen Klopp, the Liverpool coach, who in the last month has seen Al-Ittihad sign Fabinho, Al-Ahli take Firmino, and Al-Etifaq to Henderson, three key pieces in the team that won the Champions League in 2019, hired for no less than three years at a minimum net salary of 20 million euros per course. Up to six times what they charged in England. This is the case of Henderson, who earned six million euros net per year at Liverpool, has gone on to earn around 35 million.

The tax regime helps to tempt the figures. Individuals born abroad and resident in Saudi Arabia do not pay income tax. The salary mass of the Saudi Pro League amounts to 600 million annually. The Bundesliga invests 830 to pay the soccer players’ salaries, but the German Treasury collects 45%.

Ruben Neves is 26 years old and what he earned in the Premier, as a midfielder for Wolves, did not seem enough to him. When asked why he had signed for Al-Hilal, abandoning his position in the most attractive league in the world to take his family with him to a totalitarian state in which women live under a regime of male guardianship, the Portuguese pointed to the salary : “To give my family the life that I always wanted to offer them”, he said. “It’s the biggest trophy of my career.” Al-Hilal pays him 25 million euros a year.

Neves is hardly a secondary character. In recent weeks, the Saudi league has hired players from the last five Champions League champions. Institutions that due to their financial power are not supposed to be sellers, such as Chelsea, where Kanté, the best midfielder in the 2018 World Cup, and Koulibaly, considered the best central defender in the world for the last five years, have come from. Powers like Madrid, who lost Benzema at the hands of Al-Ittihad; Bayern, which transferred Sadio Mané to Al-Nassr for 30 million; or City, which sold Mahrez to Al-Ahli for 35 million euros.

The outbreak of big signings is new. But the injection of capital from Saudi Arabia into football is the result of a long and thoughtful process. According to the Transfermarkt portal, since 2013 the net investments in transfers of Al-Nassr (217 million euros) and Al-Hilal (269 million) place them among the 25 clubs that have spent the most money in the last decade in the world. . Al-Hilal has just surpassed Madrid, whose net investment rises to 246 million.

Mohamed al-Deayea, the Saudi with the most matches (178) in his team, inflated his chest. “Our football is expanding,” he said after the signings of Cristiano and Benzema. “We have played six of the last eight World Cups. And in the last one we beat Argentina”.

The expansion is due to strategic and purely emotional factors. The World Cup held in Qatar at the end of 2022 stung the competitive zeal of the Saudi sheikhs, jealous of the success they verified in the small Arab neighbor. Mohamed el-Assy, general director of Almería and right arm of Turki el Sheikh, the president of the Saudi Arabian General Entertainment Authority, recalled it with passion when he compared his country with Abu Dhabi and Qatar, the other major Arab investors in the football: “Saudi Arabia has 40 million inhabitants, Qatar has two and only has gas; Abu Dhabi produces 3.5 million barrels per day; Saudi Arabia produces 13.5 million per day.”

700,000 million

Mohamed bin Salman, the 37-year-old heir to the Saudi throne, does not just want to use football to wash away his image as a cruel autocrat and make it clear to the world who is the great Arab national power. The prince’s great ambition is to carry out a personal program that, under the title of Vision 2030, seeks to redesign the economic and social foundations of his country. Reflecting Franco’s plan for post-war Spain, Arab technocrats seek to free the economy from oil dependency by developing the entertainment and tourism industries. Soccer is a pillar of the new vision. The Saudi state has presented its candidacy to host the 2034 World Cup and announces a budget of more than 700,000 million euros from the sovereign wealth fund to create infrastructure and stimulate the competitiveness of local clubs.

“We will have to learn to live with that,” warns Klopp, a staunch opponent of the European Super League and now alarmed at another challenge with unpredictable consequences. “The worst thing is that the Saudi transfer market closes on September 20, two weeks after the market in Europe. FIFA and UEFA should do something.”

No TV at the moment

“Where I go I attract interest”, proclaimed Cristiano Ronaldo a week ago. “I relaunched the League, Serie A, and now I am the pioneer of Saudi football. My arrival in Arabia has convinced other champions to join me.”

The Qatar World Cup stopped to attend to the rumor: Cristiano, 38, would sign for Al-Nassr, one of the Riyadh clubs, until June 2025 for an annual salary of 200 million euros. The rumor was confirmed in January 2023. The Saudi league was launched. A month later, Al-Nassr took a gamble with Al-Ittihad, the team that was fighting for the lead. Al-Ittihad prevailed 3-1. Cristiano did not score. He finished the season with 14 goals in 16 games. He was surpassed by the scorer of Al-Ittihad, the Moroccan Abderrazak Hamdallah, with 21 goals in 26 games. The Jeddah club was champion of the Saudi Pro League, four points behind Al-Nassr. The effect of the loudest scorer of the century was not enough for his team to win the title in a less volatile championship than is presumed.

All the clubs in the Saudi league are emanations of the Ministry of Sports, ie the king. The state controls 75% of the capital of the four biggest clubs: Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahli, Al-Nassr, and Al-Hilal, the same entity that offered 300 million euros to PSG to take over the services of Kylian Mbappé. If Mbappé had decided to move to Riyadh, the operation would have been registered as the largest transfer in history and the television rights of the Saudi league would have skyrocketed in the market. While waiting for the actors to determine the value of the competition, no operator has bought the rights.

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