There is always a story which dominates the summer transfer window and it normally revolves around one or two players, however, the 2023 window has been consumed by an entire league from the Middle East. Yes, I’m talking about the Saudi Pro League (SPL)
You don’t have to be a football fan to be aware of the immense wealth which derives from Saudi Arabia but now fans everywhere, particularly the UK, are taking an even bigger interest in this cash as it is beginning to lay siege to their beautiful game.
It all started in January of this year when Al-Nassr secured the signing of the great Cristiano Ronaldo, paying the Portuguese phenomenon a ‘basic’ salary of £200m a year. Perhaps this incredible statement from the Saudis should have raised alarm bells across football but in all honestly it didn’t, and it was by all accounts, quickly forgotten about.
In hindsight, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) which funds the majority of all the Saudi Pro League clubs were giving us a little taster of what was to come and true to their word, they have taken this summer window by storm. It seems every day an elite player from Europe is linked with a move to sunnier climates and this isn’t down to the standard of football, this a result of their ability to offer the most of lucrative of contracts.
On the face of it, this is nothing new. For years players have been making pre-retirement moves to top up their bank accounts, first it was the MLS and then it was the Chinese Super League, however, the difference this time round is players are leaving in their prime, well before retirement has even crossed their mind. Take Ruben Neves for example, a good Premier League footballer who at the age of just 26 has joined Al Hilal at a time when he was a main interest of some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
Other names who have joined the Saudi league include Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, Eduard Mendy, Marcelo Brozovic and if the latest rumours are true, Riyad Mahrez and Jordan Henderson will soon be joining this illustrious list, with the latter seeing his pay check go from around £150,000 a week to £700,000 a week.
So, what does all this mean for the game we know and love? Well one thing’s for sure, it brings the passion and respect for the game into doubt. Football has been run by money for as long as we can remember but it was always able to hold onto the passion element, but with the Saudis, it looks like its losing grip.
I think we have to come to terms with the fact that unbelievable contracts are going to be thrown at all the best players around and we as fans just have to hope that football wins more than it loses. By football winning we mean players opting to remain in the best leagues in the world and look to create a legacy, rather than signing for the highest bidder.
Football has always been about striving to be the best and making the most out of what is effectively a short career. Players should want to win as many accolades as they can on both a team and personal level and as it stands the Saudi Pro League is still far behind the majority of leagues in terms of quality, although it is improving.
As a football fan myself I genuinely worry for where football is heading and I hope everyone involved in the game doesn’t lose sight of what really matters. Football has always been a sport that brings people together, regardless of social class, skin colour or language. This is why it is vitally important we don’t sell out to those with the most money.