The Rise of Saudi Arabian Football: A New Destination for High-Profile Stars
In recent years, the Saudi Pro League has emerged as a new destination for high-profile football stars. The league has been able to attract some of the biggest names in football, thanks to its ability to offer whopping salaries and a new challenge in a different continent. The arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo at Al Nassr at the start of the year was the first major coup for a Saudi Arabian club, and it has paved the way for more players to follow suit.
Real Madrid legend Karim Benzema was the next big name to join the Saudi Pro League, signing for Al Ittihad on a free transfer earlier this month. The striker will be earning a staggering £200million-per-year in the Gulf nation, which equates to £6-a-second. Lionel Messi was also eyed up by Al Hilal, but he ultimately snubbed a switch to join MLS outfit Inter Miami. However, the club has immediately identified Neymar as their ideal alternative and is prepared to pay Paris Saint-Germain £38million for his services. Al Hilal is also closing in on a £47m transfer for Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves, who could be joined by five Chelsea players in Saudi Arabia.
Here, we take a look at an incredible starting XI in a 4-3-3 formation of those linked with a Saudi switch this summer.
Goalkeeper: Edouard Mendy
Blues goalkeeper Edouard Mendy looks set to link up with Al Ahli, with the Senegal international not in manager Mauricio Pochettino’s plans.
Defenders: James Tavernier, Ivan Perisic, Kalidou Koulibaly, Sergio Ramos
Slotting in at right-back is Rangers skipper James Tavernier, with journalist Dean Jones told the 31-year-old could be set for a bumper contract. Appearing on the opposite side of the defence is versatile left-back Ivan Perisic, who could leave Tottenham after just one season. CBS Sports journalist Ben Jacobs appeared on the Last World On Spurs podcast, where he stated that Al Hilal has the Croatian on their radar. Featuring at centre-back is Chelsea’s Kalidou Koulibaly – another player who Al Hilal is looking to secure the services of. Partnering him is Sergio Ramos, who is available on a free transfer after Paris Saint-Germain decided against offering him a new deal.
Midfielders: N’Golo Kante, Ruben Neves, Bernardo Silva
Another Chelsea man that is closing in on a switch is midfielder N’Golo Kante, who is understood to be set to join Benzema at Al Ittihad on a free transfer. Featuring alongside Kante is Neves, who despite pining for a move to Barcelona, is poised to join Al Hilal. Meanwhile, Manchester City treble winner Bernardo Silva is also attracting interest from Saudi sides, with The Athletic stating he has been presented with a lucrative offer.
Forwards: Hakim Ziyech, Romelu Lukaku, Neymar
Two Chelsea players then feature in attack, with Hakim Ziyech included on the right wing. After being denied a link-up with Messi at Parc des Princes in January, the Morocco star looks set to call Ronaldo a teammate as Al Nassr tries to sign the ex-Ajax man. His Blues teammate Romelu Lukaku, who spent the 2022/23 campaign on loan at Inter Milan, is also being chased by Saudi clubs. Completing the star-studded XI is Brazilian winger Neymar, with Les Parisiens known to be open to offloading the 31-year-old.
The standard of football in the Saudi Pro League is set to dramatically improve this summer, with more players ready to experience a new challenge in a different continent. The league has become a new destination for high-profile football stars, thanks to its ability to offer whopping salaries. With the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo at Al Nassr and the signing of Karim Benzema at Al Ittihad, more players are now ready to follow suit. The Saudi Pro League is no longer seen as a minor league, and it is set to attract more big names in the future.