The Portuguese superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, moved to play for Al-Nassr in the Saudi Pro League in January from Manchester United, and since then, many other big names in European football have followed in his footsteps by making moves to the Saudi and Qatari leagues in recent times.
Saudi clubs have been active in the European market this season, luring star players from some of the top clubs in Europe with their lucrative high wage offers. Ronaldo is often credited for the mass exodus of high-profile players to the Middle East. Now reports claim the Saudi League also intends to hire match officials from Europe.
European referees draw Saudi interest
Spending over £800 million this summer, Saudi clubs aimed to elevate the league’s profile by attracting high-profile players to compete in the Saudi Arabian league. The likes of Karim Benzema, Neymar, Sadio Mane, N’Golo Kante Riyad Mahrez, and Fabinho are now settled in Arabian soil.
This substantial investment was aimed at enhancing the league’s standards and establishing Saudi Arabia on the footballing map alongside the top South American and European leagues.
Not only players, but top managers have also made moves to Gulf states, including Steven Gerrard and Nuno Espirito Santo, who previously managed Wolves, as well as Luis Castro, who has managed Porto and Shakhtar and now is in charge of Al-Nassr.
According to reports, the Saudi Pro League is currently determined to recruit some of the top European match officials and referees from the Premier League. Recently, the clubs have expressed concerns about the refereeing standards in the Pro League.
Saudi Pro League’s global ranking
Currently, the Saudi Arabian league is one of the most talked-about leagues in the world, thanks to the substantial investments made by both clubs and the Saudi government.
In Asia, the Saudi Arabian league is regarded as one of the elite football leagues, alongside the Japanese and Korean leagues, as well as the Qatari league. Pro League clubs have achieved considerable success in Asian continental competitions. However, on a global scale, it still lags behind some of the other top leagues.
According to data from OPTA, the Saudi Pro League is ranked 36th among domestic leagues in the Opta Power Rankings for 2023. The Gulf League significantly lags behind other major leagues, such as Major League Soccer (MLS) in the USA.
In the rankings, all of the top ten spots are occupied by European leagues, and notably, the Brazilian Serie A league is ranked tenth. Therefore, the Saudi Arabian league is not yet among the top leagues globally. However, with the significant investments being made, there is certainly potential for it to climb up in the rankings in the coming years.
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