Why are soccer icons switching to Saudi clubs? World Cup winner joins Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema on $100M contract

After Cristiano Ronaldo made the switch to Saudi club Al Nassr, more football stars are joining and being offered to join Saudi clubs as part of a grand plan by the kingdom.

After Cristiano Ronaldo joined Al Nassr for a contract worth $200 million, and Karim Benzema joined Al Ittihad on a similarly big contract, more stars are expected to follow suit.

According to renowned journalist Fabrizio Romano, the Saudi league is planning the transfer of seven more top players from Europe.

The players are Sergio Busquets, N’Golo Kante, Iago Aspas, Jordi Alba, Sergio Ramos, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The other one was Lionel Messi, who was offered a $500 million dollar contract by Al Hilal. But the Argentine has instead chosen to represent Inter Miami in Major League Soccer.

The league was relatively unknown to the rest of the world until Ronaldo’s high-profile transfer. So why are all these stars interested in joining the Saudi League?

The answer seems to be ‘money’. Massive paydays are primarily attracting the best talents to the Arab country. They are handing huge contracts to pretty much everyone that wants to join their league. At the current rate, It should be a matter of time before the Saudi League becomes one of the biggest leagues in the world.

How are Saudi Clubs affording all these blockbusters signing?

The Saudi league is different from the rest of the world. The state is actually the owner of four of the nation’s biggest clubs, Al Hilal, Al Nassr, Al Ittihad, and Al Ahli. However, each club has been privatized, and 75% of each club belongs to Public Investment Fund (PIF). The PIF is worth billions of dollars and offers a seemingly ‘bottomless’ source of money for the clubs.

The rest of the clubs also belong to big companies, such as Al-Qadsiah owned by oil giant Aramco, and Al-Suqoor by NEOM among many others.

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Saudi clubs are also not constrained by UEFA’s spending limits, which means the PIF can give high salaries to attract elite players to the Middle East.

The Saudi League also receives much financial and political support from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. That is why the clubs are able to spend as much money as they want without any ‘visible’ repercussions.

Top 5 richest Saudi Clubs?

There are no reliable sources to determine which club is the richest since four of them are owned by the state itself. However, we know the transfer spending of each club for the past five years. All data is provided by Transfermarkt.

At the top, is Al Nassr, the current home of Cristiano Ronaldo. They have spent more than 88 million euros in the past five years. Often considered to be one of the best clubs in the country, they are partly owned by the PIF and the government.

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In second place, is Al Ittihad, the current champions of the Saudi League. They spent around 82 million euros, similar in range to Al Nassr. Al Ittihad is currently expecting Karim Benzema to join their squad.

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Third is Al Hilal who spent around 73 million euros. Al Hilal is one of the most successful clubs and is considered the best club in Saudi Arabia. It is partly owned by the PIF and the government. They had proposed a record-breaking deal to Lionel Messi, though he rejected it.

Fourth is Al Shabab, who spent around 25 million euros. And fifth is Ettifaq with 10.25 million euros.

How do Saudi teams perform in continental tournaments?

Saudi clubs have a history of success in the AFC Champions League, the Asian version of the Champions League. However, only two teams have won the competition.

Al Hilal is in fact the most successful club in Asia, having won the AFC four times, the record number of the title won by a team. They have also played the most finals with nine appearances.

Al Ittihad has won it twice. Al Ahli, Al Nassr, and Al Shabab have all been runners-up previously. 

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The Suadi clubs usually perform well and almost always get to the latter stages of the competition. With the increase of foreign stars and investment, we could see further Saudi dominance in the AFC.

Fazal Al Bashar

481 articles

Fazal is a passionate soccer aficionado, who when not discovering the latest soccer stories and rumors, indulges in playing FIFA all night. While he sucks at the sport, he knows the who and what in all things soccer-related.


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