Is Saudi taking the high road with massive Football investment or will they crumble down like Chinese Super League?


Saudi Arabia’s top-flight football competition, the Saudi Pro League has seen a heavy influx of players in this summer window. Ever since, Al-Nassr, 17-time champions brought Cristiano Ronaldo last year, their rivals too have upped their game towards squad strengthening.

Obviously, lucrative contracts are involved to lure the players but is it going to become “One of the Top 5 Leagues in the world?” While many are approving this move by Saudi clubs, some are asking higher authorities to interfere and put a full stop to this supply.

Gary Neville was quoted saying, “The Premier League should put an instant embargo on transfers to Saudi Arabia to ensure the integrity of the game isn’t being damaged.” And it was only a few days ago that FIFA actually intervened and banned Al-Nassr from registering players for debts to a former player.

It is expected to be lifted by FIFA but are we seeing this sort of investment for the first time? Actually we are not. If we throwback to a decade ago, China’s top-division – the Chinese Super League became a hotspot for players to receive big money deals for less competitive football which would eventually secure generation’s wealth.

Oscar who signed for Shanghai SIPG in 2017 to become one of the highest paid footballers at that time stated that players can’t say no to big offers. CSL clubs continued their investment before the Chinese Government slapped strict transfer policies and Salary caps to keep things transparent and under control.

In what was slated t0 be a revolution ended up as nothing but exaggerated hype. Guangzhou Evergrande is the last of the 3 AFC Champions League winners from China and that too last happened in 2015.

How is Saudi Pro League different than China’s model?

There is no doubt that Pro League clubs have more money that CSL but most importantly they also seem to have a plan. Al-Nassr did target an ageing player but they targeted Cristiano Ronaldo, a name that has value and a name who has high wages.

Though it came of no help for Al-Nassr as they did not win any silverware but rival clubs have actually replicated their plan and executed in their own way. Al-Ittihad signed last year’s UCL and Ballon D’or winner Karim Benzema, Chelsea’s N’golo Kante who were performing well in Europe.

Al-Hilal ended a 26-year-old Ruben Neves’ long association with PL side Wolves to bring him to Saudi along with Chelsea’s Koulibaly. They were in line to bring Lionel Messi as well but the player himself walked off from crazy amount of money.

Saudi Arabia’s plan is to host the 2nd 48-team FIFA World Cup in 2030. Their neighbors Qatar hosted the recent World Cup and the nation is aiming to become the second Gulf nation to host the global event. Even if their national team did not get past group stages but they remained the only team to beat eventual champions Argentina.

With correct investment and more focus on grassroot levels to build a team with exposure to different styles of play, football in Saudi Arabia can grow as they have an added advantage of being capable of building infrastructure.

And if they did see China’s model closely, Saudi should not just try to bring players who want to earn money but also those who can leave something for them, meaning dominance in the AFC Champions League.