Saudi Stamping Its Mark
Saudi Arabia has stamped its mark on global football with the arrival of several high-profile and renowned players. Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, Hakim Ziyech, and Ruben Neves have departed La Liga and the Premier League respectively, with others destined to follow in their path.
The Saudi’s sudden spending spree has people worried and, at times, jaded with the direction of football. Many, including Gary Neville, have called for an embargo on the Middle Eastern country to halt their impending monopoly over the beautiful game. The nation has already bought Newcastle United and signed Cristiano Ronaldo, and it looks like their pulling-power will only get stronger as time goes on.
What the recent influx of Saudi transfers reminds us of, though, it’s that football is and has always been a business. Whether it was Alf Common’s £1,000 transfer to Middlesbrough in 1905 or Neymar’s £200 million move to PSG in 2017, the beautiful game has always been a sport where money talks.
Human Rights Issues Still At Forefront
Saudi Arabia announced their Saudi Vision 2030 plan in 2016 and its mission was to wean the nation off its oil-dependence and expand into new, more sustainable forms of income. Large contracts with Formula One, WWE, and boxing soon followed, before the 2021 purchase of Newcastle United put Saudi sports at the centre of public discussion.
Discussion inevitably started around Saudi Arabia’s human rights policies and their overall outlook on how their country should be run. I’m no geopolitical expert, but one thing I do know is that Saudi Arabia’s footballing heritage is hardly a rich tapestry and their sudden arrival on the footballing scene feels a little too manufactured for my liking.
Ronaldo the first big signing
I can’t begrudge the players who accept the lucrative contracts offered to them as many would do the same in the same situation and most of them, barring Neves and Ziyech, are coming toward the end of their careers.
Kante and Benzema have nothing to prove in the game, whilst Ronaldo’s credentials speak for themselves. I do, however, worry about younger players heading over to Saudi Arabia as it’s clear that the Saudi league doesn’t have much to offer in the way of elite football and new challenges.
Whilst Saudi Arabia has every right to diversify its economy, discussion about the country should, and must, be on the forefront of peoples’ minds. I’m all for letting countries develop their footballing pedigree, but that doesn’t mean the discussion should be free from nuance.
Is The Saudi League The New MLS?
It’s inevitable that the Saudi Arabian league will be dismissed by most as a ‘retirement’ league, much as the Chinese Super League and Major League Soccer were only a few years ago.
China’s strategy of signing well-known players in the twilight of their careers hardly worked and I can’t see the plan suddenly paying-off in the Middle East. If Saudi Arabia is serious about being taken seriously, then it’ll need to develop its own players and have them, ironically, move to major European clubs.
Whether we like it or not, the presence of Saudi Arabia in global football will only get larger.
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