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Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Jordan Henderson signings just the start for ‘ambitious’ Saudi clubs, says Pro League executive… with over £350m already splashed out on big-name buys this summer
The Saudi Pro League is just getting started following the high-profile signings of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Jordan Henderson in recent months, one of its leading executives has said.
Clubs in the Middle East country have splashed out over £350million so far this summer in a bid to establish the league as one of the world’s most popular.
Well-known players from the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Bayern Munich have been enticed to play in Saudi Arabia, while Al-Hilal made a jaw-dropping world record £259m bid for France star Kylian Mbappe last month.
While Saudi spending on players is still dwarfed by England’s Premier League – whose 20 clubs have shelled out over £1.1billion this summer – it represents a clear signal of intent.
‘I think the budgets are in place for a number of years – you know, I don’t see this slowing down,’ Peter Hutton, who sits on the Saudi Pro League board, told the BBC.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival at Al-Nassr at the start of the year has led to a number of high-profile players signing for clubs in the Saudi Pro League
Karim Benzema signed for Al-Ittihad following his exit from Real Madrid earlier this summer
Saudi club Al-Hilal made an audacious world record £259m offer for PSG’s Kylian Mbappe
‘I’ve worked in sport for 40 years and I’ve never seen a project as big, ambitious and as determined to be a success.
‘The investment from Saudi is remarkable. It’s certainly been a big acceleration.
‘This doesn’t necessarily mean that Europe isn’t going to be as strong in world football going forward. But I would say that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
‘It’s good that football has strength around the world.’
The league shot to prominence when Al-Nassr signed global superstar Cristiano Ronaldo following his exit from Manchester United at the beginning of the year.
Hutton said that deal led to 170 different countries agreeing deals to broadcast matches from the league around the world.
Since then, the country’s Public Investment Fund [PIF] has taken over four leading clubs to supply the financial muscle needed to lure the world’s best talents.
Benzema signed for Al-Ittihad following his departure from Real Madrid, while Liverpool’s former captain Henderson completed a transfer to Al-Ettifaq – coached by Steven Gerrard – this summer.
Jordan Henderson (right) has teamed up with his former Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard at Al-Ettifaq ahead of the new season
Riyad Mahrez is unveiled by Al-Ahli after making the move to Saudi from Manchester City
N’Golo Kante, Roberto Firmino, Ruben Neves, Riyad Mahrez and Sadio Mane are other prominent names who have swapped European football for the Pro League in recent weeks.
However, Paris Saint-Germain star Mbappe turned down Al-Hilal’s extraordinary offer amid interest from Real Madrid.
Hutton added on BBC Radio 5 Live: ‘The good thing about the Mbappe bid and signings like Ruben Neves is it shows it’s not just old players that are being looked at.
‘It’s more a question of what will add value, what will add glamour, what will add star factor.’