The Saudi Pro League is “determined to be a success” and will keep splashing the cash to attract some of the biggest names in football, according to one of its top executives.
Clubs in the oil-rich Gulf state have lured global stars, with Karim Benzema, Jordan Henderson and Sadio Mane among those following in Cristiano Ronaldo’s footsteps
Last month Al-Hilal made a 300-million-euro ($328 million) bid for Kylian Mbappe, though the Paris Saint-Germain striker reportedly refused to meet with officials from the club.
The influx has taken place despite frequent criticism that Saudi Arabia’s lavish spending amounts to “sportswashing” — an attempt to shift the focus from its record on human rights.
British director Peter Hutton, who sits on the league’s board, told the BBC: “I think the budgets are in place for a number of years — you know, I don’t see this slowing down.”
He added: “I’ve worked in sport for 40 years and I’ve never seen a project as big, as ambitious and as determined to be a success.”
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said the Saudi league has “completely changed the market” and he expects more high-profile players to move there.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp fears the late closure of the transfer window in Middle East nation could have a detrimental effect on European clubs.
But Hutton said it was “not necessarily a bad thing” if European football lost a little of its power, pointing out Saudi clubs had still only spent a quarter or a fifth of what Premier League clubs had during the current transfer window.
“This doesn’t necessarily mean that Europe isn’t going to be as strong in world football going forward,” he said.
“But I would say that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s good that football has strength around the world.”
Hutton said the Mbappe bid and the signing of 26-year-old Wolves and Portugal midfielder Ruben Neves shows it is not just older players who are being lured to Saudi Arabia.
And he is confident that commercial success will follow.
“When Ronaldo signed for Al Nassr we suddenly had this interest from international broadcasters,” he said. “Last year, we ended up in over 170 territories once Ronaldo signed.
“It’s clearly something that’s caught the imagination of broadcasters worldwide.”
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