Saudi Arabian football clubs splashed $957 million on players in the summer transfer window, with a net spend of $907 million that was second only to England’s Premier League, Deloitte said on Friday.
Star players such as Neymar and Karim Benzema were among 94 overseas acquisitions, including 37 from Europe’s top five leagues, the financial consultancy’s Sports Business Group said.
Much of the Saudi Pro League’s business was done with English Premier League clubs, which received $698 million in overseas transfer fees including $312 million from Saudi teams.
The Pro League’s net spend, deducting money received from selling players, was $907 million, placing it behind the Premier League’s net spend of $1.39 billion.
Saudi clubs spent $148 million in France’s Ligue 1, $122 million in Italy’s Serie A, $116 in Spain’s La Liga and $32 million in Germany’s Bundesliga, Deloitte said.
The Saudi Pro League’s high placing came despite a busy window where the big five’s gross spend was $6.1 billion, about a quarter higher than last summer’s $4.85 billion.
The Pro League, including four teams owned by the government’s oil-funded Public Investment Fund, has been buying players to revamp the league as part of the country’s ambitious economic diversification plan.
Deloitte’s figures do not include Al-Nassr’s signing of Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, who arrived in Riyadh in January in a two-and-a-half-year deal said to total 400 million euros.
Izzy Wray of the Sports Business Group said it was the first time since 2016 that an international league had outspent any of Europe’s big five in a transfer window.
“The ambitious number of player acquisitions and the calibre of players signed by Saudi Pro League clubs demonstrate the kingdom’s commitment to propelling the SPL to become a leading football league on the world-stage,” Wray said.
“This is still early days of what we can call phase one of the Saudi Pro League project, and the futuristic view is also reflected by the lowered average age of the league compared to last season.”
Saudi officials have set the target of making the previously unheralded Pro League one of the world’s top five domestic football competitions as measured by the quality of players, stadium attendances and commercial success.
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