The stars signing up for Saudi’s football project

The stars signing up for saudi's football project0

This year, Saudi Arabia has become a major player in the football trade market. Its high pay have attracted big names like Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar to the oil-rich Gulf country.

Here, AFP Sport looks at some of the most famous people who have moved:

The moon

Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Riyadh in January to play for Al-Nassr was the first thing that got people around the world interested in the Saudi Pro League.

The 2022 Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, who played with him at Real Madrid, then signed a three-year deal with Al-Ittihad in June.

A few days later, another French player, N’Golo Kante, also signed a three-year deal with the same Jeddah-based club.

Read on…

Saudi Pro League isn’t going anywhere!

The experienced player, who was on France’s team that won the 2018 World Cup, will play middle with Brazilian Fabinho, who is coming from Liverpool.

Riyad Mahrez, the captain of Algeria, has signed a four-year deal with Jeddah-based Al-Ahli. The deal is worth an estimated 35 million euros and comes after Mahrez scored a famous hat-trick in the FA Cup semi-final for Manchester City in April.

Sadio Mane, a Senegalese star who helped Liverpool win the Premier League and Champions League before going to Bayern Munich and winning the Bundesliga, signed with Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr at the beginning of this month for a reported salary of 40 million euros a year plus 10 million euros in performance bonuses.

Neymar, a Brazilian forward, signed a two-year deal with Al-Hilal on Tuesday. He had been with French winners Paris Saint-Germain for the past six years.

Sources close to the deal say that, like Benzema and Kante, his pay will be around 100 million euros per season.

PSG is expected to get the same amount as a fee, which is a lot less than the world record fee of 222 million euros that Barcelona paid for his services in 2017.

After their best days

In Saudi Arabia, a lot of big names in the sport are starting new stories, including some of the best players in the world.

Marcelo Brozovic, who was captain of Inter Milan in last year’s Champions League final, has signed a three-year contract with Al-Nassr. Al-Nassr is said to have paid 18 million euros to get Brozovic.

Jordan Henderson, who used to be the captain of Liverpool, has joined Al-Ettifaq until 2026. This has drawn a lot of criticism because Henderson has supported the LGBTQ community in the past, and homosexuality is illegal in Saudi Arabia.

Roberto Firmino, a Brazilian international who played for Liverpool for eight years, left the team to join Al-Ahli, which has also signed Senegalese player Edouard Mendy.

Kalidou Koulibaly, on the other hand, left Stamford Bridge to play for Al-Hilal for what is said to be 23 million euros.

Getting better

People are going to the Gulf who aren’t just old stars.

Seko Fofana, a 28-year-old defender from Ivory Coast, has also joined Ronaldo at Al-Nassr. He left French team Lens, which is getting ready to return to the Champions League, to join Al-Nassr.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, a 28-year-old Serbian defender, has signed a three-year deal with Al-Hilal after spending eight years with Lazio.

He will be joined by Ruben Neves, a star player from Portugal who is 26 years old and was once thought to be headed to Barcelona.

Allan Saint-Maximin, a Frenchman who is 26 years old, has joined Al-Ahli from Newcastle. Newcastle is owned by the Public Investment Fund, which is 80% owned by the Saudi government.

The trainers

Famous trainers have also joined the Saudi Pro League.

Steven Gerrard left Aston Villa in October and signed with Al-Ettifaq until 2025. A video of him presenting himself in stumbling Arabic has gone popular on social media.

Slaven Bilic, who used to be the coach of both Croatia and West Ham, will join the Al-Fateh side.

Jorge Jesus, who used to be the coach of Benfica, left Fenerbahce in June and went back to Al-Hilal, where he worked in 2018-2019.

And at the end of July, Al-Ahli chose Matthias Jaissle, a 35-year-old German boss who is seen as one of the most talented of his generation, to be their new coach.

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