Written By Onyeka Daniel
With the ways players are flocking to the middle East to join Saudi Arabian clubs, they could become the next destination for footballers looking for one last huge paycheck before calling it quit in their career.
While there have been lots of players joining Saudi clubs before, but it looks like the coming of Cristiano Ronaldo actually helped to open to the floodgate and make the League attractive for other top footballers, not to mention the lucrative salaries that they stand to gain too.
It should be recalled that the Portuguese international joined Al Nassr in January following his release from Manchester United on a world record deal worth a reported £175million-a-year.
Since then, Saudi Pro League clubs have made serious efforts to land a number of major signings this summer. On Monday, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, who own an 80% stake in Premier League club Newcastle United, confirmed that it had taken a 75% ownership stake in Saudi Pro League teams Al Ahli, Al Nassr, Al Hilal and Al Ittihad.
The remaining 25% of each club would be owned by non-profit foundations. These moves are part of wider economic plan that also include co-hosting the World Cup in 2030 while also attracting the best players to their League.
They’re also outside the purview of the financial fair play rule by UEFA, hence can afford to splash the cash without consequences. Following the announcement, Al Ittihad confirmed the signing of Karim Benzema following his release from Real Madrid.
The French striker signed a three-year contract reportedly worth £86million-per-season, totalling £258million. And Ronaldo claims he set the trend for players to start taking offers from Saudi Arabian clubs seriously, insisting the Pro League will become one of the ‘most important’ in the world.
“Let’s bug people a bit,” Ronaldo said during a press conference. “I knew that me going to Saudi Arabia would open a box and I wasn’t wrong. “I’m sure in a couple of years or three, this league is going to be one of the most important leagues in the world. We can see that already. Karim left [Real Madrid] already and I am 1000% sure that many more players will.”
N’Golo Kante is also closing in on joining him in Jeddah after agreeing a two-year deal at Al Ittihad worth £86-per-season. Crystal Palace winger, Wilfred Zaha is also said to be close to joining them in Saudi Arabia.
Few years ago, it was China that took this approach, offering huge salaries to players until the government put a stop to it recently. Still, the Saudi Pro League is set to miss out on its top target this summer with World Cup winning icon Lionel Messi looking likely to join MLS side Inter Miami.
The 35-year-old is a free agent following his release from Paris Saint-Germain and Al Hilal have reportedly offered him a two-year deal worth in excess of £1billion.
Barcelona winger, Ilias Akhomach is said to be close to joining another LaLiga side, snubbing a move to the EPL as he’s set to depart the Camp Nou in the summer when his contract with the Blaugrana expires.
The 19-year-old winger has been highlighted as one of the most talented in La Liga, but having failed to agree terms with Barcelona, is now available on a free this summer.
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He has had a group of high-profile suitors in recent months, including Leeds United, Arsenal, Milan and Sevilla, but reports from Spain has picked Villarreal as his most likely destination.
The Yellow submarines could complete the deal in the coming days, with Akhomach prioritizing his development and play regular football rather than join a top club or go for one that offers a huge salary.
While he may originally sign as a Villarreal B player, he is expected to be more involved with the first team, especially if Villarreal end up selling Samuel Chukwueze and Nicolas Jackson. Akhomach can play on either side if the wings and can also play through the middle as an attacking midfielder.
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