Saudi Arabia vs World Football: Are Saudi Arabia going to change the entire landscape of football… Or are they simply another China?


While the likes of European superstars such as Kylian Mbappe and Harry Kane might have a huge amount of speculation surrounding their futures this summer, it has undoubtedly been Saudi Arabia that has stolen all of world football’s headlines.

In what feels like a watershed moment, the Middle Eastern giants have stormed their way into the conversation and have embarked on what has been a hugely controversial takeover attempt.

Since it was announced back in December that five-time Ballon d’Or winner and modern-day icon Cristiano Ronaldo would be joining Al Nassr following his second stint with Manchester United, the Saudis have gone into overdrive and are on a mission to sweep up all of Europe’s biggest names.

Welcoming now-former Real Madrid talisman Karim Benzema to the Middle East earlier in the month in a deal that could see the French striker earn in the region of £172million each season, Europe’s elite domestic leagues have certainly taken notice from afar.

Just six months removed from Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup and becoming the first Middle Eastern country to do so, Saudi Arabia have made it clear that they are now vying to become football’s elite domestic league.

However, while the Saudis might simply be looking to use their unimaginable cash to break into football’s elite, many feel that it is nothing more than the most obvious use of sportswashing.

Seen to have essentially bought the sport of golf following LIV’s hugely controversial merger with the PGA this month, Saudi Arabia has been alleged to be using sport as a way to cover their rather public human rights issues.

Spending a jaw-dropping amount of money this summer and already recruiting a host of heavyweight names, Saudi’s takeover attempt does certainly feel like a huge moment in the history of the beautiful game.

Why Neves’ decision is a real worry for Europe’s elite

While Saudi Arabia might have initially spent a staggering amount on recruiting aging European icons such as Benzema, Ronaldo and N’Golo Kante, it is one specific new arrival that will be the biggest worry to all of Europe’s elite domestic leagues.

Really demonstrating their unmatchable financial pull after signing 26-year-old Wolves skipper Ruben Neves for a club record fee of £47million, many across Europe were left hugely concerned by the face that a player in the peak of his career has decided to head out to the Middle East.

Likewise, with continued links over what would be a seismic move for Manchester City talisman and fellow Portuguese international Bernardo Silva, the Saudis have made it clear that they are desperate to hoover up Europe’s blossoming superstars.

However, while Saudi might have already stated that this is just the very start of their plans, their financial approach and underlying motivations have seen them receive a public backlash.

Along with former Manchester United defender and Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville calling on the Premier League to implement a brief transfer ban on players heading to the Middle East, Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin has also voiced his concerns.

“It’s mainly a mistake for Saudi Arabian football,” he told Dutch broadcaster NOS. “They should invest in academies, bring their own coaches and develop their own players.


“The system of buying players that are almost at the end of their career is not the system that develops football. It was a similar mistake in China when they all brought players who are at the end of their career.


“It’s not only about money. Players want to win top competitions. And the top competition is in Europe.”


A growing influence in English football?

While Saudi Arabia might have already stolen all of the headlines this summer, the Middle Eastern giants have become a growing figure in English football over the past 24 months.

In what was a hugely controversial takeover back in October 2021 that became a worldwide story, a Saudi-backed consortium known as PIF took charge of Newcastle following a huge amount of public backlash.

Although the Premier League might have stated that they approved the takeover after receiving “legally binding assurances” that the Saudi state would not control the club, there is a huge amount of skepticism surrounding how exactly that could be possible.

With PIF reported to have assets in the region of £250million, Newcastle became the richest football club in the world overnight and the Saudis had officially got their foot in the Premier League door.

However, while some might feel that Newcastle’s stunning top-four finish last season was somewhat tainted by their controversial ownership model, the Magpies are not the only Premier League club that have since been proven to have Saudi links.

Earlier in the month it was suggested that the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF) has an investment in Clearlake Capital, the private equity firm that now co-owns Chelsea.

With a raft of players such as Kante, Hakim Ziych, Kalidou Koulibaly and Edouard Mendy already leaving Stamford Bridge in search of a jaw-dropping payday in the Middle East, there is growing scrutiny over whether Chelsea are using Saudi Arabia as a potential way around their FFP issues.

How Saudi Arabia are a different animal to China

Already spending a jaw-dropping amount of money this summer and with no intention of slowing down, it isn’t a surprise that comparisons to the Chinese Super League have been made.

The CSL for a brief period, attracted much interest and paid huge sums to attract high-profile players, such as former Manchester United and City forward Carlos Tevez

However, while the Chinese Super League might have eventually been hit with a financial crisis and decided to abandon their revolutionary plans just a few years after bursting onto the scene, Saudi Arabia is built on more solid foundations.

Aside from the perceived sportswashing that is underway in the Middle East, Saudi’s dramatic introduction into the footballing world also has a real political motivation behind it – something that is very different to the Chinese Super League and their motivations.

While China do not care about what their perceived image on the world stage is, Saudi Arabia do crave acknowledgment and influence among their fellow world superpowers and they have already publicly stated that they are in it for the long hall – whether the footballing community likes it or not.

Although the Chinese might have eventually realised that their plan to conquer the footballing world was financially unstable, Saudi Arabia are a different type of animal and they have more than enough finances to keep their dream alive for as long as they wish.

While the Chinese Super League might have been a brief inconvenience to the Premier League and the rest of Europe’s elite back in 2016, Saudi Arabia should be seen as far more of a disruptor to the establishment.

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