Is Saudi Pro League over-spending a myth? Transfer fees far lower than most fans realise

One signing over €60m 

Is Saudi Pro League over-spending a myth? Transfer fees far lower than most fans realise

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Saudi Pro League (SPL) clubs are widely perceived as spending lavishly on transfers, which provides an avenue for European clubs to offload unwanted assets – but how accurate is that narrative? The SPL skyrocketed in prominence after Cristiano Ronaldo joined Al-Nassr in December 2022 with the Portuguese superstar the figurehead for a new era. 

Aside from receiving an astronomical wage, Ronaldo was afforded promises about significant investment to improve the quality of the league. The signal that commitment would be delivered arrived in July 2023 when Saudi’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) acquired a 75% stake in four clubs – Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahli, Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal. The aim was to turn the SPL into one of the top ten leagues in the world and vast amounts were spent on recruiting notable players from Europe. Only Premier League clubs (€2.79 billion) spent more than Saudi clubs (€950 million) last summer but can European clubs really rely on selling players for massive fees to the SPL to raise funds? 

How much do Saudi Pro League clubs really spend on players?

It’s regularly construed, especially in England, that clubs can offload unwanted players for a premium fee to Saudi clubs. However, it’s uncertain whether Saudi clubs will spend as lavishly this summer with league officials conscious of improving the overall strength of the league by raising investment for smaller clubs rather than a handful of top clubs. Rule changes will increase the quota for foreign players from eight to ten – two must be U21 – but clubs might need to sell some major stars before signing new players. 

As the graphic above indicates, the perception that Saudi clubs pay massive transfer fees isn’t  the reality. While there’s undeniably been significant investment in players across the league, only five players have joined Saudi Pro League clubs for more than €50m. Additionally, only ten players arrived for fees in excess of €30m with Neymar’s €90m move from PSG to Al-Hilal the only transfer fee in excess of €60m. To put that into perspective, 33 players joined Premier League clubs last summer for more than €30m. It’s inarguable that Saudi clubs are paying inordinate wages to attract players but that isn’t mirrored in transfer fees. Saudi Pro League clubs are buying the majority of players between the €0-€30m range and that policy is unlikely to change drastically this summer unless star players can be convinced to leave Europe.

Will Saudi Pro League clubs spend big this summer?

It’s deemed unlikely that Saudi clubs will spend as much this summer as they did last summer. Moreover, it’s understood that league officials are increasingly reticent to overspend on ageing stars with an emphasis on recruiting younger talents. In their bid to raise competitiveness across the league, Saudi officials are understood to be seeking investment from private companies into clubs outside of the four PIF backed teams. 

While spending isn’t expected to exceed last summer, it will certainly be significantly higher than in the January window when clubs spent a total of just €27.1m. That provided an indication that Saudi clubs are adapting their approach despite constant speculation of ‘big-money’ transfers in January. In comparison, Premier League clubs spent €137m, La Liga clubs €94m and Ligue 1 clubs €266m.

Premier League players linked with moves to Saudi this summer

As illustrated in an earlier graphic, Saudi clubs haven’t spend eye-watering transfer fees for players with only 10 signings over €30m. It’s unlikely that SPL clubs will abandon this approach unless the possibility of signing major players emerges. Saudi’s record signing is Neymar and players with this worldwide standing help to significantly boost the profile of the league. SPL clubs could feasibly break their transfer record to sign a player that is renowned across the globe with Kevin de BruyneMo Salah and Casemiro the biggest Premier League stars to be linked. 

All three players are reaching the twilight of their careers and Manchester United would be open to offers for Casemiro with the Brazilian in decline. Salah only has one year left on his contract and although Liverpool rebuffed massive bids last summer, Arne Slot could consider selling the Egyptian as the Anfield club enter a new era. De Bruyne is still a world class operator but he’s experienced fitness issues and he’s spoken recently about the attraction in moving to Saudi due to the financial benefits.

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