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Saudi Arabia threat ends: how much did the SPL spend in summer 2023?

Later than the leagues across Europe, the Saudi Pro League’s transfer window has finally closed with an overall spending total of around $900 million.

Later than the leagues across Europe, the Saudi Pro League’s transfer window has finally closed with an overall spending total of around $900 million.

On Thursday 7 September at 22:59, the transfer market in Saudi Arabia closed. European clubs can now breathe a sigh of relief. The summer of 2023 will be remembered for the fossil-fuel-rich nation’s emergence into the world of football. They had signalled their intentions earlier with the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo at the beginning of the year, and months later, the Ministry of Sports of the country announced the acquisition of the four major clubs (Al Hilal, Al Nassr, Al Ittihad, and Al Ahli). It was a clear statement of what was to come.

Saudi Pro League arrives in 2023

The massive and extravagant investment didn’t take long to materialise. Their primary argument to persuade footballers is the exorbitant salaries, doubling and tripling the figures they earn in Europe. Of course, much of the public statements from the players’ side of the fence is around “growing the game” and “sharing cultures.” Call me cynical but isn’t it funny how none of them moved to the leagues of India or Bangladesh, for similar reasons.

As well as crazy salaries, (they do know that nearly 10% of the global population is living on around $2 per day, right?) the clubs/state have also demonstrated a substantial financial potential to compensate the clubs that owned the players. This allowed them, for example, to pay a fixed sum of €90 million ($96.4m), with an additional 40 million in easily achievable performance-based incentives, and another 10 million that is more challenging, specifically for Neymar.

PlayerTeamPrice (€ million)
NeymarAl Hilal90
MalcolmAl Hilal60
OtavioAl Nassr60
Ruben NevesAl Hilal55
FabinhoAl Ittihad46
MitrovicAl Hilal40
Milinkovic-SavicAl Hilal40
Gabri VeigaAl Ahli40
MahrezAl Ahli35
ManéAl Nassr30
LaporteAl Nassr27.5
Saint-MaximinAl Ahli27
KoulibalyAl Hilal23
BondAl Hilal21
CarrascoAl Shabab15
HendersonAl Ettifaq14
KessieAl Ahli12.5
FirminoAl AhliFree
BenzemaAl IttihadFree
KanteAl IttihadFree

The Brazilian has been the most expensive signing of this summer in the Saudi league, with his new club, Al Hilal, having shelled out for the PSG superstar that could have been so, so much more.

The club has invested a staggering €353 million in total, placing them well ahead of the other three major clubs. Al Ahli spent 194 million, Al Nassr invested 165 million, and Al Ittihad’s expenditure amounted to 110 million.

These figures propel the Saudi league to the second position on the list of leagues that have spent the most money this summer, with a total expenditure of $875.4 million. It’s worth noting that the total sales from the entire league do not even reach the 50 million mark.

LeagueExpenditure (approx. $ million)
Premier League (England)1, 980
Saudi Pro League875.4
Ligue 1 (France)859.7
Serie A (Italy)711.0
Bundesliga (Germany)762.4
LaLiga (Spain)405.6

Saudi’s target veterans and...

The majority of players who have been signed are veteran players who could no longer secure the prominent roles they had become accustomed to. This includes the aforementioned Neymar, as well as Benzema, Kanté, Fabinho, Mahrez, Mané, Koulibaly, Henderson, and Firmino. While they remained more than valuable for elite teams, and certainly capable of holding their own in any league, none of their clubs posed significant obstacles to their departures, allowing a huge pay day to end their careers.

However, it’s not just this type of player that has left. They have also managed to attract some young players, and even those in the prime of their careers, to pack their bags and venture to a new continent. For instance, Rúben Neves, who was coveted by clubs like Barcelona. There’s also goalkeeping star Bono, who gained significant attention after his outstanding World Cup performance.

And then there was Gabri Veiga, a gem from LaLiga coveted by clubs all over Europe, as well as Mitrovic, Milinkovic-Savic, Laporte, and Saint-Maximin.

But as their transfer market closed, some big names touted, including Mohamed Salah, David de Gea and Jadon Sancho, did not materialise. What happens in the subsequent windows is as yet an unknown threat to established clubs and competitions. That said, so is the threat of player ‘churn’ to the ambitious Arab nation if the project does not succeed.