‘A league with a Ballon d’Or’…Ronaldo-Benzema signalling only brings out the ‘wallflowers’

‘You’re not going to go?’ It can no longer be dismissed as jirashi. Oil money makes Europe nervous. Saudi Arabia is taking the football world by storm this summer.

Even the English Premier League, which is said to be the most expensive league in Europe, can’t afford to spend as much as this. Saudi Arabia, which claims to have the most economic potential, is taking over the world class with its money.

Until now, the Saudi league has flown under the radar. It was simply known as a well-funded league that rewarded its players well. So it’s no surprise that Saudi players don’t make it to Europe.

However, there were ripples in the water. In the early 2000s, Al Ittihad turned to foreign players and spent money, winning back-to-back Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) titles, briefly earning them the title of Asian thugs, but they were not a consistent destination for skilled foreign players. It was, to put it bluntly, a region with clear limitations.

Then came the transfer that overshadowed the World Cup in Qatar last winter. The world’s best player, Cristiano Ronaldo, has signed for Saudi Arabia. The world was intrigued by his move to Al Nasr, an unfamiliar destination for a player who had said he wanted to play in Europe. As it turns out, Al Nasr didn’t get Ronaldo for nothing – they promised him an unheard-of €200 million salary. With the opportunity to become the highest paid player in the world without leaving Europe, Ronaldo headed to Saudi Arabia.

The impact of Ronaldo’s move was huge. It paved the way for big names to come to Saudi Arabia. As Ronaldo himself says, “I had 100 per cent influence on the superstars coming to Saudi Arabia”. True to Ronaldo’s word, Saudi clubs have been collecting big names this summer.

Another trigger man is Karim Benzema (Al Ittihad). Benzema was enjoying the twilight of his career at Real Madrid. He had just won the prestigious Ballon d’Or and was one of the best players in Europe, but he decided to move to Al Ittihad, who promised to invest in him for the same salary as Ronaldo.

Al Ittihad were very aggressive, as if they wanted to restore their former glory. In addition to Benzema, they spent €47 million on Fabinho, who was at the peak of his powers at Liverpool. They also acquired N’Golo Kante, who was considered the best player at Chelsea. N’Golo Kante will cost €100 million.

Top-flight side Al Hilal have also joined the fray. The 18-time Saudi league champions opened with Khalidou Koulibaly as their challengers grew in stature. They then brought in Hubeng Neves, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, and Malcolm, a trio that has a lot to say. For players in the prime of their 20s, Saudi Arabia is no longer a fringe destination. It’s a sign that the lure of competing with Europe is still there.

For the veterans, there was a sense of immediacy that drew them to Saudi Arabia. Al Ahli, relatively untouched, responded with Premier League players Roberto Firmino, Riyad Mahrez, Alain Saint-Maximin and Edouard Mendy. Mahrez helped Manchester City to a treble just a few months ago, while Saint-Maximin is one of the Premier League’s best dribblers. Mendy has also been a constant in Chelsea’s goal. The big deals are still to come. Barcelona midfielder Frank Kessie is also close to signing.온라인바카라

Also keep an eye on Al Etihad, who have used their Liverpool connections to secure Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Mousa Dembele. Al Nasr, who first made a splash with Ronaldo, have followed in the footsteps of Marcelo Brozovic, Seko Fofana and Alex Telles with Sadio Mane. Mane is a big name who until recently was the Premier League’s top scorer and played for Bayern Munich.

Saudi Arabia is now the first league to have two Ballon d’Or winners. It’s also a place where the world’s best can come together. Some say it won’t last long, as the Chinese Super League once experienced. But Saudi Arabia, which has paid its players what they deserve, has certainly taken the opportunity to revive its fortunes.

For the 2023-24 season, the Saudi Professional League will be broadcast live in the country exclusively on SPOTV NOW, owned by sports broadcaster Spotify. It will also be available on premium sports TV channels SPOTV ON and SPOTV Prime.

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