Saudi Arabia’s growing influence over the world of sports has been a major story this summer, thanks to the merger of the PGA Tour with LIV Golf and a sudden flurry of big-name football transfers to the Saudi League – much to the consternation of Gary Neville.
The arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo in January has been followed by Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante, with the likes of Ruben Neves, Kalidou Koulibaly and Thomas Partey seemingly set to follow them. This is great news for the Saudi Pro League’s TV ratings but Manchester United legend Gary Neville is concerned about the impact on football itself.
SAUDI TRANSFERS DOMINATE SUMMER WINDOW
This summer’s sudden flurry of activity seems to have been caused by the takeover of Al Nassr (Ronaldo’s club), Al Hilal, Al Ahli and Al Ittihad by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), a Saudi sovereign wealth fund that also owns 80% of Newcastle United.
The story gets even more complicated because of uncertainty over whether PIF also owns a stake in Clearlake Capital, who are the ultimate owners of Chelsea.
Given that Kante has already moved to a PIF-owned Saudi club and is likely to be followed by Koulibaly, Hakim Ziyech and Edouard Mendy, questions are being asked about what role PIF is playing in arranging and paying for these deals, particularly given Chelsea’s need to offload players from its bloated squad to meet Financial Fair Play rules.
So far the Premier League is reported to be confident that its Fair Market Value rules will ensure that transfer deals are being done fairly without the need to take any further action.
What has Gary Neville said about Saudi transfers?
However, Neville has called for a temporary halt to all Saudi transfers until the issue is cleared up. “The Premier League should put an instant embargo on transfers to Saudi Arabia to ensure the integrity of the game isn’t being damaged,” he told the BBC. “Checks should be made on the appropriateness of the transactions.
“If it comes through that process, obviously transfers could open up again. But I do believe, at this moment in time, transfers should be halted until you look into the ownership structure at Chelsea and whether there are beneficial transfer dealings that are improper.”
His Sky Sports colleague Jamie Carragher has also spoken out about reports that Bernardo Silva could be heading to Saudi Arabia: “Bernardo Silva is in his peak years and has been one of the best players in Europe for the last five years!
“I wasn’t worried about the Saudi League taking players in their 30’s, a touch worried with players below the elite, but if this happens it feels like a game changer. Saudi have taken over Golf, the big Boxing fights and now they want to take over football!! This sports washing needs to be stopped!”
It’s not all gone the way of the Saudi league this summer however, with Lionel Messi rejecting the chance to resume his rivalry with Ronaldo in the Pro League. The World Cup winner instead opted for Inter Miami. Romelu Lukaku, Ilkay Gundogan, Luka Modric and Son Heung-Min have all also rejected lucrative offers as have coaches Steven Gerrard and Jose Mourinho.