The Saudi Pro League is a financial spectacle these days, luring the world’s top players like moths to a flame. Because of all the attention it has received worldwide in the last year, the league’s plan has evolved significantly.

Cristiano Ronaldo‘s January 2023 transfer to Al-Nassr of the Saudi Pro League set the ball rolling. A watershed moment in Asian soccer history occurred when the Portuguese maestro moved to Saudi Arabia.

Even while the financial aspect of the contract was clear, many questioned his choice of a low-quality league. But the move proved to be so effective that it sparked interest almost immediately.

After Ronaldo nothing is the same

Superstars like Neymar, Karim Benzema, and N’Golo Kante left for the Middle East in pursuit of substantial salaries and transfers. The Public Investment Fund (PIF) acquired a 75 percent share in Al-Ahli, Al-Ittihad, Al-Hilal, and Al-Nassr in June 2023.

The purchase injected significant funds, enabling clubs to attract top players with lucrative contract offers. Karim Benzema, Sadio Mane, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Eduoard Mendy were among the first players enticed by the staggering incentives.

As the transfer market year came to a close, rumors circulated that many players. The list consisted of Argentine great Lionel Messi, French sensation Kylian Mbappe, and Egyptian superstar Mohamed Salah. Unfortunately for the league, none of these transfers came to fruition.

Although Mbappe turned down Al-Hilal’s offer, the club would have broken the transfer record. This was also true for Lionel Messi, one of the most famous players in the world. Even though the same team offered him a $1.6 billion contract, he turned it down and instead moved to Inter Miami.

Who else could move to Saudi Arabia?

The summer transfer window of 2023-24 saw Saudi Arabia emerge as a possible soccer superpower. The fact that some of the sport’s most famous players don’t play for European teams has, to a certain extent, shaken up the hegemonic position that Europe once had in clubs relative to other continents.

It may be naive to think that money could ruin a sport that has developed on a continent for more than a century, but we can’t rule out the possibility. They may put it on hold for the time being.

The Saudi government’s spending on soccer has been called “sportswashing” by some outside observers. This is an example of a government trying to use sports to clean up its image at home and abroad. It’s often linked to Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar, the latter of which gave the world its 2022 World Cup.

Either way, it looks like more A-listers will be relocating to the Middle East in 2024, continuing the spending binge that shocked the soccer world last year. Michael Emenalo, head of the Saudi Pro League, has just admitted that he is in the process of signing “at least seven” superstars.

“They’ve seen the level [of competition] and they’ve now heard from their friends that life is good and that there’s nothing to worry about. So their concern now is, Did we miss the gravy train?”, he told GQ Magazine.

Photo credit: IMAGO / Sports Press Photo.