Saudi Arabia’s rise in the soccer world looks to be bad news for Major League Soccer. The North American league has typically been a quality destination for players in the autumn of their careers. For better or for worse, MLS developed that reputation as a place players go in the twilight of their playing days. However, the Saudi Pro League may be leapfrogging MLS in attracting these types of players.
While many assumed Cristiano Ronaldo would join an MLS side after departing one of Europe’s elite clubs, the Portuguese superstar instead opted to sign with Al Nassr back in December. MLS may have certainly been an option for Ronaldo at the time, but the league could not compete monetarily with the Saudi Pro League. The Portugal international currently rakes in over $200 million per season to play in the Middle East. This is, for now at least, the biggest annual contract in soccer.
Saudi league making moves that MLS simply cannot afford
The Saudi league is, however, not just stopping at Ronaldo. Real Madrid legend Karim Benzema recently announced that he would be joining his former teammate in the Middle East. The French striker is reportedly earning just over $100 million per season on a two-year deal with Al-Ittihad, the club that beat Ronaldo’s Al Nassr to the league title this past season.
Along with these two massive done deals, Saudi clubs are targeting Lionel Messi and N’Golo Kante as well. Messi has left Paris Saint-Germain and is now a free agent. Like Messi, Kante is also a free agent. Both players have not committed to any deal with a Saudi team just yet, but are mulling massive offers. Messi is reportedly considering a $400 million annual contract, while Kante has been offered over $100 million per season.
Ronaldo’s wages dwarf highest MLS team salary
To put these huge contracts in perspective, the current highest-paid player in MLS makes just over $8 million. According to The Athletic, Chicago Fire midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri became the league’s top earner when he arrived from Lyon in 2022. The news source also announced that the average MLS salary is around $530,000 per season, far less than the Saudi league’s lavish offerings. Shaqiri’s current club, Toronto FC, has the highest collective team salary in the league at just over $25 million.
The Saudi Pro League looks to further increase its financial power in the soccer world thanks to a specific move made on Monday. The Public Investment Fund (PIF) announced the four biggest clubs in the country transformed into companies. This essentially means that there will soon be even more investment in the quartet.
PIF is a sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. It was created in 1971 and is currently controlled by the nation’s de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman. The group previously funded a takeover of Premier League side Newcastle. Despite concerns of sportswashing and the other 19 English top-flight clubs opposing the move, PIF purchased their controlling stake in the team in 2021.
The Saudi clubs are not afraid to splash the cash. Even though the country has no shortage of money, there are concerns over the sustainability of the enterprise. For example, the Chinese Super League spent heavily on players in the 2000s and 2010s. After some changes to the financial power, the league tanked by the standard of global soccer. Nevertheless, Ronaldo recently proclaimed that the league will soon become one of the top soccer divisions in the world.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Xinhua
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