Saudi pro-football league demonstrates pulling power with more foreign signings
Three Chelsea FC footballers are expected to be the latest players from the English Premier League to agree to a lucrative move to football clubs in Saudi Arabia. Al-Nassr is close to an agreement to sign Moroccan winger Hakim Ziyech, with personal terms not expected to be a problem, and Al-Ahli is in advanced talks over the signing of Senegalese goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, whose contract with Chelsea expires in 2025. The Jeddah-based club has also entered talks to sign defender Kalidou Koulibaly, who is also from Senegal.
Chelsea FC is also set to lose N’Golo Kante on a free transfer to Al-Ittihad. The London club is desperate to offload players after spending close to £600 million ($764m) since last summer.
A surprise addition for Saudi Arabia’s professional football league which demonstrated the clubs’ pulling power is the signing of 26-year-old Portuguese midfielder Ruben Neves by Al-Hilal. Despite only being in his mid-twenties, Neves has agreed to join the Riyadh club.
Neve’s signing is a coup for the Saudi league, which until recently was seen as the go-to destination for players past their prime and looking for one more big pay day. The signing of 38-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo and 35-year-old Karim Benzema did nothing to change that view. Neves, though, is at the peak of his career and has been courted by European giants, including Barcelona. The four Chelsea players touted to join the Saudi league could, like Neves, still play in the European top flight if they wanted to.
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Saudi Arabian clubs are enjoying unprecedented pulling power thanks to investment from the country’s Public Investment Fund. Earlier this month the PIF, which owns an 80 per cent stake in English Premier League club Newcastle United, announced that it will take ownership of the country’s four leading football clubs.
“As part of today’s announcement of the Sport Clubs Investment and Privatisation Project,” said the PIF on Twitter, “four Saudi clubs — Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahli, Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal — have been transformed into companies, each of which is owned by PIF and non-profit foundations for each club.”