The Saudi Pro League upended the transfer market. Bankrolled by the endless riches of the Public Investment Fund, the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund that manages roughly $700 billion in government money, Saudi Arabia attracted some of football’s biggest stars this summer. The arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo in December opened the floodgates, starting a trend that evolved into arguably the biggest story in the sport. With the Saudi transfer window now closed, here’s a comprehensive list of players that made the lucrative switch to the Middle East in recent months.
Who signed? 💰
Any impulses to dismiss Ronaldo’s opulent signing as a one-off were extinguished when Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzema followed his former Real Madrid teammate to Saudi Arabia in a deal believed to be worth €400 million over two years. The dominoes then continued to fall.
Jeddah-based Al-Ahli, three-time Saudi champions, were in the second tier last season, but have spent lavishly since returning to the top flight.
- Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City) – reported £30M fee
- Gabri Veiga (Celta Vigo) – reported €35M fee
- Allan Saint-Maximin (Newcastle) – reported £30M fee
- Roger Ibanez (Roma) – reported €28.5M initial fee
- Edouard Mendy (Chelsea) – reported £16M fee
- Franck Kessie (Barcelona) – €12.5M fee
- Merih Demiral (Atalanta) – undisclosed fee
- Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) – free transfer
Not owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), Al-Ettifaq are aiming to win their first piece of silverware since the 1980s.
- Jordan Henderson (Liverpool) – reported £12M fee
- Georginio Wijnaldum (PSG) – reported €10M fee
- Demarai Gray (Everton) – reported £8M fee
- Jack Hendry (Club Brugge) – reported £6.5M fee
- Moussa Dembele (Lyon) – free transfer
Saudi Arabia’s most successful club has won 18 league titles and a record four Asian Champions Leagues, and reached the 2022 Club World Cup final.
- Neymar (PSG) – reported €90M fee
- Malcom (Zenit St. Petersburg) – reported €60M fee
- Ruben Neves (Wolves) – reported £47M fee
- Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham) – reported £46M fee
- Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio) – reported €40M fee
- Yassine Bounou (Sevilla) – reported €21M fee
- Kalidou Koulibaly (Chelsea) – reported £17M fee
Defending Pro League champions Al-Ittihad are the country’s oldest team, and form half of the Saudi “Clasico” with rivals Al-Hilal.
- Fabinho (Liverpool) – reported £40M fee
- Jota (Celtic) – reported £25M fee
- Luiz Felipe (Real Betis) – reported €25M fee
- Karim Benzema (Real Madrid) – free transfer
- N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) – free transfer
Nine-time Saudi champions Al-Nassr got the ball rolling by signing Ronaldo, who helped the Riyadh-based outfit finish second last season with 14 goals.
- Otavio (Porto) – reported €60M fee
- Sadio Mane (Bayern Munich) – reported €40M fee
- Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City) – reported £23.5M fee
- Seko Fofana (Lens) – reported €25M fee
- Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan) – reported €18M fee
- Alex Telles (Manchester United) – reported €7M fee
- Manolo Gabbiadini (Sampdoria) – free transfer
Though not every Saudi signing has been as eye-popping as the deals above, the league’s other clubs have also been busy making moves. Here are the other notable acquisitions throughout the top tier:
Abha: Grzegorz Krychowiak, Karl Toko Ekambi, Ciprian Tatarusanu
Al-Fateh: Lucas Zelarayan, Jason Denayer
Al-Fayha: Fashion Sakala, Henry Onyekuru, Abdelhamid Sabiri
Al-Khaleej: Lisandro Lopez
Al-Okhdood: Alex Collado
Al-Riyadh: Juanmi, Didier Ndong
Al-Shabab: Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, Romain Saiss, Habib Diallo
Al-Taawoun: Musa Barrow
Al-Wehda: Odion Ighalo
Damac: Georges-Kevin Nkoudou, Assan Ceesay
The recruitment effort hasn’t been limited to just players, either. Prominent coaches have also made the switch.
- Matthias Jaissle – Al-Ahli
- Steven Gerrard – Al-Ettifaq
- Slaven Bilic – Al-Fateh
- Jorge Jesus – Al-Hilal
- Luis Castro – Al-Nassr
- Robbie Fowler – Al-Qadsiah (second division)
Who else was linked? ⏳
The PIF is keen to keep adding players to its ever-growing stable of stars after assuming control of Saudi Arabia’s four biggest clubs – the league’s founding members Al-Ahli, Al-Ittihad, Al-Hilal, and Al-Nassr. The summer spree may be over, but don’t expect the rumors to slow down. The January window will be open before you know it.
Mohamed Salah: Despite Liverpool’s reluctance to sanction a sale, Al-Ittihad pushed hard for the Egyptian superstar. The Reds reportedly rejected a £150-million offer ahead of the European transfer deadline, and are believed to be bracing for a bid in excess of £200 million at some point in the near future.
Paul Pogba: Rumors of Saudi interest in Pogba won’t go away. Despite his physical decline in recent years, the Juventus midfielder remains one of the most famous players in the world, and his celebrity makes him an obvious candidate for Saudi teams looking to boost their profile and appeal.
David De Gea: Following his Manchester United exit, the veteran shot-stopper has reportedly received two “important” bids from Saudi Arabia. Compatriot Unai Simon was also being eyed by Saudi teams, but De Gea, still a free agent, remains a strong candidate to be signed.
Ciro Immobile: Reports of a substantial contract offer from Al-Shabab, believed to be worth €15 million per season, were met with derision by Claudio Lotito. The outspoken Lazio president claimed that the prolific 33-year-old captain is not for sale.
Willian: Despite signing a new one-year deal to remain at Craven Cottage this summer, the Brazilian winger nearly turned right around and signed for Al-Shabab after the Saudi outfit reportedly made a formal approach for his services. Willian, 34, is one to watch in the coming months.
Marcos Llorente: Rumors began to circulate that Al-Ahli had an agreement in place with Atletico Madrid to sign the versatile Spanish international. Though those were clearly currently wide of the mark, it appears there’s concrete interest – if no formal bid – in the 28-year-old.
Radamel Falcao: The Colombian, now 37, ultimately remained at Rayo Vallecano, but multiple Saudi clubs explored the framework of a potential move for the veteran striker. Talks over a transfer reportedly took place, but time ran out to seal a deal.
Who rejected the move? ❌
Though the prospect of (even more) obscene wealth is enticing, not everyone jumped at the chance to play in Saudi Arabia.
Lionel Messi: The biggest fish in the pond didn’t bite. Re-establishing the vaunted Ronaldo-Messi rivalry was clearly one of Saudi Arabia’s goals. It nearly came to fruition, but Messi ultimately opted to join Inter Miami in MLS. He turned down a Saudi offer thought to be worth €400 million per year.
Kylian Mbappe: The unrealized transfer heard ’round the sports world. Much to the dismay of PSG, Mbappe reportedly refused to negotiate with Al-Hilal despite being offered a gargantuan base salary of €200 million – and the potential to earn up to €700 million total for just one season.
Victor Osimhen: The knock-on effect of Mbappe’s refusal didn’t take long to materialize. Osimhen, however, adopted a similar stance. Al-Hilal’s final offer reportedly came in at €60 million annually over three years, along with a €110-million transfer fee to the Italian champions.
Bernardo Silva: Al-Hilal reportedly offered the Portuguese international a monstrous deal worth around £500,000 per week early in the transfer window. After mulling the offer, and also being linked with PSG, Silva decided to extend his contract with treble holders Manchester City.
Sergio Ramos: Al-Ittihad were keen on bolstering their defense this summer, but after reportedly offering the decorated 37-year-old Spaniard a two-year contract, Ramos instead opted to make a romantic return to boyhood club Sevilla on a free transfer.
Romelu Lukaku: Lukaku’s whirlwind summer included an offer from Saudi Arabia, but the Belgian striker wanted to remain in Europe. After his relationship with Inter disintegrated and a potential move to Juventus didn’t materialize, he ended up at Roma on loan from Chelsea.
Luka Modric: Modric maintained that he wanted to re-sign with Real Madrid, and that’s precisely what happened despite rumblings of a healthy offer from Saudi Arabia. The revered Croatian midfielder and 2018 Ballon d’Or winner ultimately extended his stay in the Spanish capital for one more year.
Son Heung-Min: Courted by Al-Ittihad, who reportedly offered him €30 million per season, the Tottenham forward made his stance clear. Son said he still has much to accomplish in England, adding: “Money doesn’t matter to me now, and the pride of playing … in my favorite league is important.”
Alexis Sanchez: Al-Fateh reportedly submitted a one-year contract offer worth €10 million for the veteran Chilean forward. But Sanchez, 34, ultimately opted for familiarity by returning to Inter Milan as a free agent, where he’ll reportedly make €2.8 million on a one-year contract.
Hirving Lozano: With just one season remaining on his Napoli contract, and no agreement in place to extend it, Mexican winger “Chucky” Lozano was reportedly offered a three-year deal worth €10 million annually to make the move to Saudi Arabia. He eventually moved back to PSV, though.
Jose Mourinho and Massimiliano Allegri: Al-Hilal reportedly approached both Serie A managers this summer, initially offering Mourinho €30 million per year. When the Roma tactician rebuffed that, the club turned to Allegri. But he also said no, turning down €20 million annually to stay with Juventus.