Saudi Arabia has been flexing its financial muscle during the summer transfer window. However, no league has managed to establish itself as a dominant force ahead of Europe so far.
Uncertainty surrounds Saudi Arabia’s approach, as the vast resources of teams such as Al-Ittihad and Al-Nassr have successfully attracted experienced players without needing to lure young talents or former stars.
This strategy contrasts with other leagues such as the Russian Premier League, the Chinese Super League, and MLS.
The current transfer window has brought back memories of previous summers when these leagues attempted to snatch players from major European teams, but the enthusiasm has gradually waned.
Saudi Arabia currently doesn’t face the same risk, as players are choosing to join not due to a lack of alternatives, but because they see it as their best option.
MLS (2015/16): Lampard, Gerrard, Villa, Pirlo…
In the past, the MLS targeted world-class veterans who were distributed across teams. However, wages posed a challenge for the league.
A similar situation occurred this year at Inter Miami who signed stars such as Messi, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets.
Kaka took everyone by surprise when he left Milan for the newly established Orlando City. David Villa, Frank Lampard, and Andrea Pirlo joined New York City FC, while Steve Gerrard moved to the LA Galaxy.
Players such as Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney and Bastian Schweinsteiger made similar moves to the MLS.
Chinese Super League (2018): Carrasco, Oscar, Hulk, Paulinho…
China entered the football scene with the objective of having a strong national team by 2050. They invested heavily in football and clubs.
However, the era of million-dollar transfers ended after two seasons due to a tax imposed by the Chinese Football Association (CFA) and the government.
This tax required an equivalent transfer fee to be invested in the grassroots football fund, effectively doubling the cost of transfers.
The CFA upped and made it compulsory to field the same number of Chinese U23 players as foreigners.
As a result, all the stars who went to China ended up leaving because of the complications they posed for the clubs.
Russian Premier League (2012): Hulk, Witsel, Eto’o, William…
When Zenit spent 100 million euros on Hulk and Axel Witsel, the president of the Russian Audit Chamber warned of a potential financial cap on player signings.
These signings turned out to be disappointments, but Russia emerged as a new financial power in football.
Anzhi also joined the trend by signing players such as Roberto Carlos and Samuel Eto’o, spending heavily in a short time.
Hosting the 2030 World Cup is the key
The driving force behind Saudi Arabia’s significant investment in football is their aspiration to host the 2030 World Cup.
Unlike the constraints faced by China or UEFA’s Financial Fair Play, there are no limits hindering Saudi Arabia’s financial commitment, and this is anticipated to persist over the coming years, at least until a definite verdict is reached regarding the 2030 World Cup.
While their financial prowess is unquestionable, the real test lies in their ability to consistently draw in European talents, a feat that has proven elusive for others.