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Wayland Student Press

The student news site of Wayland High School

Wayland Student Press

The student news site of Wayland High School

Wayland Student Press

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Opinion: The Saudi Arabian League is the end of Football

Credit: Jeffery Zhang
WSPN’s Jeffery Zhang discusses the football Saudi League and it’s impact on the future of football.

The rising popularity of the Saudi Arabian Football League signals an end to a golden era of football. Professional football players are signing deals with Saudi Pro League clubs at an unbelievable rate. Enticed with eye-watering sums of money, renowned players like Cristiano Ronaldo are flocking to the Saudi Pro League like moths to a candle.

Just this month, Italian journalist Fabrizio Romano confirmed that Neymar da Silva Santos Junior, otherwise known as Neymar Jr., signed a deal with Saudi club Al-Hilal. His contract? A whopping $163.7 million per year, for a grand total of $327.4 million over the span of his two-year contract. Neymar is just one of many well-known players to transfer to Saudi Pro League teams. Earlier this year, world-renowned Portuguese player Cristiano Ronaldo signed with Al-Nassr, another Saudi club. Ronaldo’s offer of more than $200 million a year makes him the highest-earning football player in the world right now.

This year alone, the Saudi Pro League has seen the most amount of transfers with former world-class players amongst the likes of Robert Firmino, Riyad Mahrez, Jordan Henderson, Sadio Mane, Kante and Benzema. It may be confusing as to why these previously amazing players are transferring to the Saudi Pro League, but there’s a noticeable pattern between each transfer.

Each of the players who have transferred to the Saudi Pro League have been regarded as some of the best footballers ever. However, most of these players are reaching retirement age and are no longer in their prime.

Cristiano Ronaldo, who is perhaps one of the greatest players of all time, was a star player for the Spanish club Real Madrid, scoring 450 goals for the club in only 438 games. However, Ronaldo later transferred to Manchester United at the age of 36, where he simply did not shine like he once did. Of course, not much can be expected out of a 36-year-old player, especially since the average age of retirement in professional football is 35 years old. After his flop at Manchester United, Ronaldo received an offer from Al-Nassr which he would end up accepting.

Like Ronaldo, French player Karim Benzema faced almost the exact same situation. He was also a star player for Real Madrid, and was the 2022 Ballon d’Or winner. However, nearing the age of 35, he was offered a deal from Al-Ittihad and accepted it. But, why does the Saudi league want players who are old and out of their prime?

Signing players like Cristiano Ronaldo grants them an immense popularity boost. Al-Nassr gained over 2.5 million new followers on Instagram in just a matter of hours after the club’s announcement. In addition, the League has been receiving attention like never before, from both fans and the media. Even though the players they’re signing are out of their prime, it seems as though these Saudi clubs prioritize fame and popularity over skill. After all, what club looking to win would sign players who are at retirement age? It’s not a sensible investment in terms of improving team performance, so these players are really only being used to boost the club’s recognition.

Now there’s only one real reason why these players are okay with being used as popularity boosts. These players are old. They’re about to retire. So why not accept a load of money and retire at a club in Saudi Arabia? It makes sense for the players if you ask me. However, some of the players transferring to the Saudi league are going there too early. They’re transferring before they’ve reached their prime.

Two notable young footballers who have transferred to the Saudi League are Portuguese player Ruben Neves and French player Allan Saint-Maximin. Both players are only 26 years old, which gives them almost a decade before retirement age to improve and win major trophies. Transferring to the Saudi League limits their options of winning a major trophy like the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League because Saudi clubs cannot participate in the tournament. Only European clubs are allowed to participate, which is one of the major reasons why European clubs are the largest and most prestigious, and why most of the players you know play in European leagues. By transferring, these two players have thrown away their chances to win a UEFA Champions League at only 26 years old. Saint-Maximin and Neves made terrible choices for their career, however the Saudi League is also to blame.

With so many notable players transferring to Saudi clubs, young players like Maximin and Neves follow the wave of transfers and are caught up by large sums of money. In fact, Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer alone might have sparked the entire wave of transfers to the Saudi Pro League. If Ronaldo had rejected the offer from Al-Nassr, it would have sent a message to other soccer players that going to the Saudi Pro League is not the right idea. However, he didn’t. And you can’t blame Ronaldo. $200 million is life-changing. You can only blame the greediness of Saudi clubs for spend millions of dollars, bribing players to join, only to misuse them.

Saudi clubs don’t understand that they can’t use players as fame boosters alone. They treat this like a monopoly game because they have the money. When players accept these transfers, especially young players, they choose money over passion and throw away their careers. In throwing away their careers, we as fans not only lose a player that we love to watch, but we also lose the next potential greatest player of all time. However, it doesn’t have to be this way.

If the Saudi Pro League starts taking their players more seriously and builds strong and competitive teams, there’s a chance that in the future the UEFA Champions League will be open to non-European teams. If that happens, the Saudi Pro League will not only be more competitive, but it will gain more attention, the players will improve and major awards will be won by Saudi players. However, this will never happen unless Saudi clubs stop using players and large transfer deals for popularity, and instead for better team performance.

For years, the center of football attention has been on the European league. However, attention is shifting towards the Saudi league after the expensive transfers of star players close to retirement. To make matters worse, they’re poaching aspiring young players and throwing away their careers in an environment in which competition is dry and skill improvement is limited. If Saudi clubs don’t change what they’re doing right now, then the Saudi Pro League will become perhaps one of the worst things that happens to football. If they do change, however, then maybe the Saudi Pro League will be a good thing. Perhaps the league can breathe fresh air into the sport, but only time will tell.

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About the Contributors
Jeffery Zhang
Jeffery Zhang, Copy Editor
Jeffery Zhang, Class of 2026, is a second year reporter for WSPN. Jeffery plays soccer and tennis for WHS. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family and friends. Contact: [email protected]
Reva Datar
Reva Datar, Opinion Editor
Reva Datar, Class of 2025, is a third year reporter and opinion editor for WSPN. She does Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu. Outside of school, she enjoys reading, writing, baking and traveling with friends. Contact: [email protected]
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    Madan GurungDec 3, 2023 at 3:45 PM

    After last match between Al Nassr vs Al hilal now Saudi Pro league is not in top list after all technical support was available there but it equalize Nigeria Professional Football League?