Saudi Arabia ups the ante. The intention (almost closed) to sign Bernardo Silva changes the paradigm and causes European soccer to stop looking at the East out of the corner of its eye and get into a defensive position with its hair standing on end. Arabia does not want to be a league of players on the verge of retirement. It wants to compete with Europe. And the worrying thing is that it can.
With an unlimited budget, the Saudi Arabian state is starting to walk around the shop windows of European clubs to see what has the transferable sign and sweeping up everything, pushing with the arm to the cart what it sees appetizing and then distributing it among its teams. Rúben Neves, Ziyech, Brozovic, Thomas, Koulibaly… and Bernardo Silva.
The Portuguese is the key that opens the door to a new dimension in Saudi soccer. A key player at Manchester City, Champions League winner, Premier League winner and FA Cup winner, star of the Portuguese national team… in short, a world top 10 player who, at 28 years of age, is packing his bags and leaving the European elite to lead the Saudi elite.
The arrival of Bernardo Silva in the Saudi Pro League is a serious warning to European clubs… and even to the Premier League. A rival has appeared, capable of matching and surpassing their financial offers and with the potential to pay a hefty transfer fee. Al Hilal has spent 55 kilos on Rúben Neves (26 years old, with interest from Barça and other European clubs), 25 on Koulibaly and is about to close on goalkeeper Mendy, other clubs plan to spend another 40 million to get Thomas from Arsenal and do not keep the chequebook, with Ziyech almost signed and Brozovic in their sights.
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A state plan to take over the 2030 World Cup
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced a few weeks ago the launch of a national plan to develop soccer in the kingdom. After the purchase of Newcastle (successful, given the Magpies’ Champions League qualification), the Saudis have decided to spend money on their own league with the intention of making the world look to Arabia. Towards their soccer fields specifically.
In a similar but much more ambitious plan than Qatar’s, Arabia is looking to tread in the footsteps of its neighbor to take over the 2030 World Cup on the back of millions. The emirate built a story through the ball to put itself on a par with the countries with the most democratic guarantees, which serves as an inspiration for Arabia. Following a recent reform, the country’s four historic clubs (Al Hilal, Al Nassr, Al Ittihad and the recently promoted Al Ahli) will be 75% owned by Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund, the same fund that owns Newcastle. In other words, the state.
Cristiano Ronaldo (38 years old), Karim Benzema (35 years old) and N’Golo Kanté (32 years old) are already waiting for the next batch of signings. And given the profiles and the money spent, Arabia does not want to be a pre-retirement golden paradise for footballers. It wants to prove itself competent to fight in attractiveness with the big European leagues. In money, there is no comparison.