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Saudi football league seeks to sign up 10 prominent int’l players

June 6, 2023 at 10:20 am

A view of shops and facilities of Al-Hilal Saudi Football Club, founded in 1957, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on May 10, 2023 [Mohammed Saad/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images]

The Saudi Pro League is looking to sign up ten prominent football players, AFP reported yesterday.

Saudi delegations from Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad, the league champions, are in Paris and Madrid to secure the signatures of Argentine star Lionel Messi and French forward Karim Benzema, according to sources and reports.

This comes as the Saudi government has handed ownership of four top domestic football teams to its sovereign wealth fund, putting increased financial power behind the country’s plans in the sport.

The Public Investment Fund said yesterday that Al Ittihad, Al Ahli, Al Hilal and Al Nassr — where Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo plays — had been converted into corporate entities, having previously been run by the state. The $600 billion fund will own 75 per cent of each of the four clubs, with the remaining shares held by new non-profit foundations.

Messi and Benzema, Spanish defender Sergio Ramos, Argentine winger Angel Di Maria, Croatian midfielder Luka Modric, French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, French midfielder N’Golo Kante, Brazilian striker Roberto Firmino, Spanish defenders Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets, Croatian playmaker Luka Modric and French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris lead the list of players with whom negotiations are being carried out by the Saudis as they try to establish a “competitive league” that captures global attention.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in sports projects, including the acquisition of Portuguese star Ronaldo by Al Nassr Club, hosting the Formula 1 race in Jeddah, football matches featuring top European clubs, and global championships in golf and boxing.

Critics have said the kingdom is trying to boost its reputation through a practice known as “sportswashing“.

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