Creating new perspectives since 2009

Calls for ‘instant embargo’ on Premier League player transfer to Saudi Pro League 

June 23, 2023 at 1:46 pm

35 year-old French soccer star, Karim Benzema (C) holds a jersey of Al-Ittihad, a Saudi Arabian soccer team in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on June 06, 2023. [Al Ittihad Football Club – Anadolu Agency]

Former Manchester United right back, Gary Neville, has made an appeal to the Premier League to place an “instant embargo” on players transferring to the Saudi pro-football league to “ensure integrity.”

Neville’s plea comes after French football star N’Golo Kante made a lucrative switch to Al-Ittihad, who have also signed Karim Benzema from Real Madrid. Al-Ittihad are one of four clubs in the Saudi Pro League that have been taken over by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which also owns Newcastle United.

Moroccan winger Hakim Ziyech followed his Chelsea teammate to sign a deal with the Riyadh based Al Nassr which last year signed Cristiano Ronaldo. Meanwhile, Al-Ahli is in advanced talks over the signing of Senegalese goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, whose contract with Chelsea expires in 2025. The Jeddah-based club has also entered talks to sign defender Kalidou Koulibaly, who is also from Senegal.

A surprise addition for Saudi Arabia’s professional football league is the signing of 26-year-old Portuguese midfielder Ruben Neves by Al-Hilal. Despite only being in his mid-twenties, Neves has agreed to join the Riyadh club.

READ: Saudi pro-football league demonstrates pulling power with more foreign signings 

There are media reports that Egyptian football star Mohamed Salah could also be heading to Saudi Arabia. No specific club in Saudi Arabia has been associated with a potential transfer of the Liverpool striker but that has not stopped media speculations given Saudi Arabia’s new pulling power.

Thanks to investment from the country’s Public Investment Fund, the four main clubs in the Saudi Pro League can offer the biggest contracts ever seen in football and the sporting world in general. Earlier this month the PIF announced that it will take ownership of the country’s four leading football clubs.

With more players expected to make the move, Neville joins a growing number of former players and pundits to express concern. “The Premier League should put an instant embargo on transfers to Saudi Arabia to ensure the integrity of the game isn’t being damaged,” Neville told BBC Sport. “Checks should be made on the appropriateness of the transactions.

Neville also made a similar plea on Instagram while renewing calls for an independent regulator. He wrote: “Any chance the Premier League can look into this Saudi trading like NOW!!!! Get a regulator in ASAP that’s agile enough to stop these things at source! If it doesn’t look right, it’s probably not right! Independence is required ASAP. The governance of our game is a mess.”

There is a good chance the Saudi clubs will look to make several marquee signings after Lionel Messi snubbed Al-Hilal. The Argentine World Cup winner was reportedly offered $1.6 billion to play two seasons in the Saudi Pro League.