Saudi Arabia’s Pro League was second only to the English Premier League in spending on soccer transfer fees, according to data from transfer data website Transfermarkt.
The enormous spending figures come regardless of some high-profile deals failing to work out. The expectation of significant longer-term spending on soccer from the kingdom appears likely to raise valuations across European clubs, despite the public’s lack of interest in purchasing the club.
The closing of the Saudi Arabian soccer transfer window marks the end of a historic summer of spending by the Gulf state’s clubs.
Saudi Arabia’s Pro League was second just to the English Premier League in spending on soccer transfer fees, with 954 million euros ($1 billion) spent to get players on charges alone.
The Saudi clubs outspent four of the “big five” soccer leagues, marking the first time since 2016 that a different league has outspent any dominant European group.
Even though some high-profile deals fell through, such as Al-Ittihad’s late bid for Liverpool star Mohamed Salah, which reports suggested could have been worth well over 200 million euros, the big spending figures still happen.
Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahli, Al-Nassr, and Al-Hilal, the four biggest clubs in Saudi Arabia, have spent the most money. Since June 2023, the Public Investment Fund has owned most of them.
According to Transfermarkt data, the four clubs spent a combined 835.1 million euros on transfers while generating just 4.86 million euros from incoming fees for players. Three of the 10 biggest spenders in the world are owned by the PIF.
Al-Hilal, a Saudi club, was the biggest net spender of the summer, spending just 1.4 million euros on transfers away from the club, while Chelsea FC, an English soccer team, spent more than any other team in the world.
According to Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan of the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s youthful population, with 63% of Saudis under 30, has prompted the state fund’s interest in sports investment.
“You will have a lot of young people who are interested in sports and entertainment and that’s basically part of the offering.”
Al-Rumayyan, on the other hand, insisted that investments must generate financial returns and that the fund’s decisions were not solely influenced by an interest in sports.
“It makes financial sense to us, and that’s the only way going forward. We don’t like to subsidise things … we would like to have it sustainable.”
Surprisingly, activists and human rights groups have accused Saudi Arabia of “sportswashing” for the high levels of soccer investment it receives from other Middle Eastern nations.
Saudi Arabia’s transfer window closed as the fate of English club Manchester United was pushed once again into the spotlight. On Tuesday, September 5, the shares of the club experienced their sharpest single-day decline ever.
According to a report, the Glazer family, believe they will actually want to get a valuation of up to £10 billion ($12.5 billion) by postponing any deal until 2025.
In the meantime, at its General Assembly this month, the European Club Association, which represents 220 soccer clubs from across Europe, discussed the impact of Saudi Arabia’s investment in the sport.
Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the chairman, stated that the Saudi league’s potential impact on European football did not concern him.
“We believe in ourselves … we have the best competition in the world, the biggest clubs in the world, the best players in the world. I don’t think it’s a real danger.”
Saudi Arabia’s soccer push appears to be set to continue, even if potential ambitions to play in the Champions League, the highest level of pan-European soccer, are met with resistance from European club competitions.
This year’s FIFA Club World Cup will come off in Saudi Arabia in December, with the competition’s draw making the potential for a match between Al-Hilal, home to Brazilian striker Neymar, and Champions League winner Manchester City, if the two clubs can beat their other resistance.
Multiple media outlets have reported that the kingdom intends to host the 2034 World Cup after dropping plans to jointly host the event with Greece and Egypt in 2030. This will be the kingdom’s first major international soccer competition.
Other rivals to European dominance have failed to make a lasting impact, with China’s Super League losing a slew of players as financial concerns hit clubs in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Saudi Arabia’s long-term goals are unknown, but if current investment levels continue, the world’s most-watched sport could undergo a significant transformation.