The Saudi Pro League’s aggressive assault on the football transfer market is potentially one of the most significant things to happen to the sport in decades.
Some of the world’s most decorated and famous footballers have taken up lucrative offers to join the league, which leaves us in a position of some ludicrously lopsided squads.
We’ve taken a look at five of the biggest clubs in the Saudi Pro League and some of the bizarre sets of team-mates they’re responsible for.
Coached by former Benfica boss and Copa Libertadores winner Jorge Jesus, Al-Hilal finished third last season but will have ambitions of a title challenge after their summer splurge.
They’ve bolstered their midfield considerably by bringing in Ruben Neves and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, the kind of double pivot you might’ve expected to see in the Champions League next term. Kalidou Koulibaly is their other headline addition this summer.
Those three-star signings will join a squad that features a ton of homegrown players and an eclectic mix of overseas players like South Korea veteran Hyun-soo Jang, one-time West Brom talisman Matheus Pereira, Brazilian journeyman forward Michael, ex-Porto striker Moussa Marega and experienced Peruvian winger Andre Carrillo.
Saudi Arabia international Salem Aldawsari has also been with the club since 2011. You might remember him from that absolute peach of a match-winner he scored against Argentina at the World Cup.
Whatever Hervé Renard said to his players at half-time, it worked!! 🤩@SaudiNT_EN have gone 2-1 up against one of the competition favourites Argentina with this belter!! 🚀#ITVFootball | #FIFAWorldCup pic.twitter.com/uHdXpjUAdm
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) November 22, 2022
Cristiano Ronaldo‘s Al-Nassr to give them their proper title.
Having terminated his contract with Manchester United, Ronaldo made his eyebrow-raising move to Saudi Arabia in January, midway through the 2022-23 Saudi Pro League season. He scored 14 goals in 16 appearances but was unable to quite inspire them over the line in the title race.
Alongside the vast majority of Saudi players, the 38-year-old shared a dressing room with former Arsenal ‘keeper David Ospina, three-cap Argentina forward Pity Martinez and prolific Brazilian forward Talisca.
This summer, Al-Nassr have bolstered their squad further by signing former Man City academy graduate Seko Fofana, who has since clocked up over 100 appearances for both Udinese and Lens. The most attention-grabbing addition, however, is Marcelo Brozovic, fresh from making his 330th and final appearance for Inter in last season’s Champions League final.
The reigning champions, coached by former Wolves boss and elder Jedi Nuno Espirito Santo.
Morocco international Abderrazak Hamdallah – who has spent almost his entire career playing the middle east – fired Al-Ittihad to the title by finishing as the Saudi Pro League’s top scorer with 21 goals. That squad also featured Helder Costa, who has since returned to parent club Leeds, veteran Brazilian Bruno Henrique in midfield and Egypt international Ahmed Hegazi captaining from the centre of defence.
The Tigers have since made ambitious moves in their bid to retain their title next term, bolstering their squad with current Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzema, era-defining midfielder N’Golo Kante and Celtic fan favourite Jota. At this rate, you’d expect they’ll take some stopping on the domestic front and in the 2023-24 Asian Champions League.
Steven Gerrard’s Al-Ettifaq are reportedly on the cusp of signing Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson and if reports are to be believed, he’ll become one of the highest-paid players in the world.
Al-Ettifaq are one of the club’s that weren’t recently taken over by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and don’t quite boast the glamour names of some of their Pro League rivals. But they are home to a fair few overseas players, who we’ve broken down in detail here:
One of the biggest clubs in Saudi Arabia, Al-Ahli shockingly suffered relegation in 2022. But they came straight back up, have just been taken over by PIF, and are making moves to return with a bang.
Football League stalwart Lewis Grabban made a handful of appearances in their promotion-winning campaign, but has since left the club.
Fresh from winning the treble with Manchester City, Riyad Mahrez is reportedly on the verge of completing a £30million transfer. He’s set to arrive hot on the heels of fellow Champions League winners Edouard Mendy and Roberto Firmino. Newcastle United’s Allan Saint-Maximin looks likely to arrive next, meaning they could line up with a downright absurd Saint-Maximin-Firmino-Mahrez front three next season.
There aren’t too many recognisable names elsewhere in the squad, although you may know madcap ex-Leeds cult hero Ezgjan Alioski, who has returned to the club after spending last season out on loan at Fenerbahce.