Another Premier League Player Moves to Saudi Pro League – Who’s Next?
The Saudi Pro League rose into prominence when Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Al Nassr after he burned his bridges with Manchester United, and it’s fair to say that his presence in the Middle East paved the way for several openings, starting with the increase in the club’s social media presence among other factors.
Not long after, several Saudi Pro League clubs, especially the ‘big four’ – Al-Nassr, Al-Ahli, Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal, got very busy in the transfer market, signing a host of players from several top European leagues, adding more pedigree to the Saudi Pro League.
Today’s focus would be on the players that departed from the Premier League to the Saudi Pro League and the cascading effects.
In addition to Cristiano Ronaldo, Al-Nassr has secured the services of ex-Manchester United fullback, Alex Telles. Telles arrived at Old Trafford with huge fanfare following some strong attacking performances with FC Porto, and he actually posed an initial threat to the club’s incumbent left back, Luke Shaw, but his performances waned and he found himself back on the bench, much to his disgust, so it was no surprise when he was shipped out to Sevilla last season and on his return to England, he made the switch to Al-Nassr.
Al-Nassr was hopeful to add another Premier League great in the form of Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace, but the Ivorian winger opted to sign for Galatasaray in Turkey instead. The club is in advanced talks with Hakim Ziyech from Chelsea following the Moroccan’s underwhelming spell with the club following his big-money move from Ajax. Ziyech had a very good World Cup which should have bolstered his confidence, but with his playing time at Chelsea slim to none, it will be no surprise to see him move to Al-Nassr before the window closes.
Al-Ahli quickly secured the services of Liverpool’s playmaker forward, Roberto Firmino, who served at Anfield for eight years, scoring 111 goals in 362 games for the Reds. In addition to Firmino, Al-Ahli captured Edouard Mendy from Chelsea. Mendy’s situation was really interesting at Chelsea, with the Senegalese goalie arriving at the club to replace the inefficient Kepa Arrizabalaga, but football has a way to unfolding new drama, as Kepa found a way to win his place, after some atrocious displays from Mendy. The goalie also put up some more horror shows for Senegal in the World Cup in Qatar, further deteriorating his chances of getting his place back at Chelsea, so it was no surprise to see him jump ship to Al-Ahli.
Al-Ahli has had an offer accepted for Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez and will be closing out a deal for the 32-year-old Algerian. The Saudi Pro League club has also agreed personal terms with Newcastle’s Allan St. Maximin, which probably prompted the Magpies to sign Harvey Barnes from Leicester City.
Al-Ittihad had the second biggest blockbuster deal of the Saudi Pro League transfer window with the acquisition of Karim Benzema from Real Madrid, but the first Premier League contingent that joined Al-Ittihad was the great N’Golo Kante from Chelsea. Kante will always be a Premier League legend for his exploits with Leicester and Chelsea, but his latter years with Chelsea were riddled with loss of form and injuries, and expectedly, he lost his place in the starting XI. His move to Al-Ittihad will be a lease of fresh air for him and I’m sure those Saudi Pro League fans will enjoy his football.
Al-Ittihad has approached Fabinho which would see the massive clear out at Liverpool’s midfield continue – the Reds lost James Milner, Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jordan Henderson (the reason for this article), while signing Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis MacAllister. Arsenal target, Romeo Lavia, has been earmarked as a replacement for Fabinho should he jump ship to Al-Ittihad, while emerging youngster, Stefan Bajcetic, will offer an in-house option to replace Fabinho.
Al-Hilal would have etched their name in football history if they were successful with the acquisition of PSG’s wantaway generational talent, Kylian Mbappe, but if we believe what the tabloids say, Mbappe’s camp has rejected the amazing offer of 700 million euros in one year, after PSG accepted the 300 million euros offer for the forward. However, Al-Hilal successfully signed Wolverhampton Wanderers captain, Ruben Neves, and Chelsea’s experienced center back, Kalilou Koulibaly.
Al-Hilal had an offer for Aleksandr Mitrovic rejected by Fulham, which caused the Serbian forward to go bonkers. With Fulham successfully signing Raul Jimenez from Wolves, I’d expect Mitrovic to be on his way out, but it’s unlikely Al-Hilal will bid again for his services. The Saudi Pro League side has also kept tabs on Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva, and it will be interesting to see if Pep Guardiola and the Manchester City hierarchy will accept a bid for their diminutive maestro, following the departure of club captain, Ilkay Gundogan, and the imminent departure of Mahrez.
Al-Ettifaq isn’t among the Saudi Pro League ‘big four’, but they earned a place in the spotlight when they signed Steven Gerrard as their manager. Gerrard’s first major signing is another Liverpool captain, Jordan Henderson, which turns out to be a mega lucrative salary offer of about 700,000 euros a week, well enough to end his 12-year stint with the club. Henderson made 492 appearances for Liverpool and served the club very well, so you can’t blame a 33-year-old bloke for making some additional mulla.
So who’s next?
Arsenal’s Thomas Partey has been on the news with a potential move to the Saudi Pro League with Al-Nassr, Al-Ahli and Al-Khaleej interested in signing the Ghanaian lynchpin from Arsenal. Mikel Arteta has made his intentions clear to keep Partey but the lure of that Saudi money can turn the heads of any player. The Saudi Pro League is aiming to rise through the ranks to be one of the top five leagues in 2030, so I expect many more offers to players all over Europe, including the Premier League.
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