Saudi Arabia's football takeover shows no signs of slowing down – Daily Mail

By Niv Baura For Mailonline


When Cristiano Ronaldo speaks, people listen. 
And so when he declared that the Saudi Pro League could become a ‘top five’ league in the world, perhaps more should have taken note. 
‘I am happy here, I want to continue here, I will continue here,’ the Portuguese superstar, who is on a £173million-a-year deal to play for Al-Nassr, said. 
‘And in my opinion if they continue to do the work that they want to do here, for the next five years, I think the Saudi league can be a top five league in the world.’
Those comments were met with snorts of derision, raised eyebrows and flat dismissals that Ronaldo, who was giving the interview to the league directly, was simply paying lip-service to his employers. And yet what has followed has been a relentless pursuit to bring the game’s biggest names to the Kingdom in a bid to accelerate this pursuit of top five league status. 
Cristiano Ronaldo has transformed the profile of Saudi Arabian football since joining Al-Nassr
There are more fans going to matches and there is now global intrigue into the nation’s football
The Saudi Pro League was first launched in 1976 with just eight teams – fast forward to modern day and they are not up to 18.
Abha – Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Stadium (20,000)[
Al-Ahli – King Abdullah Sports City (62,345)
Al-Ettifaq – Prince Mohamed bin Fahd Stadium (35,000)
Al-Fateh – Prince Abdullah bin Jalawi Stadium (26,000)
Al-Fayha – Al Majma’ah Sports City (7,000)
Al-Hazem – Al-Hazem Club Stadium (8,000)
Al-Hilal – King Fahd International Stadium (68,752)
Al-Ittihad – King Abdullah Sports City (62,345)
Al-Khaleej – Prince Mohamed bin Fahd Stadium (35,000)
Al-Nassr – Al-Awwal Park (25,000)
Al-Okhdood – Prince Hathloul bin Abdul Aziz Sport City Stadium (12,000)
Al-Raed – King Abdullah Sport City Stadium (25,000)
Al-Riyadh – Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz Stadium (15,000)
Al-Shabab – Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium (22,500)
Al-Taawoun – King Abdullah Sport City Stadium (25,000)
Al-Tai – Prince Abdul Aziz bin Musa’ed Stadium (12,000)
Al-Wehda – King Abdul Aziz Stadium (38,000)
Damac – Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Stadium (20,000)
Not until 2005 did the league become fully professional and it has largely been a competition away from the prying eyes of European fans. Truth be told, it has garnered little to no attention from anyone in Europe until the recent assault on the transfer market to land the most high profile players and managers. 
So, some Saudi Pro League trivia for you.
Majed Abdullah, who played from 1977 to 1997, is the competition’s all-time leading scorer with Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad, Al-Nassr and have been competing at this level for the longest and Al-Hilal, with their 18 titles, have won more than any other team.
Oh and Al-Fayha’s 7,000-capacity Al Majma’ah Sports City stadium is the equivalent to League One’s Cheltenham Town’s Whaddon Road home.
But things are changing – and quickly too. The Ronaldo effect. 
Once Ronaldo pitched up the whole league had a whole new life to it, a sense of opportunity that every club could prosper from.
So while Al-Nassr saw their social media followers explode and Ronaldo was all over their sponsorship material, the other 17 clubs – Abha, Al-Ahli, Al-Ettifaq, Al-Fateh,Al-Fayha, Al-Hazem, Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad, Al-Khaleej, Al-Okhdood, Al-Raed, Al-Riyadh, Al-Shabab, Al-Taawoun, Al-Tai Ha’il, Al-Wehda, and Damac – knew they would benefit by association.
The SPL quickly agreed a deal with IMG – a leading sports agency – to sell their TV rights overseas, with bids quickly landing on the table. 
Sportitalia picked up the Italian rights, while also promising fans a ‘Ronaldo-cam’ as part of their rights package.
In France, RMC Sport’s pay-TV service won the race, while Sportdigital Fussball secured Pro League rights for Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
An explosion of interest led by one man would soon see other top stars follow – with Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema now preparing to turn out for league champions Al-Ittihad.
His manager next season? That would be Nuno Espirito Santo, the former Wolves manager who was derided for his dismal stint in charge of Tottenham. Nobody in Saudi Arabia is laughing at his credentials, though.
Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema turned his back on Real Madrid to sign for Al-Ittihad
Benzema is one of the most prolific strikers in world football in what represented a huge coup
Benzema will play for former Wolves and Tottenham manager Nuno Espirito Santo (right)
Not least because of Benzema’s imminent arrival but Al-Ittihad’s success is unlikely to diminish any time soon after they were one of four clubs taken over recently by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).
Cristiano Ronaldo – Al-Nassr
Karim Benzema – Al-Ittihad
Anderson Talisca – Al-Nassr
Helder Costa – Al-Ittihad
Moussa Marega – Al Hilal
David Ospina – Al-Nassr
Odion Ighalo – Al Hilal
Ever Banega – Al-Shabab
In an interesting quirk of the league, the country’s sovereign wealth fund has taken a 75 per cent stake in Al-Ittihad as well as Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal and Al-Ahli.
The official PIF Twitter account said of the news: ‘As part of today’s announcement of the Sport Clubs Investment and Privatisation Project, four Saudi clubs – Al Ittihad, Al Ahli, Al Nassr and Al Hilal – have been transformed into companies, each of which is owned by PIF and non-profit foundations for each club.’
They added: ‘PIF’s ownership in the clubs’ companies represent 75 per cent in each club, while their respective non-profit foundations hold 25 per cent ownership of each club.
‘The transfer of the four clubs will unleash various commercial opportunities, including investment, partnership and sponsorships across numerous sports.’
PIF, known on these shores for owning an 80 per cent stake in Premier League club Newcastle United, have grand plans to furnish the league with superstars, with Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, Bayern Munich’s Sadio Mane, PSG’s Neymar and Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez among the targets.
Along with PIF taking majority stakes in four teams, Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s lead oil institution and the most valuable company in the world, is taking a stake in Al Qadsia. 
Neom are joining the ownership of Al Suqoor FC, the Diriyah Gate Development Authority in Al Diriyah Club and Royal Commission for Al-Ula Governorate in Al Ula Club. 
PIF claim the takeovers will ‘unleash commercial opportunities’ for the four clubs involved
Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard is being pursued to take over one of the teams in the SPL
Saudi Arabian football chiefs must learn from collapse of Chinese Super League, though
Even the most optimistic of fans in the Kingdom could not have predicted the sheer speed of football development in the country, with Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard and former Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho among the managerial dream hires.
Fears that there is going to be no room for Saudi Arabia’s best young players amid this talent drive should be allayed in the knowledge that there are eight foreign spots per club. 
That means there is plenty of room for big names across the league, but also plenty of opportunity to swoop for the best Asian talents, also.
What serves as a warning to the glitz and glamour of this Saudi expansion plan should be the epic demise of the Chinese Super League. 
Back in 2016 they spent money freely – and carelessly – on ageing stars in a bid to grow the brand in Europe.
Exorbitant wage after exorbitant wage was paid before it all came crashing down and those players who spoke of excitement to go there in the first few years were rushing to pack their bags and leave. Now Chinese football is barely registering on the radar in Europe.
So, for now all eyes are on the Kingdom and the players they are landing for the millions they are offering. Ronaldo took a chance and everyone scoffed, now as his peers join him, the Saudi Pro League is impossible to ignore. 
Ronaldo’s presence (right) is convincing other top stars – and TV companies – to pay attention
It remains to be seen who else can be attracted to the Kingdom from Europe’s top leagues
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