Four Premier League stars’ controversial Saudi League transfers

The Saudi League has grown expeditiously this year. The main player to fuel the growth of the league is Cristiano Ronaldo, completing a move from Manchester United to Al Nassr. It was an investment worthwhile that has impacted the league massively, his contract earning him around £173 million a year.

Not much happened transfer-wise after Ronaldo’s move, until the summer transfer window. This is where we saw a lot of movement from the league in regard to signing players from all over the world. Cristiano Ronaldo stated, “I opened the way to the Saudi league, and now all the players are coming here.”

Some notable additions to the league made this summer have been Neymar Jr, Sadio Mané, Karim Benzema, and many more, it’s safe to say that the league won’t be going anywhere for the foreseeable future. It will continue to grow as time goes on. With the Champions League extending from 32-teams to 36-teams Saudi League has enquired about potential spots for them in the future.

The Premier League is seen as the best in the sport. Thus, since players have made some moves over to the Saudi League, it has sparked some conversation considering where they are in their careers and the role they had at the club. Money looks to be the main factor in the deals taking place, for both club and player. Riyad Mahrez was purchased for £30 million from Manchester City by Al Ahli. It is said the Algerian is on a £45 million per year.

With that in mind, here are some players who have gone into ‘early retirement’.

Aymeric Laporte

A player who could have secured a move to a top club if he wanted to, at 29 years old he made a move to Al Nassr for a fee of £25m. Moreover, Laporte is reportedly set to earn a staggering £21m a year. The Spanish international received many offers from clubs. However, the amount he was set to earn compared to the Saudi League was the deciding factor in his move away from Manchester City.

He was an important player for City, and was easily considered one of the best centre-backs at the club. He was swiftly replaced by Joško Gvardiol due to the sparse amount of left-sided centre-backs in the market. At the age of 29, there are still plenty of years left to compete at the highest level and it is a shame to see one player of his caliber make the jump. It is a bad bit of business from the club, as they were looking to sell him for £60m in January.

Allan Saint-Maximin

At just 26 years old, Allan Saint-Maximin has made a move from Newcastle United to Al Ahli for a fee of £23m, and reportedly earning quadruple his salary at Newcastle. The Frenchman jumped from £38,000 a week to £150,000 a week. The circumstances of the deal were interesting, with the club forced to sell him due to FFP if they wanted to bring in any new players into the squad. In the summer, Newcaslte recruited Sandro Tonali, to which  Eddie Howe stated “Financial Fair Play forced that to a degree.” He was a fan favourite at the club and many were upset with his departure.

Saint-Maximin joined the club in 2019, being the stand-out player when the club was going through a rough patch. A threat on the dribble, and a player many defenders did not want to be matched up against. Even though he fell down the pecking order at the club as time went on, he would fit in at a number of clubs at a higher level. Furthermore, would have likely found his form again. Yet, it will be a what-if unless he returns to the top level in years to come.


Someone who was integral to Liverpool’s midfield and has a unique profile considering the market today made a move to Al Ittihad for a fee of £40m. The Brazilan now earns a staggering £36.4 million a year. Liverpool coach Jürgen Klopp commented on the Saudi League saying “The financial conditions in this league are absolutely exceptional.” Liverpool’s midfield has been completely revamped this transfer window, with the additions of Dominik Szoboszlai, Alexis Mac Allister and Ryan Gravenberch.

Fabinho’s form was below par last season, but he is one of many players who were considered that judging on performances. However, is he as easily replaceable as people think? Virgil van Dijk described him as having “legs that go everywhere,” – he was the engine to Liverpool’s midfield and still has the ability to play at the top level. At just 29 years old, his performances could have been required from another team looking to bolster their midfield.

Ruben Neves

This move sparked outrage because Ruben Neves was an anomaly when it came to the players moving over to the Saudi League. He is one of the first young players to move over to Al Hilal for a fee of £47m from Wolves at just 26 years old. The move will see him earn £62 million a year.

As the team’s captain, he always performed for the club and made himself the main man in the midfield coming from Porto in 2017.

In a club statement regarding the departure, it was said “No other player has made such an impact on the pitch in gold and black during the last six years having featured more than 250 times in a remarkable period in the club’s history.”

Bearing in mind he is yet to reach his prime, and to be performing at a level he was consistently for many years in the Premier League, his talent will, unfortunately, go to waste and not be shown off on the big stage like the Champions League. Within this deal, it was clear money was the motivation for the move, as he would’ve had to choice of a lot of top clubs, and would’ve competed for the major trophies. Many are comparing the story to Oscar and when he joined China.

Football is changing

Each and every footballer is different when it comes to what is most important in regard to staying or signing for a new club. Some are interested in the money, others are interested in the football, and everyone has their own mindset. Kylian Mbappé was a player who was tempted with a mouth-watering offer from Al Hilal after failing to get a move to Real Madrid. They placed a world record bid of £257m, and he would have earned £600m a year. Yet, the new French national team captain turned it down.

The beautiful game as we all know and love is changing each and every year, in both positive and negative ways. Depending on how one looks at it, transfer fees are rising, rules are changing. It will be very interesting to see how things progress with the Saudi League and football in general as time goes on.

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