“I think the Saudi professional soccer league can become one of the top five leagues in the world. There is still a long way to go, but it will be interesting to see what happens in the next five or 10 years.” (Simon Chadwick, professor at Schema Business School in France)

After Cristiano Ronaldo (Al Nasr), Karim Benzema (Al Ittihad) has joined the Saudi league. Former French international defensive midfielder N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) is also expected to don an Al Ahli jersey in the near future. With oil money luring veteran star players from around the world, can Saudi Arabia emerge as the center of world soccer?메이저사이트

The Saudi sovereign wealth fund (PIF) officially announced on March 5 that it had launched a project to simultaneously acquire a 75 percent stake in four teams in the kingdom, including Al-Nasr, where Ronaldo plays, and Al-Hilal and Al-Ahly, including Al-Ittihad, which has signed Benzema. According to the New York Times on March 2, the PIF plans to bring 12 world-class players to the Saudi league, three per team across the four clubs.

The project started with Ronaldo. Al-Nasr signed Ronaldo, then playing for Manchester United (England), to a €200 million contract last December. Al Ahli recently completed the signing of Benzema for a fee of 100 million euros (about 140 billion won). Lionel Messi, who recently moved to Inter Miami in the United States, was reportedly offered 400 million euros ($560 million) by Al-Hilal.

On the surface, it seems like a lot of money for a bunch of out-of-form players, but the Saudis have a clear goal. “The Saudi league aims to increase its current revenue of $120 million to $480 million by 2030 and grow the league’s value from $800 million to $2.14 billion,” said Al Jazeera, a Middle Eastern news channel. “The league has already signed dozens of international broadcast rights deals with Ronaldo. “The league has already signed dozens of international broadcast rights deals with Ronaldo to sell tickets and merchandise and attract sponsors to help grow the league as a whole. As part of the project, there are speculations that the league is looking to bid for the 2030 FIFA World Cup.

Despite failing to land Messi, the Saudis’ appetite for star players seems to know no bounds. Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Robert Lewandowski (Barcelona), Neymar, Sergio Ramos (Paris Saint-Germain), and others are also reportedly on the kingdom’s radar. South Korean national team captain Son Heung-min (Tottenham) is also on the Saudi list. According to Sky Sports, “Son Heung-min has been targeted by Saudi clubs for next year. Work is already underway.”

While Son’s move to Saudi Arabia may sound unrealistic, anything can happen in sports. And PIF already has a history of making the unthinkable happen in golf. A year ago, PIF launched LIV Golf, which went to war with the U.S. Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour, and recently led to the merger of LIV and the PGA Tour.

LIV Golf also started with oil money, signing some of the world’s top male golfers, including Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson (USA), and Sergio Garcia (Spain). It remains to be seen how the Saudi league, which has been attracting global soccer stars, will change the game of soccer.

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