Saudi Pro League’s Billion-Dollar Splurge Yet to Bear Fruits

Al Nassr's Cristiano Ronaldo and Sadio Mane react during an AFC Champions League football match against Al-Fayha at the Al-Awwal Park Stadium in Riyadh. Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP
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Despite the sky-high expectations surrounding Saudi Arabia’s massive investment in football stars, the results have been underwhelming, with the billion-dollar spending spree yielding a lopsided season devoid of international silverware thus far.

Following last year’s grandiose signings of renowned players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Neymar, the revamped Saudi Pro League has failed to deliver the anticipated excitement. Al Hilal’s recent stroll to their fourth title in five years, with three games remaining, epitomizes the one-sided nature of the league, even in the absence of Neymar, sidelined due to injury since October.

The dominance of Al Hilal underscores the stark contrast between the top-tier clubs and the rest of the league. With 34 consecutive victories across all competitions, including resounding wins of 9-0, 7-0, and 6-1, Al Hilal’s supremacy highlights the widening gap fueled by the influx of star-studded squads.

The uneven distribution of talent among the teams has contributed to the lack of competitiveness, favoring Al Hilal and diminishing the thrill of the league. Mohamed Mandour, a Paris-based journalist, emphasizes the detrimental impact of this imbalance, stating that it has “killed the competition in favor of Al Hilal.”

While the league’s administrators remain committed to their long-term vision of elevating the league’s stature globally, achieving this ambition will require time and concerted efforts. The ambitious goal of becoming one of the world’s top five domestic leagues hinges on factors such as player quality, stadium attendances, and commercial success.

Looking ahead to 2034, when Saudi Arabia is set to host the FIFA World Cup, the league’s trajectory aligns with the nation’s broader objectives of fostering a new image and preparing for a post-oil era.

Despite the teething problems associated with the sudden influx of star players, including challenges with player settlements and cultural adjustments, the league’s unprecedented spending has undeniably heightened interest in the competition.

While Saudi football navigates through its transitional phase, experts emphasize the need for sustained engagement and long-term planning to rival established football powerhouses like the English Premier League and Spain’s La Liga. As the league continues its evolution, bridging the gap between financial investment and sustainable success remains paramount for Saudi football’s future. – AFP