Cristiano Ronaldo And The Stars Signing Up For Saudi’s Football Project

This year, Saudi Arabia has emerged as a force in the football transfer market, with eye-watering salaries luring a slew of prominent names to the oil-rich Gulf state.

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Here, AFP Sport takes a look at some of the biggest names to make the move:

The stars

Cristiano Ronaldo’s January signing with Riyadh-based Al-Nassr brought international attention to ongoing efforts to promote the Saudi Pro League.

Karim Benzema, the 2022 Ballon d’Or winner who signed a three-year contract with Al-Ittihad in June, was his former Real Madrid colleague.

Only a few days later, fellow Frenchman N’Golo Kante signed a three-year contract with the same Jeddah-based club.

In midfield, the veteran and member of France’s World Cup-winning squad will partner with Brazilian Fabinho, who has joined from Liverpool.

Still buzzing off his historic hat-trick in the FA Cup semi-finals for Manchester City in April, Algeria captain Riyad Mahrez has signed a four-year contract with Jeddah-based Al-Ahli in a deal for 35 million euros.

Sadio Mane, the Senegalese star who signed with Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr for a rumored annual salary of 40 million euros plus 10 million euros in performance-based bonuses, is the Saudis’ latest coup.

Past their prime 

Along with top-tier athletes, a slew of other major names in the sport are launching new ventures in Saudi Arabia.

Marcelo Brozovic, who captained Inter Milan to the Champions League final last season, has signed a three-year contract with Al-Nassr, who reportedly paid an 18 million euro transfer price.

Jordan Henderson, an ex-Liverpool captain, has signed a contract with Al-Ettifaq until 2026, despite his previous support for the L***Q community and the fact that homosexuality is illegal in Saudi Arabia.

Another former Liverpool player, Brazilian international Roberto Firmino, has left the club after eight seasons to join Al-Ahli, who have also signed Senegal’s Edouard Mendy.

Kalidou Koulibaly, for his part, bade farewell to Stamford Bridge for Al-Hilal for a reported transfer fee of 23 million euros.

Rising talent

It is not just fading stars who are making the trip to the Gulf.

Seko Fofana, a 28-year-old Ivorian midfielder, has also joined Ronaldo at Al-Nassr, leaving Lens as they prepare to return to the Champions League.

Serbian midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, 28, has signed a three-year contract with Al-Hilal after eight years with Lazio.

He will be joined by Ruben Neves, a 26-year-old Portuguese talent who was previously linked with a move to Barcelona.

Another 26-year-old, Allan Saint-Maximin from Newcastle, has joined Al-Ahli, which is 80 percent owned by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund.

The coaches

The Saudi Pro League has also drawn renowned coaches.

After being released by Aston Villa in October, legendary former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard signed a contract extension with Al-Ettifaq until 2025, and a video of him introducing himself in halting Arabic has gone popular on social media.

Former Croatia and West Ham manager Slaven Bilic will take a seat on the Al-Fateh bench.

Former Benfica coach Jorge Jesus has returned to Al-Hilal, where he coached in 2018-2019, after leaving Fenerbahce in June.

In late July, Al-Ahli appointed 35-year-old German Matthias Jaissle as their new coach, regarded as one of the most promising managers of his generation.

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