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Saudi Pro League: Which players have joined so far?

Middle East Eye looks at the stars who have followed Cristiano Ronaldo in lucrative transfers to Saudi Arabia
Al-Ittihad's French forward Karim Benzema during a 2023 Arab Club Champions Cup match at the King Fahd Stadium in Taif, Saudi Arabia on 27 July 2023 (AFP)
Al-Ittihad's French forward Karim Benzema during a 2023 Arab Club Champions Cup match at the King Fahd Stadium in Taif, Saudi Arabia on 27 July 2023 (AFP)

When football legend Cristiano Ronaldo joined Al-Nassr in January, it was inevitable that Saudi Arabian football would attract newfound global attention. 

Al-Nassr's Instagram following jumped from under one million followers to almost 15 million immediately, and broadcast rights to the Saudi Pro League were reportedly sold to 36 overseas territories

But few could have predicted that so many more of football's most decorated stars would follow Ronaldo, who is being paid $200m per year, from Europe to Saudi shores in a matter of months.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which already owns English football team Newcastle United, recently acquired majority shares in the league’s top four clubs, Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad and Al-Ahli. 

Those four clubs, along with Al-Ettifaq, have launched an expensive summer of transfer activity in a clear attempt to disrupt Europe's dominance in club football. 

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The financing of sports teams and events by its sovereign wealth fund forms part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the economy away from oil reliance and improve its international reputation.

Middle East Eye breaks down which high-profile international stars have signed for Saudi clubs so far:


  • Sadio Mane - Reported transfer fee: $40m 

  • Marcelo Brozovic  - Reported transfer fee: $20m

  • Seko Fofana - Reported transfer fee: $28m

  • Alex Telles - Reported transfer fee: $5m 

Ronaldo wasn’t the only international player in the Al-Nassr squad when he joined at the beginning of this year.

Colombian former Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina and Brazilian forward Talisca, formerly of Benfica, were already at the club. 

Several more foreign stars have joined the Riyadh-based team over the summer. 

Croatian midfielder Marcelo Brozovic signed from Inter Milan for $20m, in a deal which will keep him at Al-Nassr until 2026. 

Brozovic won two cups and a league title at Inter, and most recently captained the side in their narrow 1-0 defeat to Manchester City in the Champions League final. 

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For his national team, the 30-year-old was a World Cup runner-up in 2018. 

The signing of Ivory Coast international Seko Fofana was also confirmed this month, joining from French club Lens in a three-year deal reportedly worth $28m. 

Ronaldo will also be joined by his former Manchester United teammate Alex Telles. 

The Brazil international won the Europa League last season with Spanish club Seville. He joins for $5m, and will be paid $9m per season, according to journalist Fabrizio Romano. 

On Friday, Al-Nassr agreed a deal with Bayern Munich for the transfer of Senegalese star Sadio Mane, for a fee in the region of $40m.

Mane has won a host of trophies throughout his career, including the Premier League, German Bundesliga, Uefa Champions League and Africa Cup of Nations. 


  • Edouard Mendy - Reported transfer fee: $20m 

  • Roberto Firmino - Free transfer

  • Riyad Mahrez - Reported transfer fee: $38.5m 

  • Allan Saint-Maximin - Reported transfer fee: $33m

Jeddah-based club Al-Ahli kicked off their summer of spending with the signing of Senegalese goalkeeper Edouard Mendy for a reported $20m.

At his previous club, Chelsea, Mendy won the Uefa Champions League, Uefa Super Cup and Club World Cup. 

He also starred with a crucial penalty shootout save as Senegal won its first Africa Cup of Nations title in 2021. That year, he was voted the best Fifa men’s goalkeeper. 

Mendy’s signing was followed by Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino, another highly decorated former Premier League star. 

The prolific Brazilian striker scored 111 goals in 362 appearances for Liverpool, where he won the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League. 

Earlier this month, Firmino was mobbed by eager young Al-Ahli fans days after his transfer was announced. 

On Friday, Al-Ahli confirmed the signing of Riyad Mahrez - arguably one of the greatest African footballers of all time. 

The Algerian winger, who played for Leicester City and Manchester City, won five Premier Leagues, two FA Cups, three League Cups, a Champions League title and the Africa Cup of Nations. 

Newcastle United winger Allan Saint-Maximin is set to complete an illustrious three-man attack with Mahrez and Firmino.

Newcastle and Al-Ahli reached a verbal agreement worth around $33m for his transfer - which has raised eyebrows among critics due to both clubs being majority owned by the Public Investment Fund. 

On Friday, it was reported that Al-Ahli were close to appointing RB Salzburg coach Matthias Jaissle as their new manager. 

That came after Fulham coach Marco Silva reportedly rejected a whopping $44m over two years to take over the Saudi club.


  • Ruben Neves - Reported transfer fee: $60m

  • Kalidou Koulibaly - Reported transfer fee: $25m

  • Sergej Milinkovic-Savic - Reported transfer fee: $44m.

  • Malcom - Reported transfer fee: $66m

Al-Hilal’s ambitious summer transfer activity has been defined both by players it has succeeded in signing and those it has failed to lure. 

It kicked off with an audacious attempt to sign Lionel Messi in April, offering the Argentinian icon a salary worth more than $400m a year. 

Messi rejected the deal and eventually ended up at Major League Soccer outfit Inter Miami. 

Remarkably, that wasn’t the biggest Al-Hilal offer: the Riyadh-based club has also given French superstar Kylian Mbappe the chance to earn up to $770m in salary and image rights in just a one-year contract. 

Thus far, the Paris Saint-Germain forward appears uninterested in the offer, and has not negotiated with the Saudi club. 

Hilal have also attempted to lure top managers Max Allegri and Jose Mourinho from Juventus and Roma in Italy respectively, but were rejected by both. 

Despite the failures, it’s still been a busy summer for Al-Hilal. 

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Portuguese midfielder Ruben Neves signed for a huge fee of $60m, a record sale for former club Wolverhampton Wanderers. 

That was followed up with the signing of Senegalese centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly from Chelsea for $25m, a winner of the Africa Cup of Nations and Coppa Italia. 

Next to sign was Serbian midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who signed on a three-year deal from Lazio for $44m. 

Earlier this week, Hilal also confirmed the transfer of Brazilian forward Malcom for $66m from Zenit Saint Petersburg, taking the Riyadh-based club’s summer transfer spending close to $200m. 

Italian midfielder Marco Verratti has also been strongly linked with Hilal, and may complete a star-studded midfield alongside Neves and Milinkovic-Savic.


  • Karim Benzema - Free transfer

  • N’Golo Kante - Free transfer

  • Jota - Reported transfer fee: $32m

Al-Ittihad were the Pro League club to kick off the Saudi summer of spending, with two of the highest-profile signings. 

Karim Benzema - the current holder of the Ballon d’Or, football’s highest individual prize - completed a free transfer from Real Madrid in June. 

Benzema left Madrid having won 24 trophies, including a joint-record five Champions League titles, as the second-highest scorer in the club's history (behind Cristiano Ronaldo).

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Benzema told reporters during his unveiling that his Muslim faith played a key role in his decision to move to Saudi Arabia. 

He was later followed by his countryman N’Golo Kante, who joined on a free transfer from Chelsea. 

Kante has won two Premier Leagues, a Champions League, and a World Cup, among several other honours. 

Jeddah-based Ittihad - Hilal’s bitter rivals - won the Saudi Pro League last season, under the guidance of Portuguese coach Nuno Espirito Santo. 

The club added Portuguese winger Jota from Celtic for $32m in a three-year deal earlier this month. 

Its latest target is Liverpool midfielder Fabinho - but the two clubs have yet to agree a fee. 


  • Moussa Dembele - Free transfer

  • Jack Hendry - Reported transfer fee: $8m

  • Jordan Henderson - Reported transfer fee: $15m 

Al-Ettifaq, based in Dammam on the country's eastern coast, kicked off its busy summer with the signing of a high-profile new manager. 

It confirmed the appointment of Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard on 3 July. 

Gerrard’s video to Ettifaq fans, in which he utters Arabic phrases in his strong Liverpudlian accent, was an instant viral hit on social media. 

The club’s first major signing of the summer was French striker Moussa Dembele, who signed on a free transfer from Lyon. 

Dembele scored 70 goals in 172 appearances for the French club, and was once highly sought after by European clubs. 

That signing was followed up by Scottish international centre-back Jack Hendry, who joined from Belgian club Brugge for $8m. 

On Thursday, Ettifaq confirmed the acquisition of England international Jordan Henderson. 

The former Liverpool captain - who joined for $15m - has won the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup. 

His transfer has caused controversy in England. Critics have accused Henderson - who has often spoken out about LGBT rights - of ignoring rights abuses against gay people in Saudi Arabia. 

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