RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo is already in Saudi Arabia. Karim Benzema looks sure to be next. And as the oil-rich kingdom pursues Lionel Messi as well, it is making sure that money continues to flow into the domestic soccer league.
Saudi Arabia on Monday made its already obvious intentions in world soccer even clearer by announcing a “privatization project” for companies to spend more on clubs — part of the Vision 2030 national development policy promoted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also prime minister.
Saudi public sector organizations also will be encouraged to invest in sports with teams in the national soccer league a top priority.
"The Saudi Pro League … will be supported in its ambition to be amongst the top 10 leagues in the world,” the state-owned Saudi Press Agency said in a news release.
Ronaldo has been the headline attraction so far, joining the Al Nassr club in January on a reported salary of $200 million a year.
Benzema’s move to join his former long-time Real Madrid teammate in the Saudi league is expected to be confirmed after he played an emotional farewell game Sunday after 14 years with the 14-time European champion.
Messi played his last game for Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain on Saturday and is weighing offers from Saudi Arabia and Inter Miami in Major League Soccer. He is also reportedly considering a potential return to Barcelona, where he spent 16 years before reluctantly leaving the financially troubled club for PSG in 2021.
The Saudi league has players from “over 40 different countries and has seen attendances increase by nearly 150% in the last year,” the statement from the SPA said. “The privatization and ownership transfer of clubs aims to accelerate progress in a variety of sports across the kingdom further growing participation, providing cutting edge facilities, increasing competition and nurturing future champions."
Saudi Arabia’s domestic soccer and homegrown players are also flourishing.
The national team stunned Messi and Argentina with a 2-1 victory in their opening game at the World Cup in Qatar in November, and the Al-Hilal club won the Asian Champions League title in 2019 and 2021.
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