Saudi Arabia’s takeover of football: Premier League stars set to depart for Middle East

Saudi Arabia’s raid on European football’s biggest stars is set to come into fruition with up to five Chelsea players set to leave for the Saudi Pro League this week.

Kalidou Koulibaly, Edouard Mendy and Hakim Ziyech all subject to potential transfers to the Middle East, whilst Callum Hudson-Odoi is on Saudi clubs’ radars. With that in mind here is a look through some of the biggest moves to the SPL.

Cristiano Ronaldo – Al Nassr

Arguably the most high profile mover on this list, Ronaldo signed for Al-Nassr on December 30th after departing Manchester United in controversial circumstances during the World Cup following a highly critical interview with Piers Morgan.

Now, six months into life playing in the Middle East, the legendary Portuguese superstar notched up 14 goals in 16 Pro League matches but ended the campaign trophy less, with Al-Nassr narrowly missing out on the title to Al-Ittihad.

Karim Benzema – Al Ittihad

Despite only winning the first Ballon d’Or of his career in October, Benzema has found himself departing Real Madrid for the Saudi experience at league winners Al-Ittihad. The 35-year-old Frenchman left Madrid at the beginning of June after 14 years at the club.

A move that surprised many, given the fact the forward had one his best seasons as a professional during the 2021/22 season, with 44 goals and 15 assists in 46 games coupling with Madrid’s La Liga, Spanish Super Cup and Champions League triumphs.

Ruben Neves – Al Hilal

Despite the rumours of numerous Chelsea players departing, Wolves captain Neves provided the footballing world the biggest shock as his £47m move to Al Hilal was agreed earlier this week. The 26-year-old Portuguese international had been waiting for a dream move to Barcelona to fall into place, but with nothing materialising, the Saudi club jumped at the chance to get their man.

Still only in his mid-twenties, the midfielder was the youngest captain in Champions League history for Porto at 18, before enjoying a fruitful six year period at Wolves. Neves became captain at the start of the 22/23 season and now departs after 253 appearances and 30 goals for the Wolves.

N’golo Kante – Al Ittihad

The likeable Frenchman’s time at Chelsea will come to an end when his contract expires at the end of June. The two-time Premier League winner will be joining fellow countryman Karim Benzema at Al-Ittihad, bringing a curtain down on his time in the English top-flight.

A popular character in world football, the 32-year-old becomes the latest high-profile player to move across to the Middle East, although is the first in what could be up to five Blues players transferring to the Saudi Pro League. Kante’s final season at Chelsea was plagued with injuries, in what was a highly successful seven seasons at the Blues, which included the Premier League, FA Cup, Europa League and Champions League.

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