The Saudi professional league continues to grow as more players follow Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema to the Middle East.
Ronaldo moved to Saudi Arabia in January following his departure from Manchester United, while Benzema recently announced his move to Al Ittihad from Real Madrid.
Premier League, Champions League and World Cup winner N’Golo Kante joins compatriot Benzema at the Saudi champions, while 26-year-old Ruben Neves has opted to leave Europe after Wolves accepted a £47.2m ($60m) bid from Al Hilal.
Sporting News looks at why players are leaving for Saudi Arabia instead of staying in Europe.
Why are players going to Saudi Arabia?
The transfer of Neves shocked a lot of fans as he was constantly linked with the likes of Barcelona and Man United. European football is often considered the pinnacle of the sport at club level, largely down to the Champions League.
The simple answer as to why players are going to Saudi Arabia is money. Most footballers will retire from the sport in their late thirties, providing they haven’t been forced into an early end by injuries. Therefore, maximising their earnings can often be a priority over competing for bigger trophies.
For example, Neves was reportedly earning around £4m ($5.1m) per year with Wolves. He is now set to earn an estimate of £12m ($15.3m) a year at Al Hilal, tripling his salary in Riyadh.
A similar situation occurred in the sport of golf as players left the PGA Tour to join Saudi-funded LIV International Golf Series. This is was due to the financial benefits, which outweighed the PGA Tour incentives for some of the best players in the sport.
Why is Saudi Arabia paying big money for stars?
As Saudi Pro League teams do not compete in the Champions League or face teams such as Barcelona and Real Madrid on a regular basis, they needed another way to improve the rosters of their teams.
Offering large sums of money for stars who are still yet to reach the peak of their career boosts the reputation of the league as well as the competitive nature between teams. This will encourage more players like Neves, Edouard Mendy and Hakim Ziyech to join the league.
Bringing over Ronaldo and Benzema, who have both won the Ballon d’Or, will also show other older players that the Saudi Pro League is a viable option for a final destination like MLS or Chinese Super League.
Who are Saudi Arabian team owners?
The clubs in the Saudi Pro League are being privatised as part of a government project to help progress the sport develop in the country. The minister of sport in Saudi Arabia said that the changes would help the competition be among the top ten leagues in the world.
The Public Investment Fund (PIF), who own an 805 stake in Newcastle, also have 75% stakes in Al Nassr, Al Hilal, Al Ahli, and Al Itiihad. Saudi oil company Aramco are set to buy a percentage of Al Qadsia while Neom have bought part of Al Suqoor FC.