Heads were turned  at the start of the year when one of the most popular football stars in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo, decided to sign for Saudi Arabian football team Al Nassr. People began to speculate  whether more signings would follow, and so far, this fall has not disappointed the Saudi league’s football fans. The Saudi Arabian Pro League has attracted big name players such as Ngolo Kante, Kalidou Koulibaly, Roberto Firmino, Karim Benzema, and so on. What really caught fan attention, though, is the fact that some of these players are in the prime of their careers, with players like Ruben Neves only being twenty-six years of age. Speculation over more transfers is ongoing.
Prior iterations of this kind of phenomena, such as with the Chinese Super League or the American MLS, mostly attracted the attention of players coming to the end of their careers. The MLS has long been a destination for footballing sensations in their golden years with Lionel Messi being the latest example. But, many of the players leaving today for Saudi Arabian clubs are still in their heyday . Players like Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Ruben Neves are both well under thirty years of age and they are costing their new club Al-hilal a combined $100 million in transfer fees.
So, how has Saudi Arabia been able to lure so many of these huge superstars from the historically competitive leagues in Europe? The answer is simple: money. The players in question are being paid a premium for their services and their clubs have been heavily compensated for their transfers. Marca, the Spanish news outlet, reported that Ronaldo is currently earning in excess of $200 million per year. Such sums of money have been previously unheard of for an individual football player, with many clubs the world over having an overall value of $200 million. The Guardian reported that in 2021 Burnley FC, a regular premier league team, was sold for a similar price to US investors.
Saudi Arabia’s critics believe that this attempt to cement itself on the world stage through a mixture of sport and heavy spending serves as a mechanism for normalizing its despotic  regime and human rights record. Some commentators have labeled this phenomenon ‘sports washing.’ Saudi Arabia has already managed to become the premier destination for golfing and boxing in recent years with similar money-burning tactics, but defenders of the Arabian country highlight similar spending figures for many of the world’s leading football teams.
Regardless of the ethical considerations, many of the world's most talented footballers could soon contemplate a move to the peninsula based on the inordinate  amount of wealth in the region. Former Manchester United striker Odion Ighalo drew attention to this very fact recently when showing the interior design of a private jet that his team, Al Hilal, had chartered  for one of their games. The luxurious lifestyles of players in the region are not to be underestimated, and soon, many of Europe’s biggest leagues could have serious competition on their hands if this spending spree continues.