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With the wealth of the country’s Public Investment Fund backing their ambitious recruitment drive, teams from Saudi Arabia’s Pro League have been snapping up some of the game’s biggest names in a series of big-money transfer moves that have rocked football to its foundations.
Cristiano Ronaldo became the first trailblazing superstar to accept the lure of the petrodollar in the Middle East when he chose to sign for Al Nassr in December last year, penning a contract believed to be worth approximately €200m per year.
In early June, just after the end of the domestic club campaign in Europe, Karim Benzema was the next heavyweight to turn heads when the iconic French striker chose to sign a colossal deal with Al-Ittihad.
With the transfer window now officially open, a lengthening list of stellar names have been linked with a summer switch to Saudi Arabia and below, we’ve got the lowdown on some of the players likeliest to seal deals.
Ruben Neves – Wolves to Al-Hilal
Al-Hilal were one of four clubs taken under the control of Saudi Arabia’s cash-rich PIF this week and the Riyadh-based outfit look ready to flex their new financial muscle with a move for Wolves captain, Ruben Neves.
Cultured midfielder Neves has been a consistent Premier League performer for Wanderers over the past six years and the 26-year-old Portuguese international had been heavily linked with a transfer to some of English football’s powerhouses, including Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United.
This summer, a transfer to Barcelona had been in the works, but now it looks as though Neves has been tempted by the prospect of filling his personal coffers in the Middle East. Al-Hilal are expected to part with a fee in the region of €55m for Neves.
N’Golo Kante – Chelsea to Al-Ittihad
32-year-old French anchorman N’Golo Kante is expected to lead an exodus of Chelsea players to the Middle East this summer and the marauding midfielder is on the cusp of joining compatriot Karim Benzema at Al-Ittihad.
Kante’s contract with the Saudi side is expected to earn him approximately €2m per week, which is roughly six times the value of his last deal with the Blues.
Kante, who is a Premier League and World Cup winner, featured in just seven Premier League fixtures for Chelsea last season due to a series of injury issues, though he should be fit and firing to star in the new Saudi Pro League campaign which starts in August.
Kalidou Koulibaly – Chelsea to Al-Hilal
Senegalese international Kalidou Koulibaly hasn’t quite hit the heights expected of him since landing at Chelsea from Napoli in 2022 and the 31-year-old could be set to seek out new pastures in the Middle East just 12 months after jetting in to sign for the Blues.
Al-Hilal are rumoured to be close to tying up a deal for the centre-half in a transfer that could cost the Saudi club close to €30m. Koulibaly would stand to pocket a mammoth salary in what would be an initial three-year deal in the Pro League.
Koulibaly started just 20 of Chelsea’s 38 Premier League fixtures during his maiden campaign in England in 2022/23.
Riyad Mahrez – Manchester City to Al-Ahli
Saudi Arabian club Al-Ahli are believed to have been working hard behind the scenes to lure Riyad Mahrez away from Manchester City, dangling a €100m contract in front of the 32-year-old winger in a bid to bring his talents to the Middle East.
Al-Ahli chairman Waleed Muath has been spending plenty of time in London according to reports in his attempts to line up deals for several Premier League superstars and Mahrez is thought to be among the players in his crosshairs.
Mahrez was an unused substitute in Manchester City’s Champions League final win over Inter Milan earlier this month and Al-Ahli are reportedly offering him €50m plus bonuses per season on a two-year contract.
Pierre-Emile Aubameyang – Chelsea to ?
Alongside N’Golo Kante, Kalidou Koulibaly, Moroccan winger Hakim Ziyech and goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, out of favour Gabonese striker Pierre-Emile Aubameyang looks like another wantaway Chelsea player destined for a move to Saudi Arabia.
The 33-year-old, whose career has drifted in journeyman territory in recent seasons, has been heavily linked with switches to all four of the Pro League clubs recently acquired by the Saudi Investment Fund.
Aubameyang doesn’t seem to have a preferred destination, though the former Arsenal and Dortmund hitman will sign a megabucks contract no matter where he ends up.
The Gabon international was captured by Chelsea from Barcelona for €15m last September, but went on to make just 15 Premier League appearances for the Blues, notching just once along the way.
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