Premier League Transfers: Youngest Champions League captain’s shock Saudi switch

Saudi Arabia Pro League

Clubs from the Saudi Arabian Pro League have been working their way down a star-studded shopping list this summer, though Al-Hilal’s £47m move for a prime Premier League performer feels like a particularly significant transfer.

Having already captured the signatures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema over the past six months and lined up deals for N’Golo Kante, Kalidou Koulibaly and Hakim Ziyech among others this summer, Saudi clubs have been adding plenty of stardust to the Pro League, however, the imminent switch of Wolves captain Ruben Neves to Al-Hilal feels like a noteworthy change in tack.

Ruben Neves’s significant Saudi switch

At 26-years-old, Wanderers midfielder Ruben Neves will be the first high-profile star in his prime to trade European football for a gig in the Middle East in a transfer that could tip football’s balance of pulling power in Saudi Arabia’s direction.

The deep-lying playmaker, who became the youngest ever player to start as captain in the Champions League when he wore the armband for Porto against Maccabi Tel Aviv in October 2015, is considered one of the best players in his position in the Premier League and his decision to up sticks to Saudi Arabia has caused quite a stir.

Neves, who is out of contract with Wolves at the end of next season, has been with Wanderers for six years and the Portuguese international had been heavily linked with a transfer to La Liga champions Barcelona this summer.

However, Neves has cast aside his Champions League aspirations for the time being and has instead chosen to seek out new challenges and the eye-watering financial rewards on offer in the Pro League.

Could Neves’s move to the Pro League be a turning point?

While it is easier to understand Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante’s decisions to accept the bumper contracts on offer in Saudi Arabia in the twilight of their careers, Neves’s choice to follow in their footsteps has raised more eyebrows and turned more heads.

At 26 and in his pomp, Neves could have chosen from a number of other suitors in England’s Premier League and beyond, as evidenced by his continual links with Barcelona, however, in giving in to the pull of the petrodollar, the midfielder might have opened the door for other players in his age bracket to follow his lead.

Like it or not, the main motivations behind most inter-club transfer are financial and without the fiscal might to chase the biggest names, England’s Premier League wouldn’t have attracted anywhere near the number of superstars it has in recent seasons.

Similarly, alongside the prestige of representing big-hitting Spanish duo Real Madrid and Barcelona, the financial packages offered by both La Liga giants to their recruits are among the meatiest in football.

In general terms, footballers tend to follow the money and now the Saudi Arabia Pro League has more of it than anywhere else.

Neves’s trailblazing decision to trade the bright lights of top-level football in England for a new role in the Middle East could pave the way for players of a similar ilk to follow, and the transfer of talent from Europe’s major leagues to Saudi Arabia could intensify as a consequence.

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