Around this time last year not many even perceived that Saudi Arabia could dramatically change the football landscape in the months that followed.
The Saudi Pro League witnessed an astronomical rise ever since, becoming a hot destination for top footballers from around the world. Portuguese football legend Cristiano Ronaldo was the first to set the ball rolling at the start of this year, following his acrimonious departure from Manchester United.
The football great joined Riyadh-based Al Nassr Football Club for €200m per year, for a two-and-a-half year contract that runs until June, 2025. In light of the exodus of players that quickly followed, Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp voiced concerns over losing more players particularly because Saudi Arabia’s transfer window closes three weeks after Europe’s, and urged Fifa to look into the matter.
The Premier League’s transfer window closes on September 1, the deadline for most of Europe’s top leagues, but Saudi Pro League clubs can sign players until September 20.
Here we have a look at the top players who have moved from Europe to Saudi Arabia
Karim Benzema; Real Madrid to Al Ittihad on June 6
The current Ballon d’Or holder began the Saudi Arabia’s summer transfers under way completing a free transfer from 14-time European champions Real Madrid to the two-time Asian champions Al Ittihad, thus ending his 14-year stay in the Spanish capital. The 35-year-old France international signed a two-year contract worth €400million ($436m).
N’Golo Kante; Chelsea to Al Ittihad on June 21
After having spent seven years at Chelsea, the midfielder joined up with compatriot Karim Benzema at Al Ittihad on a free transfer. The 2018 Ffia World Cup winner is set to earn €86m ($109.78m) per year throughout his four-year deal with the Jeddah-based club.
Ruben Neves; Wolverhampton Wanderers to Al Hilal on June 24
Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers received a club-record fee of £47m for the transfer of their captain to Al Hilal on a three-year deal. The Portugal midfielder scored 30 goals in 253 appearances during his six-season stay at Molineux.
Kalidou Koulibaly; Chelsea to Al Hilal on June 25
Senegal defender joined Al Hilal from Chelsea on a three-year deal for a reported £17 million. The 32-year-old became the second player to move to Al Hilal from the Premier League after Neves.
Edouard Mendy; Chelsea to Al Ahli on June 28
The Senegal goalkeeper left Chelsea after three years to join Saudi Pro League side Al Ahli. He won the Champions League in 2020-21 and kept 49 clean sheets in 105 games. The 31-year-old was named Uefa’s goalkeeper of the season and Best Fifa men’s keeper for 2021.
Marcelo Brozovic; Inter Milan to Al Nassr on July 3
The 30-year-old was signed by Al Nassr from Inter Milan. The Croatia international will team up with Ronaldo. Brozovic had interest from Barcelona, but he opted for Riyadh instead, where he has reportedly signed a three-year deal with a salary of €25m (nearly $30m) per season. He played his last game for the club in the Champions League final loss to Man City - becoming the first ever Croatian to captain a team in the final. He was also a key part of the Croatia squad that came runners-up in the 2018 World Cup in Russia and finished third four years later in Qatar.
Steven Gerrard; Coach Al Ettifaq on July 3
Gerrard joined as the new manager of Al Ettifaq after resuming talks with the club over a return to management and has agreed to take over the Dammam-based outfit. The former Liverpool captain, who was fired by Aston Villa in November 2022 after less than 12 months at Villa Park, rejected an initial offer to move to Al Ettifaq in June
Jota; Celtic to Al Ittihad on July 3
The Portuguese winger joined former Rangers boss Steven Gerrard after he sealed a sensational £25million switch to Al Ittihad. The Portuguese star clinched a move on a three-year contract. The 24-year-old signed on loan for Celtic from Benfica in September 2021 before making the transfer permanent in July 2022. Over his two years in Glasgow, the Portuguese contributed 28 goals and 26 assists.
Roberto Firmino; Liverpool to Al Ahli on July 4
The Brazilian striker made a tearful exit from Liverpool to join Al Ahli. The 31-year-old enjoyed a hugely successful eight-year spell, which saw him lift every major club title.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Lazio to Al Hilal on July 12
The Serbian midfielder joined Al Hilal from Serie A side Lazio after been linked with a host of Premier League clubs. The 28-year-old, who has been one of the best central midfielders in Italy for a number of years, joined for a reported €40 million ($44.51 million). Milinkovic-Savic has signed a three-year contract with an option for a fourth and will be teammates with Koulibaly and Neves.
Seko Fofana, Lens to Al Nassr on July 18
RC Lens captain joined Al Nassr for a fees of €25million. The 28-year-old, who signed a three-year contract, is widely regarded as one of Ligue 1’s best midfielders and has previously attracted interest from the Premier League and PSG but instead he opted to join Ronaldo and Marcelo Brozovic.
Alex Telles; Manchester United to Al Nassr on July 23
The 30-year-old defender has signed for Al Nassr on a three-year deal. Telles was on loan at Sevilla last season, where he helped knock out Man United en route to lifting the Europa League title. The Brazilian will reunite with former United teammate Ronaldo. He made a total of 50 appearances for The Red Devils during a three-year stint, but spent last year on loan at Sevilla.
Malcom; Zenit St Petersburg to Al Hilal on July 26
The 26-year-old Brazilian has signed a four-year deal to join to Al Hilal, where he will play alongside Koulibaly, Neves and Milinkovic-Savic. Malcom moved to Zenit in 2019 from Barcelona, and lifted the Russian Premier League title last season as the top scorer (23) in the league. He will reportedly earn €60 million ($66.38 million) for the transfer.
Jordan Henderson; Liverpool to Al Ettifaq to July 27
The Liverpool captain completed his three-year move to the Saudi outfit, where he will join former Reds teammate Gerrard. The 33-year-old England international joined Liverpool in 2011, and won the Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League and League Cup with them.
Moussa Dembele; Lyon to Al Ettifaq on July 27
The French striker joins Gerrard and Henderson at Al Ettifaq on a four-year deal after the expiry of his contract with Lyon, who he joined in 2018. The former Celtic forward made 28 appearances last season for Lyon and scored three goals.
Jack Hendry; Club Brugge to Al Ettifaq on July 27
The 28-year-old Scotland international is one of the several signings confirmed in a short span of time by Al Ettifaq. After joining Brugges in 2021, Hendry made 32 appearances for them in the Belgian Pro League and spent time on loan at Cremonese in Serie A last season.
Riyad Mahrez; Manchester City to Al Ahli on July 28
After a successful five-year stint, Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez made his exit from the Abu Dhabi-owned club with a 30 million pound move to Al-Ahli. The 32-year-old Algerian national, whose new Saudi club contract has an option to be extended, boosted his City run last season with four Premier League titles.
Allan Saint-Maximin; Newcastle United to Al Ahli on July 30
Joining Roberto Firmino and Riyad Mahrez, Allan Saint-Maximin also transferred to Al-Ahli from Europe. The 26-year-old Frenchman joins the Saudi club after a four-year stint with Newcastle United. It’s interesting to note that his previous club Newcastle was owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which has a 75 per cent stake in four clubs in the kingdom’s league, including Al Ahli.
Fabinho; Liverpool to Al Ittihad July 31
Brazil midfielder Fabinho was signed for Saudi Pro League champions Al Ittihad on a three-year contract for £40m. The 29-year-old, who was integral to Jurgen Klopp’s successful Liverpool team and made 219 appearances since joining the Reds in 2018, will join Benzema and Kante in the Saudi club.
Sadio Mane; Bayern Munich to Al Nassr on August 1
Sadio Mane was announced as the latest footballer to transfer to Saudi Arabia, and he will team up with Ronaldo, Brozovic, Fofana and Telles at Al Nassr on a four-year £24m contract. The 31-year-old Senegal national joins the Saudi club from Bayern Munich, where he scored 12 goals in 38 appearances.