Manchester City's manager Pep Guardiola
Manchester City's manager Pep Guardiola Image Credit: AFP

SEOUL: Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said on Saturday that the Saudi Pro League had "completely changed the market" and he expects more and more high-profile players to move there.

City winger Riyad Mahrez this week became just the latest big name to move to Saudi football, following in the footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and numerous others from Europe's top leagues.

Mahrez, who scored 78 goals and made 59 assists for City in a trophy-laden spell at the club, on Friday joined the Saudi Pro League side for a reported sum of 35 million euros ($38.55 million) plus five million in add-ons.

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Bayern Munich's Sadio Mane on Saturday looked poised to join the exodus.

"The Saudi league completely changed the market," Guardiola said in Seoul on the eve of City's friendly with Atletico Madrid.

"A year ago when Cristiano Ronaldo was the first player, no one could imagine how many top, top quality, extraordinary players were going to play in the Saudi league.

Matthias Jaissle Al Ahli
Al-Ahli unveil Matthias Jaissle as their new coach in Paris, France on July 28, 2023: Al-Ahli new coach Matthias Jaissle poses for a photograph with Al-Ahli executive director Yazin Al-Sharif Image Credit: Al-Ahli Club Media Office/Handout via REUTERS

"In the future, it will happen more and more."

Guardiola said that he had a "special relationship" with Mahrez, even though the attacker fell from favour towards the end of his time at the English and European champions.

"He's one of the players I've seen in my career I enjoyed the most.

"(He was) an important figure for the success we had during the five or six years together."

Saudi attractive to European players

Saudi Pro league has become an attractive destination for Europe-based players since Ronaldo moved to Al Nassr in January, with Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema, World Cup winner N'Golo Kante and ex-Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson also moving to Saudi.

City could also lose another player to the Saudi league, with Portuguese international Bernardo Silva linked with a move to Al Hilal, according to British media reports.

"They want to create a strong league and so far they are the league who can do it...," Guardiola said.

"The players want to take this experience to play in that [Saudi] league and they are able to do it."

Many transfers this season

Allan Saint-Maximin has confirmed he is to leave Newcastle before an expected move to the Saudi Pro League.

The French winger, heavily linked with a 30 million euros ($38.5 million) move to Al-Ahli, posted a farewell message on his Instagram account. In it he professes his love for the Premier League club and reflects on their journey from relegation strugglers to last season's impressive fourth-placed finish.

Saint-Maximin, 26, said: "I fell for Newcastle, I had great opportunities to leave during dark days, but that was too late. I was already in love, I wanted, I needed, I had to stay for helping my team to save the club from Premier League relegation because it meant the world for me.

"Of course during those dark days some may have had their doubts, but I always believed in this club and look where we are today, it's just so beautiful. I'm leaving Newcastle as it should always have been and that's my greatest trophy because I was a part of it."

Saint-Maximin has made 124 appearances for the club and scored 13 goals since joining from Nice in 2019.

Roberto Firmino, Riyad Mahrez and Edouard Mendy have already signed for Al-Ahli, while Karim Benzema, Jordan Henderson and N'Golo Kante have also joined Pro League clubs in recent weeks.