Brazil's Neymar, who is taking part in a training session ahead of the World Cup qualifiers against Bolivia, has been one of the big transfer moves to Saudi Arabia in the summer window. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Spurred on by star additions, Saudi Arabia has spent a record-breaking $957 million during this summer transfers, leapfrogging football powerhouses like Spain and Italy, when the window came to an official end on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia’s spending spree on top-flight footballers — Neymar, Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema and former Liverpool FC captain Jordan Henderson — has instantly turned it into one of the game’s biggest transfer markets. Several players move to Saudi Arabia for big-money contracts, following in the footsteps of Portuguese icon Cristiano Ronaldo to the Saudi Pro League, who joined Al Nassr in late 2022.

The 31-year-old Brazilian star Neymar joined Al Hilal after six seasons with French champions Paris Saint-Germain for a reported transfer fee of about $98.56 million plus add-ons, while French star Benzema moved from Real Madrid to Al Ittihad on a two-year contract for a reported fee of $436 million.

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Al Ittihad's Karim Benzema in action during the Saudi Pro League match against Al Hilal in Jeddah. Image Credit: AFP

Salah to stay at Liverpool

The 2023 summer transfer window saw Saudi Pro League clubs spend a record $957 million, according to Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, while Bloomberg, quoting FIFA’s latest International Transfer Snapshot, valued the deals at $875.4 million when the Kingdom brought players between June 1 and September 1. Saudi Arabia’s net spend stood at $907 million, second only to the Premier League’s net transfer spend ($1.39 billion).

Egyptian star Mohamed Salah was tipped to join Al Ittihad from Liverpool star but the Premier League club has rejected the earlier offer, giving Anfield fans something to cheer about.

Gross transfer spend across Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues totalled $6.10 billion in this summer’s window, an almost $1.25 billion increase on 2022 summer’s total, which stood at $4.85 billion. Gross spend increased compared to the previous summer in all the ‘big five’ leagues except La Liga.

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Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo, whose move to Saudi Arabia from Premier League, opened the floodgates for many stars to follow in his footsteps. Image Credit: AFP

Premier League Big Six make merry

Almost half of the transfer fees received by Premier League clubs from overseas ($698 million) came from Saudi Pro League clubs. These transfer receipts ($312 million) were concentrated among eight clubs, with four of them among the Premier League’s ‘big six’, while Fulham and Liverpool saw 100 per cent of their transfer receipts come from Saudi Pro League clubs.

Across the rest of Europe, receipts from Saudi Pro League clubs were at $148 million, $122 million, $116 million and $32 million in Ligue 1, Serie A, La Liga and Bundesliga respectively.

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Propelling league to world stage

Izzy Wray of Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, said: “The ambitious number of player acquisitions and the calibre of players signed by Saudi Pro League clubs demonstrate the Kingdom’s commitment to propelling the Saudi Pro League (SPL) to become a leading football league on the world-stage. This is still early days of what we can call phase one of the (SPL) project, and the futuristic view is also reflected by the lowered average age of the league compared to last season.”

While the European football continues to be the benchmark for the game, Saudi Arabia’s move will help in elevating the level of football in the region and across the Asian continent.

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Liverpool have rejected an offer for Egypt's Mohamed Salah from Saudi Pro League club Al Ittihad. Image Credit: Reuters

“This marks the first time since 2016 that another international league has outspent any of Europe’s ‘big five’ during a football transfer window, with new players bringing the promise of new fans and partners to strengthen the SPL’s prominence. The implementation of the Kingdom’s privatisation programme is likely to draw a wave of interest around the SPL, potentially fuelling the current spending pattern for the windows to come. With the spending power of the SPL already surpassing some of Europe’s ‘big five’, it remains to be seen the impact this will have on the make-up of elite football for future generations.”

Women's game jumps 141 per cent

German clubs generated $1.11 billion from player sales over the summer, more than those in any other country. English clubs were second with total receipts of $956.2 million, followed by those in France on $887.8 million and Italy on $886 million.

Reflecting the growth of the women’s game and the success of the recent Fifa Women’s World Cup, transfer fees for women players jumped 141 per cent from mid-2022, to $3 million. There were 829 contracts transferred in the women’s game between June 1 and September 1, according to Fifa’s report, a jump of 19 per cent.

- With inputs from Bloomberg