The "Vision 2030" sports project aims to make its competition the most important with the privatisation of clubs

Mahrez, Mané, Cristiano or Benzema, Arabia is conquering world football with the best players

AFP/FAYEZ NURELDINE - Valla publicitaria que da la bienvenida al nuevo delantero portugués del club de fútbol saudí al-Nassr, Cristiano Ronaldo, se muestra a lo largo de una carretera en la capital de Arabia Saudita, Riyadh, el 3 de enero de 2023
photo_camera AFP/FAYEZ NURELDINE - Billboard welcoming Saudi Arabian football club al-Nassr's new Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo is shown along a roadside in Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh on January 3, 2023

The Saudi Arabian league had hardly any global impact until Cristiano Ronaldo accepted an offer from Al-Nassr Riyadh to continue his career there after his ill-fated spell at Manchester United.

Then it was the turn of Benzema, who gave up a year's contract at Real Madrid to join Al-Ittihad FC. These two names and the resulting tax-free million-dollar contracts were the tip of the iceberg of what this country had in store to conquer world football. 

Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Faisal, as Saudi Arabia's Minister of Sports, together with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, are seeking to implement a greedy plan called "Vision 2030", which has entered the second phase. This involves the Public Investment Fund (PIF) buying up top clubs and spending up to 450 million euros on transfers to the Saudi Professional League.

AFP/FAYEZ NURELDINE - El príncipe heredero de Arabia Saudí, Mohamed bin Salman
AFP/FAYEZ NURELDINE - The Saudi Arabian Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman

Saudi Arabia's economic muscle in football came with the Spanish Super Cup, which has been held on its territory for several seasons now, with the exception of the pandemic. Now, the four big clubs Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr, Al-Ahli and Al-Ittihad have been transferred to the Public Investment Fund and a rush to sign big-name players who, curiously, still have a few seasons left in Europe.

One of the latest cases is that of Algeria's Riyad Mahrez (32) who arrives at Al-Ahli SC as a flamboyant European champion with Pep Guardiola's Manchester City. 

Sadio Mané (31) arrived at Bayern Munich to fill Lewandowski's void, but 11 goals later it was enough for the Senegalese to join Al-Nassr. 

PHOTO/TWITTER @ittihad - N´Golo Kanté y Karim Benzema entrenando con el Al-Ittihad
PHOTO/TWITTER @ittihad - N'Golo Kanté and Karim Benzema training with Al-Ittihad

Fabinho (31), a Real Madrid youth player who has played every possible game for Liverpool over the past five seasons, has left the English club to join Al-Ittihad. Jordan Henderson (33) is also leaving Liverpool for Al-Ettifaq where he will be coached by Gerrard and Roberto Firmino (31) is leaving the city of The Beatles for Al-Ahli. 

N'Golo Kanté (32) is leaving Chelsea after seven seasons to join Al-Ittihad, as are Kalidou Koulibaly (32), who is moving from the London suburb to Al-Hilal, and Édouard Mendy (31), who will be in goal for Al-Ahli SC.

There are also European runners-up who are leaving their team for the Saudi Arabian league. Marcelo Brozović (30) has left Inter Milan for Al-Nassr. 

Among the youngsters with a lot to gain in Europe, Milinkovic-Savic (28) has left Lazio for Al-Hilal and Allan Saint-Maximin (26) has left the mighty Newcastle for Al-Ahli. Ruben Neves had plenty to do in the Premiership, but Al-Hilal have paid Wolves 55 million euros for his services. 

With an average age of around 30, but also with some younger stars, the Saudi Arabian competition is trying to carve out a niche for itself among the world's top leagues. There are still names on the table once Messi has decided to wear pink at Inter Miami. Dembele could leave Barça and end up at a Saudi club, as could En-Nesyri, the Sevilla striker who has a million-dollar offer from Al-Hilal on the table.