Saudi spending no one-off but strategy for long-term investment, says top league official

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Saudi spending no one-off but strategy for long-term investment, says top league official
The Saudi Pro League kicks off on Friday night
The Saudi Pro League kicks off on Friday night
Reuters
The vast sums invested to entice some of the world's top players to Saudi Arabia this season is no one-off, but part of a long-term strategy to make the Saudi Pro League one of the best in the world, its chief operating officer has said.

Carlo Nohra told Reuters in an interview that authorities in the "football-mad country" are confident their strategy of going all out to sign the game's biggest names would ensure that fans flocked to stadiums in the new campaign, which starts on Friday.

Saudi clubs have spent more than 400 million euros ($439 million) in the close season to sign players from Europe's elite teams, including Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema from Real Madrid, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson and treble winner Riyad Mahrez from Manchester City.

The influx began just a few months after Al-Nassr signed Cristiano Ronaldo on a reported salary of more than $200 million a year in December.

Ronaldo and Talisca warming up for Al-Nassr
Reuters

Soccer website Transfermarkt ranks the Saudi League as the fifth-biggest spender in the current transfer window, ahead of Spain's LaLiga.

"It's very straightforward and I tie it back to our strategy," Nohra told Reuters. "One of the very first objectives that the Saudi Pro League was set was to improve the product.

"We had to improve quality and in order to improve quality, you have to bring in the best. Spending was always going to be an essential component for us to do this.

"What you're seeing is simply the Saudi Pro League doing what other leagues needed to do ... We have joined these ranks, and we're doing whatever it takes to improve quality on the pitch."

'NOT JUST FOR ONE WEEKEND'

Nohra added that the league's strategy would take time to come to full fruition and that the spending was set to continue.

"Look, this is definitely a journey," he said. "This is not just for one weekend. We've set out to achieve this objective to be one of the top 10 leagues in the world.

"We have a mission, and that is to unleash the potential we have to drive change.

"We want to become one of the recognised leaders for excellence in governance, in club development and player acquisition, and also in commercialization."

Multiple media reports say Saudi Arabia has allocated more than $17 billion to support clubs under the country's "Vision 2030" economic and social reform blueprint, but Nohra said each transfer period would be dealt with independently.

"I go back to the answer I gave you a little earlier that to improve quality on the pitch, we have to spend money," he said.

"There is a commitment to spend money to bring in that quality, but it has not been quantified and certainly not quantified for such a long period until 2030.

"We're taking it one window at a time. But yes, in order to improve quality, we have to pay for it."

With speculation rife that the league will make more high-profile player acquisitions before its transfer window closes on Sept. 7, anticipation among fans is high ahead of the new campaign.

"The excitement is definitely palpable," Nohra said. "In this football mad country, where football is in the DNA, we've just had our biggest season yet in terms of attendance and broadcast coverage.

‮"‬We're just as excited as the fans are. For us, this really is a moment when the strategy actually comes to life and we start delivering for the Saudi people the quality entertainment they deserve from the sport that they really love.

"Let us remember that this is a country where 80% of the population either plays, watches or attends matches, so we have no concerns that fans will flock to watch the new stars that will be on parade."

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