Saudi Pro League: European football is not in danger from Saudi spending, says European Club Association

Karim Benzema greets mascots during his unveiling at Al-Riyadh

European football is not in danger from the vast Saudi Pro League recruitment drive, say senior figures at the influential European Club Association.

However, European sides want alignment over when the Saudi transfer window opens and closes.

This year, the Saudi transfer window has remained open for a week longer than in most European leagues.

“I don’t think there is a danger,” said ECA chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi.

The ECA was founded in 2008 to represent the interests of clubs from across Europe, and includes includes hundreds of member teams.

Al-Khelaifi, the Qatari former tennis player who is also Paris St-Germain president and has been a member of Uefa’s executive committee since 2019, added: “We believe in ourselves.

“We have the best and biggest competitions and the best players. It is not for me to judge what is happening outside of Europe. But listen, most of the clubs sold players to them. If we are not happy, why do we sell our players to them? That’s the truth.

“Is it dangerous? I told you my opinion. If there is a danger, the European clubs will not be quiet. So far, I don’t see any danger.”

The Saudi Pro League had the fourth highest overall transfer spend this summer, exceeding Spain’s La Liga and the German Bundesliga. According to Deloitte , Saudi Pro League clubs have so far spent £691m.

BBC Sport has been told there is funding guaranteed for a decade, suggesting the Gulf nation intends for its competition to become one of the world’s foremost in the coming years.

But Al-Khelaifi does not think there is an imminent threat to the European game, despite the exit of players such as Karim Benzema, Jordan Henderson, Sadio Mane and Neymar among others.

Former Liverpool captain Henderson joined Steven Gerrard’s Al-Ettifaq in a controversial move in July, Senegal forward Mane switched to Al-Nassr from German side Bayern Munich, Brazil forward Neymar left Paris St-Germain to play for Al-Hilal, while Ballon d’Or winner Benzema is now captain of Al-Ittihad after leaving Real Madrid.

Despite Al-Khelaifi’s insistence, there has been nervousness at some clubs over the potential for the Saudi Pro League to snap up players in Europe in the week’s gap since the transfer window in the major European leagues closed.

Al-Ittihad have continued to pursue Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah despite the Premier League season already being up and running.

“We shouldn’t be worried about it,” said Bayern Munich chief executive Jan-Christian Dreesen, who has replaced former Germany goalkeeper Oliver Khan as an ECA vice-president. “We have fantastic competitions. We don’t have to be afraid.

“But I would prefer the window to be closed at the same time. I would propose that.”

Al-Khelaifi sees the merits in a salary cap

Without doubt, the Saudi Pro-League spending spree has driven up salaries, either because clubs are trying to retain players or because agents are using rumoured interest – genuine or not – as a bargaining tool.

It has brought renewed calls for a salary cap but imposing one through regulation will not be easy.

In 2021, the English Football League scrapped an attempt to introduce one for Leagues One and Two, which had support at club level, after the Professional Footballers’ Association sought arbitration, arguing it was “unlawful and unenforceable”.

Al-Khelaifi sees the merits in a salary cap, if it is legal.

“If you ask all the clubs, from the biggest to the smallest, no-one wants to lose money,” he said.

“If we can legally come to a way that rules will allow us, everyone will support it, definitely. No-one will say no. That is what we want.

“But is it legal? Can we do it? Is there any challenge legal wise? I don’t know but everyone will want to make money, not lose it.”

Soriano elected to ECA board

In elections held earlier on Wednesday during the ECA’s general assembly in Berlin, Manchester City chief executive Ferran Soriano took the vacant Premier League spot on the ECA board.

Celtic chair Peter Lawwell was named as a vice-president, whilst Sparta Prague international relations manager Martina Pavlova and Olympique Lyonnais Feminine owner Michele Kang were elected into the two positions reserved on the board for female representatives.

Pavlova has also been named a vice-president.

Questioned about the controversy surrounding the Spain Women’s World Cup team and Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales still remaining in post, Pavlova said: “The ECA speaks for itself – its values are clear.

“We all know there are some proceedings [against Rubiales]. We have to wait for the outcome.”

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