Former Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville has called on the Premier League to impose a transfer embargo on players moving to Saudi Arabia until the integrity of the league is safeguarded.
Neville’s plea comes as high-profile players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and N’Golo Kante have made moves to the Saudi Pro League, with rumours swirling around the potential transfer of Lionel Messi before his recent move to the United States.
Neville’s concerns revolve around the increasing number of players in their prime who are attracting interest from Saudi Arabian clubs.
This includes the likes of Ruben Neves from Wolverhampton Wanderers, Kalidou Koulibaly and Hakim Ziyech from Chelsea, and Thomas Partey from Arsenal.
The influx of marquee names, both at the end and in the middle of their careers, underscores the Saudi Pro League’s ambition to become one of the top five leagues in the world.
QUICK READ: List of players headed to the Saudi Pro League
In June, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which already owns Newcastle United, confirmed its acquisition of four prominent clubs in the country, including Al-Nassr, who signed Cristiano Ronaldo in December.
The involvement of PIF in English football has raised questions about the potential implications for the integrity of the game.
Neville believes the Premier League should take immediate action to preserve the integrity of the competition by imposing a transfer embargo on Saudi Arabia until a thorough examination of the ownership structure at clubs like Chelsea is conducted.
He argues that appropriate checks should be in place to ensure the legitimacy of these transactions before transfers can resume.
Financial concerns also contribute to the mounting unease surrounding the Saudi Arabian investments in football.
English clubs like Chelsea and Wolverhampton Wanderers have faced challenges in adhering to Financial Fair Play rules, which limit clubs’ losses to £105 million over a three-year period.
Chelsea’s significant spending of over £400 million in transfers last season and Wolves’ reported £46.1 million loss have prompted scrutiny regarding their compliance with these regulations.
Wolves, for instance, were expecting midfielder Ruben Neves to join Barcelona this summer. However, the Portuguese international has unexpectedly agreed to a lucrative deal to join Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia for a fee of £47 million, far surpassing initial expectations.
Such developments raise questions about the financial stability and decision-making of English clubs in the face of Saudi Arabian investment.
While sources at Chelsea deny any direct financial interest from Saudi Arabia’s PIF, concerns remain about potential connections between the Saudi fund and Clearlake Capital, the private equity firm that owns the club.
Clearlake Capital reportedly has a broad range of investors globally, but no shareholder is permitted to own more than 5% of the organization. The Premier League has a fair value assessment system in place to ensure that deals, including transfers, are conducted at market value, but FIFA’s transfer matching system also plays a similar role.
Multi-club ownership is not explicitly prohibited by UEFA, the governing body of European football, which has refrained from commenting on the matter thus far.
The growing influence of Saudi Arabian investments and the potential implications for fair play and competition integrity are concerns that football authorities need to address to maintain the credibility of the sport.