The 2023 summer transfer window delivered an incredible script, bringing drama to European football as Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund took over clubs in the Saudi Pro League and began making headlines with extravagant transfer fees and salaries to attract European football stars.
Cristiano Ronaldo led the trend by joining Al Nassr, and the world watched on in suspense as other stars like Neymar, Riyad Mahrez, Kalidou Koulibaly, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Jordan Henderson followed suit.
Despite attempts to lure more superstars like Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, and Victor Osimhen into the picture, the players rejected the mega offers.
The unconventional and money-driven approach will not continue in the January transfer window after the SPL appointed former Chelsea executive Michael Emenalo as the new sporting director.
Emenalo heads the league’s Player Acquisition Center of Excellence (PACE), which handles the centralised approach to transfers, squad planning, and player care.
The former Nigerian international, who made his name in European football in London from 2011 to 2017, remains optimistic about the January transfer window but hopes for a quieter period.
Emenalo believes that necessary additions would come in, but they would be of the “highest level”.
Speaking on the winter window, Emenalo said (via SPL.com), “Well, I’m hoping it’s not very busy because I think the job that was done has been quite interesting and aggressive, and most of the clubs, I believe, have what they need. And hopefully, the attention will now turn to work within the training facilities to improve these players and to allow them time to adapt and perform.
“Now, whatever additional improvement that we need to do for any club, with time on our hands and preparation, we believe will be additions of the “highest level.”
We analyse three potential “high-level” signings the Saudi League could make in the upcoming summer and how much they will cost!
Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)
The Frenchman rejected a mammoth offer from Al Hilal this summer, but the Saudis are persistent and could be back for him in the winter transfer window.
Interestingly, Mbappe will enter the final six months of his Paris Saint-Germain contract by January and has stated he will not renew his deal.
It is the perfect time for the Saudis to make a pitch to the World Cup-winning star. They could convince the 24-year-old to make a brief stop in Saudi Arabia before completing his touted move to Real Madrid.
Convincing Mbappe will represent a massive coup for the Gulf Nation as he is a bonafide superstar with a massive following amongst young people.
However, if the Saudi League plans to move for him in January, it will take a ridiculously high fee to get PSG to let go of their prized asset. The Ligue 1 champions will likely demand more than the €90 million they received for Neymar months ago.
The wise choice would be for the Saudi League to negotiate a free summer transfer move for Mbappe in January, but they have more cash than sense and would snap at a chance to sign him early.
Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)
The Belgian playmaker and Manchester City star has recently been linked with a transfer to the Saudi Pro League.
Kevin De Bruyne is still recovering from a hamstring injury that has ruled him out for months, but he would be a pivotal signing for the league. He is still one of the top playmakers in European football and fits perfectly into the high-level bracket that Emenalo spoke about.
De Bruyne finished fourth at the 2023 Ballon d’Or and third last year. He will be an exciting signing for any of the SPL’s powerhouses, and what a sight it will be seeing the former Chelsea man delivering pitch-perfect passes for the likes of Aleksandr Mitrovic, Mane or Ronaldo.
De Bruyne’s current deal runs out in 2025, and City could look to recoup some funds from his sale as he is already 32.
Transfermarkt holds De Bruyne’s value at around €70 million, and City will likely demand around that sum for one of their greatest players ever.
The Liverpool attacker was subject to interest from the Saudi League side Al Ittihad, who had signed his Reds teammate Fabinho.
Representatives of the Saudi Pro League club pushed for a deal and even made a mouth-watering £200 million bid to the Merseyside club for his signature, forcing Jurgen Klopp to go off on another one of his rants — this time it was about the influx of Saudi money.
Despite their ridiculous push, Mohamed Salah stayed put at Liverpool. But you have to expect the Saudi League to return for the Egyptian forward, even chucking more money at Liverpool and the player.
Liverpool will be reluctant to lose their star player, but Al Ittihad had them sweating and hoping for the Saudi summer window to close when they pursued Salah.
The Reds will be wary of having to resist the outrageous sum the Saudi League will present if/when they come for Salah again in January.
A sum around that £200 million mark (bonuses included) could convince Liverpool to sell, although Salah will likely have to force a move to compel the club.
Viable targets for the Saudi Pro League
While the SPL may harbour grandiose dreams of signing these three high-level superstars, a January deal may not be feasible and will force them to look at more attainable assets.
Wantaway star Jadon Sancho could find a nice landing spot in the Saudi League after ostracising himself at Manchester United.
The Red Devils are desperate to sell the England international and will entertain offers from anywhere to get him off their books.
Juventus have been eyeing a deal for Sancho. However, the financially challenged Italians do not have the means, leaving the SPL as a possible destination for the former Borussia Dortmund star.
In an intriguing plot twist, Sancho’s United teammates Casemiro and Raphael Varane are also potential targets for the SPL.
After impressing in Red last season, both men are suffering a dip in form this term, with Varane losing his spot to Jonny Evans and Casemiro looking out of sorts.
United could cash in on Casemiro and Varane, flipping them to the SPL. The Premier League club will likely take losses after chucking big money to sign both men from Real Madrid.