Throughout the last decade or two, there have been continual shifts in the balance of power in world football. In the early 2010s, Russia attempted to take over the European game when unknown and now defunct Anzhi Makhachkala brought in the likes of Samuel Eto’o and Roberto Carlos on astronomical wages. A few years later, it was China who staked their own claim for global dominance when they brought in players such as Hulk, Oscar, and Carlos Tevez.
In 2023, the new powerhouse in global football appears to be Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have invested in plenty of different sports in recent years. They have taken a number of high-profile combat sports events to the Arabian Gulf, with Anthony Joshua fighting there numerous times, as well as several WWE events taking place in the country on a yearly basis.
The country’s purchase of Newcastle United almost two years ago appears to be merely a drop in the ocean for the oil-rich country. Cristiano Ronaldo’s earth-shattering interview with Piers Morgan and subsequent release from Manchester United on the eve of the 2022 FIFA World Cup saw him ousted to Saudi’s Al-Nassr on a whopping reported wage of $215m per year. And it looked as though one of the greatest battles between soccer giants would be reignited this summer however, Lionel Messi opted against a move to the Saudi Professional League in favor of moving to David Beckham’s Lionel Messi.
But while the Saudis may have missed the greatest player that’s ever lived, a title that the former Barcelona star earned when he led his beloved Argentina to glory in Qatar last December, they may very well entice four of Europe’s brightest talents to the country this summer. Here are three men that have been rumored to be on the move to Saudi Arabia in the coming months.
For over a decade now, Belgian hitman Romelu Lukaku has been one of Europe’s most feared strikers. He has racked up 288 goals throughout his career and has provided an additional 94 assists, not to mention his 72 goals in 106 games for his country. However, since his £100m move to Chelsea in the summer of 2021, his career has taken a nosedive.
Big Rom was in terrible form at the aforementioned FIFA World Cup as the Red Devils exited at the group stage, marking the end of their nation’s golden generation with a whimper. He was guilty of costing Inter Milan the Champions League on June 10th, firstly by blocking his teammate’s goal-bound effort and then heading straight at Ederson in the dying embers when it looked easier to score. As such, it’s safe to say that Inter Milan won’t be making his loan move permanent this summer, and Chelsea will be keen to offload the 30-year-old from their already overflowing wage bill.
Lukaku earns a reported £350,000 per week at Stamford Bridge, and not many clubs on planet Earth will be able to match that. However, both the player and Chelsea may well be handed a lifeline by Saudi Arabia. It has been revealed in recent days that the powerful striker could well be on the move to Al-Hilal, and it would be wise for both him and The Blues to go their separate ways and cut their losses.
When Riyad Mahrez joined Leicester City for a paltry £400,000 from French Ligue 2 side Le Havre back in 2014, no one could have anticipated the player that he would go on to become. He led the Foxes back to the Premier League six months into his spell at the King Power Stadium. He then helped the club avoid relegation before stunning the world and winning the English topflight as 5000/1 outsiders.
That prompted Manchester City to fork out a club-record £60m to secure the Algerian winger’s services in 2018, and he has gone from strength to strength ever since. He has won the Premier League a further four times at the Etihad Stadium, as well as helping his side to a historic treble this season. He has still shown signs of brilliance this season including a brilliant spell of five goals in four games toward the end of the campaign, but at 32 years of age, his time with the Blues may very well be ending.
The 81-time Algeria international has a plethora of potential suitors at his disposal, the majority of whom are in Saudi Arabia. Al-Ahli looks to be the most likely destination for the talented winger, however, it remains to be seen whether Pep Guardiola would like to keep his trusted playmaker as a squad player next season.
Wilfried Zaha has been Crystal Palace’s main man for what feels like an eternity. He has continually been linked with moves away from Selhurst Park. However, apart from a brief stint with Manchester United as a youngster, he has remained loyal to the Eagles. That all looks set to change this summer as his contract in South London is ending.
The 30-year-old will have no end of clubs vying for his signature however, the megamoney being offered in Saudi Arabia may prove too much to turn down. Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, and Fenerbahçe have all been linked with the Ivorian since the English league season ended however, Al-Nassr appears to be the frontrunner.