Saudi Pro League: MBS’s Vision 2030 to Boost Economy

Explore Saudi Pro League's alignment with Vision 2030, attracting stars and boosting the economy. Debates on sportswashing and long-term sustainability.
Saudi Pro League: MBS’s Vision 2030 to Boost Economy
Saudi Pro League: MBS’s Vision 2030 to Boost Economy

The Saudi Pro League continues to attract star players by enticing them with lucrative deals, and this year's summer transfer window is a testament to the new emergence of footballing royalty in the Middle East. But this emergence aligns with the Saudi Vision 2030 blueprint as Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) is leading Saudi Arabia on an ambitious mission to transform the nation into a renowned footballing force and fully exploit the game's potential - from its extensive cultural influence to untapped economic opportunities.

What’s drawing footballers to the Saudi League?

The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, and last year's Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema signing for the country's sovereign wealth fund (PIF) owned Saudi clubs have attracted all the eyeballs towards the Saudi Pro League. The simple explanation for why footballing stars are moving from European competition to the oil-rich country is money.

Saudi Clubs, unlike their European counterparts, are not bound by Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations that restrict a club's spending power based on its revenue. This allows them to lure big names with maximised earnings.

Cristiano Ronaldo receives a whopping $222.6 million for playing for Al Nassr, while former Real Madrid player Karim Benzema signed a huge deal with Al Ittihad, where he'll earn 100 million euros (compared to his previous gross earnings of 28 million per season at Real Madrid). The numbers speak for themselves. If reports are to be believed, Neymar Jr. will receive a staggering salary from the Saudi Pro League team, Al Hilal, of almost $300 million annually.

Al Hilal also made a world record bid of USD 332 million for French and PSG superstar Kylian Mbappé, which the 24-year-old striker declined due to his long-standing desire to play for Real Madrid. This isn't the first time Al Hilal has tried to entice a major celebrity to Saudi Arabia. Following his departure from PSG, the club reportedly offered Lionel Messi a jaw-dropping three-year, USD 1.6 billion contract, which he rejected to play for David Beckham-owned MLS team Inter Miami. Many other star players, including N'Golo Kante, Ruben Neves, Sadio Mane, and Riyad Mahrez, have opted for Saudi clubs over prestigious European trophies. The force driving such big names away from European clubs can likely be attributed to a combination of factors, including money, a good tax environment, and a desire for a new challenge.

Saudi Vision 2030 or Sportswashing Atrocities?

Daily Trust's findings reveal that the massive spending by Saudi Arabia in the transfer market forms part of a broader national strategy devised by MBS. This strategy aims to establish the country as a global sporting hub, with the sports industry playing a crucial role in diversifying the economy away from its reliance on oil, which is one of the aims of Saudi Vision 2030. Simultaneously, this investment seeks to project Saudi Arabia as a modern and dynamic destination for leisure, business, and tourism, both domestic and international. The Saudi Pro League is a key component of these ambitious goals and is being spearheaded by prominent clubs: Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal in Riyadh and the Jeddah giants Al-Ittihad and Al-Ahli.

While the state sees the rise in their football culture as a step towards Saudi Vision 2030, critics have labelled this as "sportswashing" - an attempt to divert attention from its persistent human rights issues. Saudi Arabia has a history of isolation, a despotic monarchy, and reliance on oil wealth and extremism for power. While obfuscating human rights violations likely plays a role in the kingdom's sports fervour, its motivations go beyond mere diversion tactics. These actions align with the broader objectives of the Saudi Vision 2030 campaign, which aims to rebrand and normalise the country within the global liberal order.

Learnings from China

Saudi Arabia has yet to try to shift people's attention from European football to other leagues. China attempted this in the 2010s when the Chinese Super League (CSL) seriously threatened European football. Chinese President Xi Jinping incentivised Chinese corporations to invest in football and buy foreign talents to lure natives into the sport. However, this state-driven attempt to make China a footballing force didn't garner the rise and attention they anticipated. Many wonder if the sudden rise of the Saudi League will face the same consequences as the CSL. The success of the Saudi Pro League will depend on how they manage their assembled talent. Investing in future plans and models to increase league competitiveness and fostering a bottom-up football culture are all crucial steps to ensure long-term sustainability and organic growth, as opposed to a short-lived financial bubble.

Just as in a game of Andar Bahar, where strategic decisions determine outcomes, the Saudi League aims to attract stars and stimulate the economy. However, the success of these kinds of projects depends not just on financial strength but also on long-term planning and creating a true football culture. Saudi Arabia has to take a lesson from China's past and prioritise long-term plans above temporary financial advantages to secure the league's longevity and organic expansion. In this regard, the Saudi Pro League represents the values of Vision 2030 and acts as an example of the country's path towards economic diversification and international recognition.


In conclusion, the convergence of the Saudi Pro League with Vision 2030 signifies a pivotal moment in Saudi Arabia's sporting and economic evolution. While the league's aggressive recruitment strategies have drawn attention and raised questions about sportswashing, the broader implications of this investment extend beyond mere diversion tactics. By learning from past endeavours like China's attempt with the CSL, Saudi Arabia can navigate the path to sustainable success by focusing on long-term planning, competitive growth models, and nurturing a robust football culture. The Saudi Pro League's survival depends on its ability to strategically manage its talent and resources to prevent a short-lived financial rise and ensure long-term effects and organic growth.

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