Ruben Neves was supposed to choose between offers from Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Arsenal and Tottenham this summer, but the 26-year-old is considered one of the key players in the current Portuguese generation, who last season played more than 3,000 minutes in the best league in the world and scored six goals, will soon board the plane to Riyadh, where he will complete his move from Wolverhampton Wanderers to Al Hilal, the country's most successful team for a fantastic salary. In recent weeks, the world of football has witnessed a new phenomenon, with more famous footballers flocking to Saudi Arabia. Karim Benzema was presented at a dazzling ceremony at Ittihad Jeddah, the kingdom's most popular team, preceded by N'Golo Kanté, one of Europe's leading players in the past decade, both with contracts worth hundreds of millions of euros per season.But the arrival of European stars is only the first step in an ambitious Saudi project that has expressed itself in a storm this summer and is destined to change the world of football as we know it today. And what is behind it? And why is his ability to succeed so much greater than other big projects that have taken place in different centers in the world of football? After more than a decade of the Saudis sitting and watching Qatar and the UAE move in the world of football by buying Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City and hosting the World Cup, and having themselves taken an important first step in the direction with the purchase of Newcastle United last year, Riyadh is now ready for the next step in the plan - Strengthening Saudi Arabia's power and influence in the world of football, in part to prepare for the hosting of the future World Cup. All of this is part of a broader vision of the country's most powerful man, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.Cristiano Ronaldo signed with Al Nasr for half a billion euros for two and a half years. Since joining, the number of spectators at the team's matches has increased by tens of percent.The Saudis saw that as a good thing, came to conclusions and set off. At the end of the season on June 5, the official Saudi Press Agency announced a massive plan to invest in domestic football, in a message that shook the football world. The text of the announcement reads: "The Crown Prince decided on the investment and privatization project for sports clubs, after the completion of the executive procedures for the first phase, to achieve the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030 in the sports sector, which aims to build an effective sports sector, by stimulating and empowering the private sector to contribute to the development of the sports sector, in order to achieve the desired excellence for national teams, sports clubs and practitioners at all levels." Euros (said to be around 20 billion), in the Saudi Professional League, at the same time and for the first time in the history of the Kingdom and in a way unique to the Arab world, the clubs will be subject to partial privatization - where there will be joint ownership by the state for the first time, and private hands.As part of the privatization, the four largest clubs in Saudi Arabia were selected in terms of audience, titles and marketing potential - Al-Hilal and Al-Nasr from the capital Riyadh, and Al-Ittihad and Al-Ahli from the coastal city of Jeddah, near Mecca to be the spearhead. As part of the ownership revolution, 75% of the clubs will pass to the ownership of the Public Investment Fund and 25% of each club to Saudi businessmen, who will be selected in democratic elections by club members, and in line with the approval of the authorities of the Executive Committee of Vision 2030.Other clubs will receive very large sponsorship agreements from Saudi state companies, which will flood the Saudi league with outstanding players and other distinguished coaches.It is important to clarify that part of the money is required to reach youth departments and develop players.One goal is to triple the number of active players in the country (from the current 21,000 according to the SAFF, to more than 200,000 according to plan), and the goal: to triple the value of the league to about $2.5 billion, through a combination of commercial profits and investments from the private sector, and make the Saudi league one of the top 10 leagues in the world within seven years. Judging by which players sign and others who are considering joining the party, there is a chance that it will happen faster. On the same day that the Saudis announced the massive plan for football, the Saudis also shook the world of golf.The American golf league PGA announced a surprise merger with the Saudi-funded Leaf Golf League, funded by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) directly linked to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, effectively bringing the entire world of golf to Saudi ownership. From other world championships in various sports that have been held in Saudi Arabia recently and are expected to be held there in the coming years, the picture begins to become clearer, and it seems clear that Saudi Arabia has entered the field strongly to stay and lead.Why Saudi Arabia?There are many reasons for Saudi Arabia to enter the world of sports and football in particular, some external and some internal. For Saudi Arabia, football and its expressions are also tools in a process designed to change the West's stereotypical view of the kingdom, instead of viewing it as a religiously conservative country, it will also think about football, sports and culture.It was not in vain that bin Salman pushed hard to win the hosting of the 2030 World Cup, and this not only serves Saudi Arabia and strengthens it in terms of infrastructure, football and in terms of Its global impact in these areas, but it will also mark a peak moment in his Vision 2030, which seeks to transform the Kingdom into a leading country in the world, leading the developed Middle East and being a center different from Europe and the United States. Vision 2030 is concerned not only with what is believed about Saudi Arabia abroad, but also what is happening at home. Saudi Arabia is a very young country, and about 70% of the population is under the age of 35, and this investment in sports is also the Saudi government's way of talking to them, bringing them closer to their stars, inspiring them, as well as promoting the role of sport in the local culture and lifestyle. According to the Saudi Bureau of Statistics, about 60 percent of Saudis are overweight, and bin Salman wants to change that, and football is one of the areas in which he tries to do that. In the Saudi league, up to eight foreigners are currently allowed to play in each team, which makes it all interesting.In recent weeks, the flow and pace of names being mentioned as candidates for Saudi teams has been crazy. Almost no player in the Europa League, or even in the second or third division, has not been mentioned as a candidate. Benzema, Kante and Neves have agreed, Hakim Ziyech, Khalido Koulibaly and Edouard Mendy have agreed, Marcelo Brozovic and Riyad Mahrez are in intense negotiations and the list goes on. One after another, huge names, prominent players in Europe, making their way to the Middle East.But not everything is going quite smoothly, for example the former English star and Liverpool legend current coach Steven Gerrard, where he privately advanced negotiations with the agreement club, visited the club and even toured its stronghold in Dammam but said on his return to England that he was inclined to turn down the offer. Crystal Palace's Wilfred Zaha and Moroccan Sevilla goalkeeper Yas also rejectedYen Bono, and Ilkay Gunduan, whose contract with Manchester City has expired, categorically offer Saudi Arabia, and above all, the rejection that "hurts" the Saudis so far is the rejection of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo's biggest "rival". Saudi Arabia's dream of reshaping Messi against Ronaldo/in the Riyadh derby between Al Hilal and Al Nasr has not materialized, despite an estimated €1.2 billion offer for three years.Although Messi rejected the big offer from Al Hilal and opted for Inter Miami with the Argentine community living in the city, the Saudis appear to be entering the second phase of their master plan designed to influence both the country and the world, with the ambition of their country to be a central player in a new world order taking shape.
Soft power. How is Saudi Arabia redrawing the global sports map in football?
Highlights: Saudi Arabia's attempts to dominate European clubs and buy football's best stars point to only the first step in an ambitious project. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aims for the kingdom to have by 2030 one of the top 10 leagues in the world. Ruben Neves will soon board the plane to Riyadh, where he will complete his move from Wolverhampton Wanderers to Al Hilal for a fantastic salary. Karim Benzema was presented at a dazzling ceremony at Ittihad Jeddah, the kingdom's most popular team, preceded by N'Golo Kanté.
Saudi Arabia's attempts to dominate European clubs and buy football's best stars point to only the first step in an ambitious project under the auspices of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – aiming for the kingdom to have by 2030 one of the top 10 leagues in the world.