The Saudi Pro League has been on everybody’s lips since the opening of the 2023 Summer Transfer Window, and to be honest, it’s probably going to stay there for a while.
Doing this a week later might have been best given all of the Mo Salah speculation, but whatever…
The Rise of the Saudi Pro League
I’ve seen a lot of comparisons with the Saudi Pro League.
A lot of fans tending to dismiss its legitimacy due to where it’s based, as well as attempt to discredit its longevity based on the precedent set by the likes of Russia, India and China.
Heck, even America failed the first time round with the North American Soccer League (‘NASL‘) in the ’60s and early ’70s. But this isn’t the same. Not by a long stretch.
With limitless funds at their disposal, a long-term investment plan activated and a plethora of humungous names joining (some of them in their prime), the Saudi Pro League has the potential to be among the top most interesting and watchable leagues in world football. And with that, comes a good number of fans clamouring for shirts representing their favourite players.
So, in this edition of the Hobby FC shirt collection, we’re going to be picking our top five.
Riyad Mahrez (Al-Ahli SFC)
It was a toss-up here between Riyad Mahrez and Allain Saint-Maximin.
Granted, Mahrez is six years his senior and won’t whip out as many flashy tricks against the opposition like ASM already has been doing, but this is Riyad Mahrez we’re talking about here.
A multiple title-winner with Manchester City, the most unlikeliest of Premier League champions with Leicester City and a bona-fide Premier League hero coming to the Saudi Pro League.
Given the nature of his playing style, one can expect his efficiency from the right-flank to improve dramatically than in his final years in the Premier League, and I’m almost certain that he’ll be one of the best players in the league by the time the season is over.
I can safely remove the word ‘almost’ in regards to this next one.
Sadio Mané (Al-Nassr)
This is an almighty coup from the operators of the Saudi Pro League.
Despite an apparent (though public) fallout with fellow Bayern Munich employee Leroy Sane, Sadio Mane wasn’t short of his fair share of suitors when the transfer window opened.
Chelsea could probably still do with him now given their poor start to the Premier League season, but instead, they’ll have to watch the Saudi stations like the rest of us and think of what might’ve been.
We can only imagine the kind of link-up he’ll have with another guy on this list.
It only makes sense that the man credited with ruining the transfer market in the earlier place with his €250m move to PSG, that he continue by moving along with the rest to the Saudi Pro League!
I’ve always been a little on the fence when it comes to Neymar’s career.
In truth, he’s done what every other reasonable person would do – accept life-changing sums of money at the prospect of working with professionals who would suit his talents best.
He’s also been a part of one of the greatest eras of football history with Barcelona in that famous MSN trio and has given us all enough memories to last a lifetime.
Personally, I wish him well on his latest ventures in Saudi Arabia.
Karim Benzema (Al-Ittihad)
Did you cry when he lifted the Ballon D’Or? Neither did I, but it was so nice!
Always the bridesmaid and finally the bride, Karim Benzema is one of the most exceptional ‘complete forward’ strikers of his generation.
His ability to bring his teammates into play is and has been second-to-none for the majority of his career, and his work at Real Madrid cannot go understated in a period of dominance for Los Blancos.
But now out from under the shadow of his ex-teammates, we might instead be setting up a tantalising rivalry to add a little bit of spice to the Saudi Pro League this season.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Al-Nassr)
Everybody made fun of Ronaldo from going to Saudi.
Everybody. Including me.
After that Piers Morgan interview, I thought he would stay in Europe and continue to extend his Champions League legacy, as he’d made clear time after time.
But instead, in a move similar to what David Beckham did for the MLS and what Lionel Messi did after the fact with Inter Miami, he’s starting up his own dynasty with the Saudi Pro League.
Better still, he’s been setting the standard and has acted as the Pied Piper for other players to come over and see if it’s worth the hype. He is the reason anybody is interested in Saudi Arabian football, and the brand of Cristiano Ronaldo is succeeding even more as a result. Fair play.
I’ve already seen Cristiano Ronaldo Al-Nassr shirts in London. And Birmingham. It’s madness.
The Saudi Pro League isn’t going anywhere.
And we had better get used to that fact.
Given the current state of UEFA and their perpetual search for improvements to their formats, I don’t think it’s out the realms of possibility that we’ll see a merger happen sometime, in order for the Saudi clubs to be included in elite competition – much like the Super League idea.
I don’t want that to happen, but we’re headed that way. And with the money they’re making, it’s almost inevitable. So, us collectors may as well go searching for their shirts now while we can!
Are you going to watch the Saudi Pro League this season?