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Friday, February 23, 2024
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Winter Brings Big Saudi Pro League Exits After $1B Summer

  • English star Jordan Henderson has left the Saudi Pro League.
  • Last summer, the SPL spent almost $1 billion in the transfer market.
Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

“I think right now we are better.”

That’s what Cristiano Ronaldo recently said about the Saudi Pro League, where he has played since 2023, in comparison to France’s Ligue 1. A bold statement from the 38-year-old superstar, who is earning up to $200 million a year at Al Nassr. According to Global Football Rankings, Ligue 1 is the fifth-most competitive league in the world, while the SPL doesn’t crack its list of the top 33 leagues.

No matter Ronaldo’s thoughts, the SPL has been putting significant money into improving its on-field status. During last summer’s transfer window, the league spent nearly $1 billion on player transfers. But two-thirds of the way through this January transfer window, the SPL hasn’t made a significant splash and already lost one of its major additions of 2023.

Jordan Henderson, the former Liverpool captain who joined Al-Ettifaq over the summer, has transferred to Dutch side Ajax. The move didn’t cost Ajax anything, but Henderson had to terminate his contract with the Saudi club that was believed to be worth more than $20 million a year. The Telegraph reported Henderson’s salary was being deferred, and he may never see a penny of it. Henderson called the move a “football decision” and apologized to the LGBTQ+ community, which has raised red flags about Saudi human rights violations.

Beyond Henderson’s move, 2022 Ballon d’Or winner and longtime Real Madrid star Karim Benzema, who joined Saudi side Al-Ittihad last year, is said to be considering a transfer back to a European club. Chelsea and Arsenal are among the clubs reportedly interested in Benzema, who signed a contract worth more than $100 million a year in Saudi Arabia.

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