No To The Pro League: The Players Who Surprisingly Aren't Going To Saudi Arabia

Some transfers just feel Saudi, even though they aren't
11:00, 31 Jul 2023

The Sportsman has profiled the sort of player that the Saudi Pro League is looking to attract. In short, a mixture of name value and advancing age seems to be the key formula. Some have bucked the trend, such as 26-year-old Ruben Neves joining Al-Hilal from Wolverhampton Wanderers. But mostly, it has been players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Roberto Firmino making the switch. Big name players whose prime years are behind them.

Despite their recent emergence on the global footballing scene, already there are types of transfer that feel Saudi without actually being Saudi. Players who you could imagine pitching up at Al-Nassr or Al-Ettifaq despite the fact they haven’t even been linked with the move. 

Here is a rundown of some of the players who, unbelievably, have not yet agreed to Saudi Pro League moves this summer.

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Fred

Manchester United are actively looking to move on their Brazilian midfield maestro. With a year left to run on his deal, it is a wise decision as manager Erik ten Hag looks to refresh his squad. Galatasaray is a pleasingly on-brand move. The Turkish giants have made a brand of hoovering up aging stars. Fulham are also reportedly interested in the Selecao international.

But, despite some early rumblings, none of the Al-clubs have made a concrete move for Fred. He’s 30 years old with a name made at one of the world’s biggest clubs. The fact he won’t be lining up in the SPL is frankly criminal.

James Rodriguez

So Saudi it hurts, this one. A Champions League winner at Real Madrid. A star performer for Colombia at a World Cup. 32 years old and largely finished at the top level. He ticks every box for the median Saudi Pro League signing. Close your eyes and you can almost see him wearing an Al-Ahli shirt.

But, alas, Rodriguez looks set to move elsewhere. Brazilian giants Sao Paolo have secured his services on a free transfer for the player as he looks to rebuild his messy post-Bernabeu career. The fact his 2020 Everton transfer felt like a real paradigm shift at the time becomes stranger by the day.

David De Gea

Ticking many of the boxes Fred did in terms of age and status as a long-time Red Devil, De Gea transcends his former teammates. Here is one of the finest goalkeepers in the last decade of European football. De Gea’s powers may have started to wane, which is how the SPL likes it, but he still did enough to land the Premier League Golden Gloves last term.

De Gea would certainly be treated like a superstar in Saudi Arabia. He would undoubtedly be the best goalkeeper in the league, usurping Al-Ahli’s recent acquisition from Chelsea, Edouard Mendy. It will be interesting to see how this one develops with reports De Gea is under consideration from Bayern Munich. The transfer hinges on whether the Bundesliga champions test Brentford’s mettle over David Raya.

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Edinson Cavani

The Uruguay international would excel in Saudi Arabia. While he is 36 years old now, he still has an incredible workrate and an eye for a finish. Seven goals in 28 games for Valencia last term isn’t incredible numbers but still impressive for a man of his advanced years. You’d have to imagine a stint at Al-Ettifaq or Al-Hilal would bring more goals from the ex-Paris Saint Germain man.

But it looks like we’ll never find out. Cavani has instead agreed a move to Boca Juniors. It would be a pleasingly full-circle moment for the striker who grew up idolising ex-Boca man Gabriel Batistuta. But it does rob us of a classic piece of Saudi recruitment.

Neymar

We touched upon the Brazilian superstar’s suitability for a Saudi move here. With the future of Kylian Mbappe in flux, it may be hard to envision Paris Saint-Germain sanctioning a move for Neymar. But, at the same time, if they are serious about their rebuild then moving on the highly-paid 31-year-old made sense.

The phrase “highly-paid 31-year-old” is practically the league motto for the SPL. If Neymar does become available, there will undoubtedly be interest in Saudi. They may have to fend off European clubs willing to offer Neymar one last dance with the Champions League, though.

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