The big story of this summer transfer window has been the rise of the Saudi Pro League as a hot destination looking to attract some of the biggest stars in European football. With Saudi Arabia, bankrolled by the $620 billion Public Investment Fund (PIF), taking the market by storm, the league spent just over $1 billion, with a net spend of -$907m, which is second only to the Premier League’s -$1.39bn.

If you are wondering why some teams have spent more than others, in June, the PIF took ownership of the four leading clubs as part of Saudi Arabia’s so-called “Sports Clubs Investment and Privatization Project,” — meaning it owns a 75% stake in each of Saudi champions Al Ittihad, reigning Asian champions Al Hilal, Al Ahli and Al Nassr, with the remaining 25% in each team being transferred to non-profit foundations from the Saudi Ministry of Sport.

Here are the players from outside Saudi Arabia who arrived during the last transfer window, which closed on Sept. 7.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)


Last year’s major transfers: None
Net spend: -€375m

Neymar, FW: PSG (€90m, $98.6m)

The 31-year-old superstar and Brazil’s joint all-time top scorer left the Parc des Princes in August. A return to Barcelona never fully materialized, and Neymar headed to Riyadh instead. He signed a two-year contract and is reportedly being paid an annual salary of around $100m — around half of the reported salary Cristiano Ronaldo is being paid by Al Nassr.



Neymar given huge welcome by Al Hilal fans

Neymar was given a feverous reception when introduced to Al Hilal fans at their 70,000-capacity stadium.

Malcom, FW: Zenit St Petersburg (€60m, $66m)

Malcom moved to Zenit in 2019 from Barcelona and lifted the Russian Premier League title last season as the top scorer (23) in the league. But the 26-year-old Brazilian signed a four-year deal to move to Al Hilal on July 26.

Ruben Neves, MF: Wolverhampton Wanderers (€55m, $60m)

Premier League side Wolves received a club-record fee for the transfer of their captain and he moved on a three-year deal, despite being linked with Barcelona. The Portugal international midfielder joined Asia’s most successful club side on June 24.

Aleksandar Mitrovic, FW: Fulham (£46m, $58.6m)

Fulham initially rejected a $33m bid from Al Hilal to sign their top scorer, but Mitrovic was keen on the move and eventually made the switch to Saudi Arabia on a three-year deal. The 28-year-old Serbia international made 205 appearances for the team and scored 14 Premier League goals last season.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, MF: Lazio (€40m, $44m)

The 28-year-old Serbia international saw interest from Arsenal and Liverpool, but chose to leave for Saudi Arabia instead. Milinkovic-Savic spent the last eight years in Serie A at Lazio and moved on a $22m-a-year contract until 2026.

Yassine Bounou, GK: Sevilla (€21m, $22.8m)

The 32-year-old Morocco international goalkeeper joined on a three-year deal. Bounou reached the semifinals of the World Cup with Morocco in 2022 and helped Sevilla lift two Europa League titles.

Kalidou Koulibaly, DF: Chelsea (£17m, $21.61m)

Chelsea cut their losses on Senegal defender Koulibaly, having paid €40m to bring the 32-year-old from Napoli last summer. He joined Al Hilal on a three-year deal on June 25.



Nuno Espirito Santo denies bad relationship with Karim Benzema

Al-Ittihad’s Nuno Espirito Santo speaks to the media about allegations he has a bad relationship with ex-Real Madrid star Karim Benzema.


Last year’s major transfers: None
Net spend: -€126m

Fabinho, MF: Liverpool (£40m, $51.33m)

Brazil midfielder Fabinho, 29, signed on a three-year deal after making 219 appearances for Liverpool since joining the Reds in 2018.

Jota, FW: Celtic (£25m, $31.7m)

The 24-year-old winger was the third signing this summer after he agreed to a three-year contract with the Saudi champions. Jota signed on loan for Celtic from Benfica in September 2021 before making the transfer permanent in July 2022. Over his two years in Glasgow, the Portuguese contributed 28 goals and 26 assists.

Luiz Felipe, DF: Real Betis (€25m, $26.7m )

The 26-year-old Italy international joined on deadline day after one season in LaLiga with Betis, whom he joined on a free transfer from Lazio in Serie A.

Karim Benzema, FW: Real Madrid (Free transfer)

The current Ballon d’Or holder got Saudi Arabia’s summer business underway in style on June 6, completing a free transfer from 14-time European champions Real Madrid. The 35-year-old France international signed a two-year contract worth $436m.

Must Read  Transfer Talk: Lingard to train with Gerrard's Al Ettifaq

N’Golo Kante, MF: Chelsea (Free transfer)

A protracted transfer saga finally finished with the France midfielder Kante ending his seven-year stay at Stamford Bridge. The 2018 FIFA World Cup winner is set to earn $109.78m per year throughout his four-year deal with the Jeddah-based club.



Why Gabri Veiga’s Saudi Pro League move is so surprising

Gab Marcotti and Rob Palmer dissect Gabri Veiga’s transfer to Al Ahli and explain why it’s such a surprise that he’s making the move.


Last year’s major transfers: Marcão, Modou Barrow, Lewis Grabban, Ryad Boudebouz
Net spend: -€214m

Gabri Veiga, FW: Celta Vigo (€40m, $43m)

A youth product of Celta and one of LaLiga’s top young talents, the 21-year-old had been close to signing for Napoli. The Italian club had reportedly reached a verbal agreement over a €36m transfer but Al Ahli paid his €40m release clause and offered him five times more money in wages. He is the first young star to pick the Saudi league over Europe.

Riyad Mahrez, FW: Manchester City (€35m, $39m)

Mahrez signed on a three-year contract (with an option to extend), having helped City to the treble last season after spending five years at the club. The 32-year-old Algeria international won four Premier League titles at City but found his playing time reduced.

Roger Ibanez, CB: Roma (€30m, $32m)

The 24-year-old Brazilian defender was a target for several Premier League clubs, including Tottenham, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest. But Al Ahli were the ones to pay what Roma wanted and he moved on a four-year deal.

Allan Saint-Maximin, FW: Newcastle United (€27m, $30m)

Saudi Arabia’s PIF also owns Newcastle, which made this an interesting deal. The 26-year-old Frenchman made it clear he wanted to move on and Newcastle boss Eddie Howe added that in order for the Magpies to make more transfers in the future, they needed to move the player out due to Financial Fair Play regulations.

Edouard Mendy, GK: Chelsea (£16m, $21m)

Mendy signed a three-year deal on June 28. The 31-year-old Senegal goalkeeper won the Champions League and the UEFA Men’s Best Goalkeeper Award in 2021 with Chelsea, but slipped down the pecking order and opted to move on.

Merih Demiral, CB: Atalanta (€20m, $35m)

The 25-year-old Turkey international defender has played for Fenerbahce, Alcanenense, Sporting CP, Juventus, and Atalanta, but signed a three-year deal in mid-August to move to Al Ahli.

Franck Kessie, DF: Barcelona (€12m, $13m)

Kessie left Camp Nou one season after joining on a free transfer from AC Milan. It was a successful season though, as the Ivory Coast international made 43 appearances and won LaLiga. The 26-year-old also scored the winning goal in El Clasico in March against Real Madrid.

Roberto Firmino, FW: Liverpool (Free transfer)

Firmino agreed a three-year deal on July 4 after deciding to leave Liverpool as a free agent after his contract expired at the end of last season. The Brazil international helped the Reds win the Champions League, FA Cup and Premier League titles during his time at Anfield and bade farewell in late May, scoring his 111th goal for the club during their last game of the season.



Ogden: Ronaldo to Al-Nassr a sad end to his career

Mark Ogden feels Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr is a sad ending to his football career.


Last year’s major transfers: Cristiano Ronaldo, David Ospina, Álvaro González, Luiz Gustavo
Net spend: -€175m

Otavio, MF: Porto (€60m, $65m)

Despite interest from Inter, Juventus, Newcastle and Man United, the 28-year-old attacking midfielder chose the Saudi Pro League signed a three-year deal. Otavio joined Porto in 2016, scoring 31 goals and making 75 assists in 283 appearances.

Sadio Mane, FW: Bayern Munich (€27.5m, $30m)

After a stellar career for Liverpool, the 31-year-old Senegal international had an underwhelming single season at Bayern, scoring 12 goals in 38 appearances and falling out of favor with the team for punching teammate Leroy Sane after a Champions League defeat to Manchester City in April. The Senegal star signed a four-year deal on Aug. 2.

Aymeric Laporte, DF: Man City (€27.5m, $30m)

A €65m signing from Athletic Club back in 2018, Laporte had slipped down the pecking order at City after suffering with injury over recent seasons. Al Nassr have picked up a quality player, who is still only 29, for a cheap fee.

Must Read  Barcelona teens like Marc Guiu have no fear, Xavi says

Seko Fofana, MF: Lens (€25m, $28m)

The 28-year-old signed for Al Nassr on a three-year deal, having helped Lens to a second-place finish last season, only one point behind league winners Paris Saint-Germain. The Ivory Coast international became a shareholder in Lens after leaving the club.

Marcelo Brozovic, MF: Inter Milan (€18m, $20m)

Brozovic had interest from Barcelona, but he opted for Riyadh instead, where he has reportedly signed a three-year deal with a salary of nearly $30m per season. The 30-year-old Croatia international joined Inter in 2015 and helped them win Serie A in the 2020-21 season followed by two Italian Cup trophies.

Alex Telles, DF: Manchester United (€4m, $4.4m)

Telles was on loan at Sevilla last season, where he helped knock out Man United en route to lifting the Europa League title. But now the 30-year-old Brazil defender will reunite with former United teammate Ronaldo as he signed a three-year deal.



Why Henderson leaving for Saudi Arabia would be big blow for Liverpool

Steve Nicol explains why he thinks losing Jordan Henderson to Al Ettifaq would be a real loss for Liverpool.


Last year’s major transfers: Marcel Tisserand, Berat Özdemir, Vitinho
Net spend: -€25m

Jordan Henderson, MF: Liverpool (£12m, $15.4m)

Al Ettifaq are not one of the “big four” clubs, but the Liverpool captain completed a three-year move, where he will join former Reds teammate Steven Gerrard, who is the coach. The 33-year-old England international joined Liverpool in 2011 and won the Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League and League Cup.

Demarai Gray, FW: Everton (£8m, $9.9m)

The 27-year-old signed a four-year deal, having fallen out with Everton manager Sean Dyche. Despite the deal not going through on European deadline day, the clubs were able to reach an agreement before the Saudi transfer window closed on Sept. 7.

Gini Wijnaldum, MF: PSG (€9m, $9.7m)

Former Liverpool midfielder Wijnaldum also joins his ex-teammates Gerrard and Henderson, with PSG landing a €9m fee. The Netherlands international saw his playing time decrease in Paris and opted for a new challenge.

Jack Hendry, DF: Club Brugge (£6.5m, $8.3m)

After joining Brugge in 2021, Hendry made 32 appearances in the Belgian Pro League and the 28-year-old Scotland international spent time on loan at Cremonese in Serie A last season.

Moussa Dembele, FW: Lyon (Free transfer)

The striker signed a four-year deal after the expiry of his contract with Lyon, whom he joined in 2018. The former Celtic forward made 28 appearances last season for Lyon and scored three goals.


Yannick Carrasco, FW: Atletico Madrid (€15m, $16m)

Al Shabab are also not one of the “big four” clubs but Atletico Madrid winger Carrasco signed for €15m on a three-year deal. The Belgium international had a clause in his contract for a possible move to Barcelona, but the club did not take it up.


Steven Gerrard, Al Ettifaq

Gerrard agreed to take over the Dammam-based outfit on July 3. The former Liverpool captain, who was fired by Aston Villa in November 2022 after less than 12 months at Villa Park, rejected an initial offer to move to Al Ettifaq, but further discussions with the club hierarchy saw the 43-year-old come to an agreement.

Jorge Jesus, Al Hilal

The Portuguese head coach was in charge of Al Hilal between July 2018-January 2019 and won the Saudi Super Cup. The 68-year-old opted to return until the end of the 2023-24 season, having won the Turkish Cup with Fenerbahce before resigning.



Laurens: Liverpool never received another offer for Salah

Julien Laurens details Mohamed Salah staying with Liverpool, as another offer from Al Ittihad was never made.

Rejected deals

Mohamed Salah, MF: Liverpool to Al Ittihad

Liverpool rejected a £150m bid for Mohamed Salah from Al Ittihad, sources have told ESPN’s Mark Ogden. Salah, 31, has been the subject of intense speculation linking him with a move to the Saudi champions in recent weeks, despite the insistence of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp that the player would not be allowed to leave Anfield. Al Ittihad finally made their move on Sept. 1, offering an initial £100m for Salah with additional incentives making it worth an eventual £150m to Liverpool. But sources have told ESPN that the offer for Salah has been rejected and that the matter is closed.

Must Read  João Félix relishing fresh start at Barcelona after first goal

Kylian Mbappe, FW: PSG to Al Hilal

Al Hilal made a world-record €300m ($332m) bid to sign the France international, but sources have told ESPN that Mbappe rejected it. The 2018 World Cup winner is currently in a contract standoff with the Parisian club and could leave at the end of the 2023-24 season as a free agent but is likely to join Real Madrid.

Lionel Messi, FW: PSG to Al Hilal

With Ronaldo already plying his trade at Al Nassr since January, Saudi Arabia’s hopes of landing his arch rival Messi and recreating their rivalry in the Riyadh derby received a blow when the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner turned down a record offer of €400m ($436m) per year from Al Hilal, opting instead to join MLS side Inter Miami.

Hakim Ziyech, MF: Chelsea to Al Nassr

After a stellar World Cup campaign in Qatar in which he led Morocco to the first semifinal for an African nation, Ziyech was set with a move from Chelsea to the Middle East, this time to team up with Ronaldo. However, concerns were raised over his knee and the deal fell through. Ziyech instead moved to Galatasary on a season-long loan with an obligation to sign permanently.

Bernardo Silva, MF: Manchester City to Al Hilal

Following the move of his Portugal international teammate Neves to Al Hilal, City ace Silva was subject of a mega offer. Also linked with Barcelona and PSG, Silva instead signed a one-year extension which will keep him at the Etihad Stadium until 2026.

Saul, MF: Atletico Madrid to Al Nassr

Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul was considering a move to Al Nassr. However, Diego Simeone’s side demanded a significant fee, with the Spain international still under contract until 2026, and nothing came of it.

Romelu Lukaku, FW: Chelsea to Al Hilal

Following the end of his loan spell at Inter, Lukaku received an offer from Al Hilal but the €115m Chelsea striker rejected the approach, instead heading to Roma on loan to join Jose Mourinho.

Son Heung-Min, FW: Tottenham Hotspur to Al Ittihad

South Korea captain Son announced his intention to stay at Spurs after he was reported to be the subject of a €30m ($32.7m) per season bid from Al Ittihad. The 30-year-old said: “I have many things to do in the Premier League. Money doesn’t matter to me now, and the pride of playing football, to play in my favourite league is important. I want to play more for Tottenham in the Premier League. I’ll prepare well when I’m back to Spurs.”

Luka Modric, MF: Real Madrid to Al Hilal

The 2018 Ballon d’Or winner rejected a three-year, $215m deal and signed a new one-year deal at Real Madrid. Even at 37, Modric is one of the world’s greatest midfielders and could join next summer if his playing time at Madrid doesn’t improve.

Pedro, FW: Flamengo to Al Hilal

Flamengo striker Pedro turned down a lucrative offer from Al Hilal, Globoesporte reported. Pedro, 26, played for Brazil at the 2022 World Cup after an impressive year with Flamengo where he scored 29 goals, including 12 in the Copa Libertadores. Al Hilal offered Pedro six times the amount he currently earns at Flamengo but the sporting project did not convince the player.

Wilfried Zaha, FW: Crystal Palace to Al Nassr

The 30-year-old winger’s contract at Palace expired at the end of June, and although Al Nassr made a (£30m) $38m per year offer, Zaha rejected the move and signed for Turkish club Galatasaray.

Jamie Vardy, FW: Leicester City to Al Khaleej

Al Khaleej, located in the city of Saihat, are one of the clubs who were after former Premier League Golden Boot-winner Vardy. According to The Guardian, the 36-year-old — who has 12 months left on his Leicester contract — is not interested in a move to the Middle East.

Jose Mourinho, coach: AS Roma to Al Ahli

Mourinho received an offer from Saudi side Al Ahli, and reportedly met with the club’s president, but the Portuguese coach will remain with Roma for another season after leading them to the Europa League final.

Marco Silva, coach: Fulham to Al Ahli

Fulham boss confirmed he received an offer from Al Ahli, but did not make clear whether he would take the deal or not. The Saudi side offered £40m ($51.4m) over two seasons, however, the 46-year-old reportedly turned down the offer with one year remaining on his contract at Craven Cottage.