Zlatan Ibrahimović and Arjen Robben are among the most recent names linked with a move to Saudi’s top division – Mohammed bin Salman league. If what is said to be true, both would be making their way over during the winter transfer window. Both would significantly complement the ever increasing stature of the league.
Names like Bafétimbi Gomis, Ahmed Musa, Omar Abdul Rahman and Nordin Amrabat have already braced the league and are flourishing at their roles within their respective teams.
None of this would be possible if not for the can-do-will-do attitude of the head of the nation’s Sport body, the General Sports Authority, Turki bin Abdulmohsen bin Abdul Latif Al-Sheikh.
Since taking over at the end of last year, Turki Al Sheikh had managed to reform and take Saudi football and Saudi sports in general to a whole new level in accordance with the nation’s strategic vision of 2030. Solely from a football perspective, his first achievement was to send 9 talented footballers to Spain in cooperation with La Liga. While many criticized the move during a World Cup year, the likes of Fahd Al Muwallad, Salem Al Dawsari and Yahya Al Shehri training with their counterparts in Spain only seemed to benefit them based on their performances in the summer.
Simultaneously, he had also managed to secure funding to reduce debts of several clubs, initiated several campaigns to financially help various clubs in other aspects, helped former players with cash flow when necessary and continues to be of assistance to the world of football.
One of the initiatives he continues to champion for is the ‘support your club’ campaign which takes into consideration the prospect of fans supporting their clubs financially. Since the campaign launched in January, it had picked up pace with the 16 clubs estimated to earn approximately a little over SR 68 million at the end of the year (based on the financial graphic issued on September 28th).
In the past, clubs across the league where known for financial misappropriation, mishandling and lack of due diligence when it comes to transfers eventually leading up to issues of non-payment and subsequent reprimands by CAS or FIFA. Keeping that in mind, the GSA has taken full authority of tracking all the funds collected from the fans to make sure they are appropriately utilized primarily towards club operations.
However, as expected it would be the top tier teams with massive fan backing that would generate any decent amount of income. For example, Riyadh based Al Hilal and Al Nassr are estimated to earn SR 22 million and SR 17 million respectively, while Jeddah based Ittihad and Al Ahli would end the year with SR 16 million and SR 7.8 million in additional revenue to their coffers.
Recently promoted to the MBS league, Al Hazem is projected to earn the lowest ending the year with approximately SR 11,800.
In return, the initiative has seen the GSA via the clubs giving away cars and smartphones to participating supporters through random raffle draws during the halftime of the games. Sponsors from certain clubs have joined the efforts as well by providing gifts, vouchers and discounts to fans.
It is becoming increasingly clear that GSA’s Chairman Mr. Turki bin Al-Sheikh not only recognizes the scale of the challenge faced but that he is prepared to roll up his sleeves and do something about it, whether that’s by introducing initiatives as such, by publicly advocating for a lean management system and ushering in financial reforms for the sport’s growth, or by sending an exceptionally authoritative anti-corruption message to individuals within the sport who previously considered themselves unrivaled.
For now at least, the future of the sport is certainly looking bright as long as it’s under good hands.