Benzema NeymarGOAL

'We can make you millions' - How Saudi Pro League clubs convinced the likes of Karim Benzema and Neymar to sign by offering 'sums so enormous that they didn’t make sense'

  • Saudi clubs spent £750million-plus on transfers
  • Offered astronomical wages to players to lure them to SPL
  • Salaries that "make little sense"

WHAT HAPPENED? French striker Benzema is understood to be earning a staggering €200 million (£172m/$213m) per season after joining Saudi Arabian champions Al-Ittihad on a free transfer. Whereas, 31-year-old Brazilian Neymar is expected to receive around £276 million ($351m) for his two-year stint with Al-Hilal. The numbers were unheard of even a year back.

According to The Athletic, it would all start with an anonymous phone call to a player's agent with someone from Saudi Arabia promising, "We can make you millions.” Not a single detail about any club or the sporting "project" as Jordan Henderson would say.

Even if the agent asked for written confirmation they never came but the calls were persistent in the efforts to make the move to Saudi along with an assurance of 'money and sums so enormous that they didn’t seem to make sense.' However, some of the approaches were indeed made through formal channels but the message remained the same. But there was no scope for negotiations and the offer that was made was final.

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THE BIGGER PICTURE: It is reported that the Saudi delegations would set up camps in top European cities like London, Paris and Madrid from where the next stage of negotiations would continue. The Hyatt Regency Hotel on Portman Square was allegedly the London hub, with another at InterContinental on Park Lane and a third at a boutique hotel in Mayfair. In Madrid, Benzema signed his deal at the Four Seasons hotel whereas Marcelo Brozovic chose Shangri-La in Paris to be his spot.

There would be lengthy Zoom calls with players and agents one after the other and the only string of discussion would be the financial terms on offer.

AND WHAT'S MORE: Some of the agents were also reportedly invited to Riyadh or Jeddah to have a look at the facilities that would be offered on the arrival of the player and a sneak peek of the exclusive properties where they would be put up. They were assured that almost all or most of the freedom and luxuries that they enjoyed in Europe would be available to them which usually happened to be the icing on the cake.

For example, Neymar has been put up in a 25-room mansion, with a swimming pool and sauna, eight workers to keep the house tidy, nine cars and all expenses paid for travel, restaurants and hotels. This is just a small bonus apart from the eye-watering salary that he has been promised.


Neymar(C)Getty ImagesKarim Benzema - Ittihad 2023Getty

WHAT NEXT? Saudi Arabia's business is far from over. When Carlo Nohra, the new chief operating officer of the Pro League, was quizzed about the future he said, "I don’t think there is a time horizon for any of this. I don’t think there can be. The commitment is to improve the quality of the product and we’ve seen this everywhere in Europe as well: you have to continue spending to maintain the status you want. And if you want to play that game, then you’ve got to be able to do it on a long-term basis.”

It will not be surprising if SPL spending continues in the January transfer window as well.