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Ronaldo and Neymar "ate up" all the money? In Saudi Arabia, an era of austerity has set in

The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia will not finance winter transfers for Middle Eastern giants

"Saudi Arabian League is getting stronger, and it will be even better next year. Step by step, it will become one of the top five leagues in the world. Yes, it takes time, players, infrastructure. However, I believe this country has amazing potential and amazing people. The league will be excellent," said Cristiano Ronaldo last May.

The transfer of the star Portuguese veteran to Al Nassr took a long time to mature, but it still caused a bombshell effect in the global media.

Cristiano was undoubtedly correct in predicting that his departure would trigger a European chain reaction. Following him to Saudi Arabia were not only seasoned "old-timers" like Karim Benzema, Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez, or Jordan Henderson but also top footballers in their prime, such as Serbian Sergej Milinković-Savić, Croatian Marcelo Brozović, or Malcolm.

But is the future of this national championship really so bright?

The oil billionaires were not counting their money at all. The culmination was Saudi Arabia's right to host the 2034 World Cup, essentially obtained without a fight.

Moreover, investments in the Middle East are wider than football. Saudis have virtually monopolized the top fights in professional boxing, the climax of which will be the long-awaited meeting between Tyson Fury and Alexander Usyk on February 17.

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In addition, Saudi Arabia has invested over $100 million in promoting PFL (mixed martial arts), which is expected to compete with the UFC in the future.

And now, the first alarm bell has rung. As reported by the Spanish publication AS, the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF), which finances four leading clubs in the country (Al Hilal, Al Nassr, Al Ittihad, and Al Ahli), has imposed strict limits on winter transfers.

This means the teams mentioned above can sign individual newcomers with their funds. Still, they will no longer have access to the bottomless barrel of "oil" money controlled by the state.

Thus, Saudi grand clubs will need funds for new transfers of superstars. Recall that last summer, clubs from this country spent $875.4 million on player transfers. This is the second-highest amount globally after the English Premier League.

And how can we forget that on December 30, on the eve of the New Year, Al Ittihad forward Karim Benzema left the Middle East without explaining why? Then, information appeared that the decorated Frenchman was ready to return to his native Lyon, where he was going through tough times. Is it an isolated case, or does Karim know something?

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It remains to be speculated whether the Saudi Arabian League will retain its attractiveness for renowned players in the new circumstances or suffer the fate of the Chinese championship, which lost almost all its stars as quickly as it acquired them.

Published by Patrick Jane