Ronaldo to Neymar: Big bucks pull big stars to Saudi league
Global stars including Neymar, Karim Benzema, Sadio Mane follow Ronaldo and move to Saudi Arabian clubs
By Selcuk Bugra Gokalp
Global stars have rushed to the Saudi Arabian football league in the 2023 summer transfer window.
After Cristiano Ronaldo ignited the spark with his transfer move to Al-Nassr on January, global stars including Neymar Jr., Karim Benzema and Sadio Mane all moved to country this summer.
- Cristiano Ronaldo
Five-time Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo joined Saudi Arabia's Al-Nassr on Jan. 1, after becoming a free agent by cutting ties with Manchester United in November 2022.
With this sensational transfer, Ronaldo became the pioneer of the transfer trend to Saudi football clubs.
Ronaldo, 37, who is a former Real Madrid, Juventus and Manchester United forward, won several local titles with those clubs.
He is also a five-time UEFA Champions League winner; four with Real Madrid and one with Manchester United.
Separately, the experienced forward led Portugal to the UEFA EURO 2016 title.
- Neymar Jr.
Paris Saint-Germain's Brazilian superstar Neymar Jr. joined Saudi club Al-Hilal on Tuesday.
Although the duration and financial details of the deal were not disclosed, the French press claimed that transfer fee is around €80 million (approximately $87.4 million).
After joining PSG from Barcelona in 2017 for an all-time record fee of €222 million (about $263.7 million), the Brazilian winger has helped the club win five French Ligue 1 titles in 2018, 2019, 2020, 2022, and 2023.
Neymar also helped PSG reach their first-ever UEFA Champions League final in 2020.
As a Barcelona regular from 2013 to 2017, Neymar helped them win the 2015 Champions League and two Spanish La Liga titles in 2015 and 2016.
- Sadio Mane
Leaving German powerhouse Bayern Munich, Senegalese attacker Sadio Mane joined Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr in August.
Along with Manchester United's Brazilian left-back Alex Telles and Inter Milan's Croatian midfielder Marcelo Brozovic, Mane joined Ronaldo's side, during the summer transfer window.
Mane, who joined Bayern Munich from Liverpool in 2022, has been one of the integral parts of Liverpool, helping the Reds win one UEFA Champions League, one UEFA Super Cup, and one FIFA Club World Cup.
The 31-year-old footballer played a key role in the English club's long-awaited Premier League title in 2020.
Mane also helped Senegal win the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations title and was named African Footballer of the Year in 2019.
- Karim Benzema
French star Karim Benzema signed a three-year contract with Saudi Arabian club Al-Ittihad in June.
Benzema followed his former teammate Ronaldo's footsteps and joined Saudi Pro League, after leaving Real Madrid.
The French striker joined Real Madrid in 2009 after leaving Olympique Lyon, where he won four French Ligue 1 titles.
He helped Real Madrid win five UEFA Champions League titles, five FIFA Club World Cups, four Spanish La Liga titles, four UEFA Super Cups, four Spanish Super Cups and three Spanish Cups during his 14-year stint at the La Liga club.
The 35-year-old netted 354 goals in 648 appearances and is the Spanish club's second all-time scorer.
Benzema also won the 2022 men's Ballon d'Or, a prestigious award, after a scintillating 2021-22 season for club and country.
- Riyad Mahrez
Riyad Mahrez chose to join Saudi Arabia's Al-Ahli from Manchester City on a four-year deal in July.
He won 11 major trophies with City, including a UEFA Champions League title and four Premier League trophies, and left the club as a Treble winner in what was his final campaign.
The 32-year-old Algerian winger spent five years with the Citizens after signing from Leicester City in 2018 and produced 78 goals and 59 assists in 236 matches.
- N'Golo Kante
Al-Ittihad strengthened their squad further with France midfielder N'Golo Kante in June.
Kante joined forces with his compatriot Benzema to carry the reigning Saudi Arabian champions further.
The 2018 World Cup winner joined Chelsea in 2016 from Leicester City, and his contract expired at the end of June.
The 32-year-old helped the Blues win a UEFA Champions League title, a Europa League trophy, and a Super Cup.
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