Cristiano Ronaldo was rumoured to be headed for Manchester City last summer before finally moving to old Trafford as could be expected. But his second coming did not end as expected. He left acrimonious circumstances in the middle of the season to Saudi Arabia.
His departure to the Saudi Pro League seems to have started a revolution. From Real Madrid’s Kareem Benzema, Lazio’s Serge Milinkovic Savic, Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino, Chelsea’s duo of N’golo Kante and Edouard Mendy, Bayern Munich’s Sadio Mane, Newcastle’s Alan Saint-Maximin and Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez to name a few, the exodus has been unprecedented.
But it doesn’t seem to be a one-off situation. This could very well be the beginning of a new football world order.
Even want-away Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe has been in the headlines as the subject of a bid from a Saudi Arabian club. Imagine young talents like Mbappe, Jude Berlingham, Erling Haaland, Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka shifting base to Saudi Arabia in search of Saudi wealth.
It could be the beginning of a change in the world football set up as we know it. Manchester City manager predicts that may well be the case in the near future.
“Saudi Arabia has changed the market,” Guardiola said in an interview while commenting on the recent developments. “A few months ago when Cristiano was the only one to go no one thought this many top, top players would play in the Saudi league. In the future there will be more and that’s why clubs need to be aware of what is happening. Riyad got an incredible offer and that’s why we could not say ‘don’t do it’.”
But China has gone this route before signing some top players from club sides in Europe while still at their prime. Players like Oscar from Chelsea and his countrymen Fred from Zenit St Petersburg moved to the Chinese Super League. Others were Marko Arnautovic from West Ham, Anthony Modeste from Koln, Yannick Carrasco from Atletico Madrid, Cedric Bakambu from Villarreal, Jackson Martinez from Atletico Madrid, Paulinho from Tottenham and Alex Teixeira Shakhtar Donetsk.
Fast forward several years later and none of these players are still playing in the Chinese Super League. All of them are back to Europe or to their home countries. The experiment proved unsuccessful and has been abandoned. But, of course, that doesn’t mean Saudi club’s signing top players from European clubs will go the same way.
In the end, the current situation could be a fad that will also come and go. Or this could be the beginning of something totally new in football. Time will tell.