Saudi Pro League (SPL) clubs will only attempt to sign players of the “highest level” to join up with Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Karim Benzema in January after their £784 million ($972m) summer spending spree left the teams with “what they need,” according to SPL director of football Michael Emenalo.
With the January transfer window looming, Saudi teams have already been linked with moves for Manchester United’s Jadon Sancho and Raphaël Varane, while champions Al Ittihad are expected to return with a new bid for Mohamed Salah after having a £150m bid for the Liverpool forward rejected in September.
“Whatever additional improvement that we need to do for any club, with time on our hands and preparation, we believe will be additions of the highest level,” Emenalo said in an interview with the SPL.
“I’m hoping it [January] is not very busy, because I think the job that was done has been quite interesting and aggressive, and most of the clubs, I believe, have what they need. Hopefully the attention will now turn to work within the training facilities to improve these players and to allow the time to adapt and perform.
“I think we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish, which was to get our foot into the market and compete aggressively. But, also, we wanted to do that while giving every single club in the league an opportunity to improve. I believe we accomplished that.
“And I believe that, what you’re seeing, in terms of the quality of the games and the performance of most of the acquired international players, is a vindication that the transfer market has been relatively well. And we hope that we will continue to perfect our process in the future.”
Alongside Ronaldo, Neymar and Benzema, who have all moved to Saudi Arabia in the last 12 months, SPL teams also attracted players such as Jordan Henderson, N’golo Kanté and Roberto Firmino after offering huge salaries to tempt them from the Premier League.
But Emenalo says that the plan for Saudi Arabia now, with the likelihood of the nation hosting the 2034 Men’s World Cup, is to use the star names to help develop home-grown talent.
“We know we are attracting world-class players now; we know we have attracted local players who are interested in reaching incredible standards for their clubs and for the national team,” he said.
“And for them to do that, for them to be developed in the right way, the amenities and the infrastructures must be at the highest level.
“We’ve seen in places like England: that sudden infusion of world-class players in the league has led to the development of local, world class players, and I think that’s what is going to happen here.
“But you have to grow these players, and when you use the word ‘grow’ or ‘develop’, it means you have to look at the academies, you have to look at the younger ages. That’s where the development of the process starts.
“I’ve always explained, privately and publicly, that top-level footballers are incredible and unique artists, and what they can do, you can only dream of until you try to do it, when you realise how difficult it is. Those guys are exceptional artists, and the artists as time goes on will be greatly appreciated and copied by youngsters in the country and that will be for the good of everyone.”