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Saudi Pro League: Ronaldo, Benzema lead revolution in Asian football



English Premier League teams may be struggling to come to terms with Saudi Arabian clubs moving for some of their biggest names but fans in Riyadh, Jeddah and many other big cities of the Middle East and Asia are also having to adjust to football’s new reality.

Since Cristiano Ronaldo signed for Al-Nassr – one of the ‘Big Four’ clubs along with bitter Riyadh rivals Al-Hilal and Jeddah giants Al-Ittihad and Al-Ahli – in December, the country has been in the international football spotlight and the club’s yellow shirt is an increasingly familiar sight in Europe and beyond.

“Watching ‘The Yellow’ spreading across the world is so satisfying and pleasing to me but I also feel loyal to the local league,” Nassr fan Jana Mohammed tells BBC Sport.

“Seeing player after player agreeing to sign with any Saudi team makes me more excited. It’s really thrilling to witness such quality in our league.”

Talents such as N’Golo Kante, Karim Benzema and Jota have joined champions Ittihad to work with coach Nuno Espirito Santo.

Hilal, the 18-time title winners, made bids for Lionel Messi and Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic and have signed Kalidou Koulibaly, Ruben Neves and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.

Meanwhile, Roberto Firmino and Edouard Mendy left the Premier League to become Al-Ahli players, with Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez set to join them soon.

Expectations are building before the new season starts in August.

“It is clear that the new football season will be a strong one with a lot of big football names that will undoubtedly be great additions,” adds Al-Hilal fan Ayman Al-Hatami.

“As for Al-Hilal, we are satisfied with our new signings as we aspire to be stronger and achieve a better position. As usual, we are the first candidate for every championship.”

Who’s who in the Saudi Pro League?
Ronaldo has talked up the potential of the Saudi Pro League to become one of the top-five competitions in the world and, while that is debatable, there is little doubt that in terms of profile it is the biggest in the Middle East and Asia.

“Europe lost a lot of quality,” the Portugal captain said recently.

“The only one that is one of the best is the Premier League; the Spanish league lost its level, the Portuguese one is not ‘top’, the German one also lost a lot of quality.

“The USA? No, the Saudi championship is much better than the USA. In one year, more and more top players will come to Saudi. In a year the Saudi league will overtake the Turkish league and Dutch league.”

Impact on Middle East and North Africa
The big four Saudi Arabian teams, who were taken over in June by the country’s Public Investment Fund, have long had financial strength in regional and continental terms.

Now all 18 teams in the top tier, newly expanded from 16, have the ability to rival any in the Arab world.

Former Rangers and Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard has taken over mid-ranking team Ettifaq, who have been linked with another Liverpool legend in captain Jordan Henderson and are reportedly ready to make him one of the best-paid players in the world.

If they are able to offer a package so attractive that it lures Liverpool’s captain from Anfield, it is a stark reality for others in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Storied clubs such as Al-Ahly and Zamalek of Egypt, with 16 continental championships between them, Wydad Casablanca in Morocco as well as Tunisian and Algerian clubs have massive support.

But they are increasingly losing big names to Saudi Arabia, with Egypt players Ahmed Hegazi and Tarek Hamed moving to Al-Ittihad.

Even the region’s biggest stars such as Algeria’s Mahrez and Morocco’s Hakim Ziyech have been closely linked with Saudi moves.

Teams in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have signed big-name players in the past but do not have the fan bases of their big Saudi rivals or the same strength in depth.

Karim Benzema, the 2022 Ballon d’Or winner, joined Al-Ittihad in June Saudi league set to dominate in Asia?
With the national team appearing at six World Cups as well as winning two Asian Cups and with clubs winning the Asian Champions League six times, Saudi Arabia has always been a regional and continental powerhouse.

The country’s new financial power in football has, however, put it on a completely different level on the pitch.

South Korea’s K-League is the most successful in terms of Asian club titles but even big teams such as Ulsan Hyundai Horangi, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Suwon Samsung Bluewings – thanks to their corporate backing – have never had pockets deep enough to sign big overseas names.

China’s league did make headlines and waves in the previous decade but the days when it rivalled the Premier League in terms of spending are over and, after a number of bankruptcies, clubs are more focused on survival.

Japan is Saudi Arabia’s rival in terms of being the best league in Asia on the pitch but it is falling behind in terms of profile and star power.

Never has an Asian league had such ambition and deep pockets.

‘Cristiano did what it takes years to do’
Al-Nassr have witnessed a surge in shirt sales, mainly bearing Ronaldo’s name
Star players do not only bring more quality but are also designed to result in more fans, broadcast deals, sponsorship, merchandise sales and investment.

Saudi Arabia’s target is that the league will be in the world’s top 10 in terms of revenue generation by 2030.

Already, there are positive commercial signs.

Al-Nassr play Benfica on Thursday then face Paris St-Germain and Inter Milan in Japan later this month.

The club have also signed a shirt deal with Nike, with an official telling the BBC the American sportswear giants can help ensure the yellow shirts worn around the world are official.

In November, there were 10,000 visits to the merchandise page of the club’s website. In January – the month Ronaldo signed – that number had increased to 300,000.

“We have seen more Al-Nassr shirts since last season and it’s increasing so much,” says Mohammed.

“Cristiano did immediately what it takes marketing campaigns and trophies many years to do.

“We played against Celta [on Monday] and many fans were there wearing Nassr’s shirt with Cristiano’s name on the back and Nassr’s logo on the front.

“It’s all about raising the bar, it’s such an improvement.”


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Lionel Messi Bought $10.8 Million Home in Fort Lauderdale




Soccer superstar Lionel Messi is raising the sport’s profile not only in Miami but the U.S.—and his purchase of a $10.75 million estate is now drawing curious eyes from around the world to a gated community he now calls home in Fort Lauderdale.

When the 36-year-old forward signed with Inter Miami CF earlier this summer—fresh off his victory during the World Cup in Qatar last year—Messi Mania hit Miami, with stalwart fans and the newly initiated lining up for tickets and merch. Although the real estate market may not go quite as crazy, it’s not immune to the hype, industry experts said.

“A buyer with a massive international following is a magnet for attention, and ever since the news broke that Messi was house hunting in Fort Lauderdale, and then closed on a home in Bay Colony, all eyes have been on the area,” said Chad Carroll with the Carroll Group at Compass. “A new high-profile neighbor like Messi will up the ante for the neighborhood, which is already one of the most exclusive in the city.”

Bay Colony is an island community of about 100 waterfront mansions that attracts boating enthusiasts and those who want maximum security, as it is guard-gated 24 hours a day, Carroll added. The average price for a home in the area is $4.6 million, according to Zillow.

The attention brought to the area by Messi, who purchased the nearly 10,500-square-foot mansion with his wife, model Antonela Roccuzzo, can definitely “create a stronger demand in the community and create a new price benchmark for future sales,” according to Samuel and Donna Simpkin of Compass’s Team Simpkin, who represented Messi and Roccuzzo and are the exclusive real estate agents for the Inter Miami CF.

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Barcelona’s salary limit drops massively from €648m to €270m




Barcelona’s new salary limit for this season has been set at €270 million, a huge drop from the €648m limit set in February.

La Liga have told informed all clubs of their salary levels for the next five months, when they will be reviewed again following the close of the January transfer window.

Barca’s new limit is €270m, the third highest in La Liga, behind Real Madrid and Atletico.

Los Blancos lead the way on €727m, while Atletico Madrid’s salary cap has been set at €296m.

Barca have been busy in the summer in a bid to reduce their wage bill. There were a host of outgoings with Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Ousmane Dembele among those players to be shifted off the wage bill.

Incoming players have arrived on free transfers, or for small fees, and have had to take significant wage cuts. Marc-Andre ter Stegen has also taken a downward contract renewal in a bid to help his club during their financial difficulties.

It’s worth noting that Barcelona are still thought to be way over the limit with a current wage bill of around €404m, meaning there’s still a lot of work needed to do on the financial front.

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Meet 10 highest paid players in the Premier League




The Premier League is one of the richest leagues in the world and a lot of the star players are on incredibly lucrative contracts.

The likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City are all willing to offer huge pay packets to help convince players to join their clubs.

Using data from Capology, a look at the 10 Premier League players with the highest weekly wage.

Note: All figures mentioned are before tax and do not include the array of bonuses that are included in the fine print of every contract.

  1. Kai Havertz – £280,000
    Havertz spent three years at Chelsea before moving across London and joining Arsenal in a £65millon deal in the summer of 2023.

Alongside the transfer fee, the Gunners also shelled out a significant pay packet as they are giving him a reported £280,000-per-week.

The Germany international is the highest-paid player at the Emirates, earning £15,000-a-week more than teammate Gabriel Jesus.

He has faced some criticism for a slow start to life in north London but still has plenty of time to prove his doubters wrong.

9= Jack Grealish – £300,000
Grealish left boyhood club Aston Villa and completed a £100million move to Manchester City in the summer of 2021.

The England international then got a significant wage increase, going from £125,000-per-week at Villa Park to £300,000-per-week at the Etihad.

He had an underwhelming debut season at City but rediscovered his best form in 2022/23, helping Pep Guardiola’s side win the Premier League, the FA Cup and the Champions League.

Alongside his huge wages, the 28-year-old earns £10million a year from Puma and also has a lucrative endorsement contract with fashion house Gucci.

9= Marcus Rashford – £300,00
A Manchester United academy graduate, Rashford earned just £500-a-week when he broke into the first team in February 2016.

The 25-year-old has since developed into one of the best players in the Premier League and his wages have subsequently skyrocketed.

He put pen to paper on a new five-year contract ahead of the 2023/24 season and is now pocketing around £300,000-per-week.

According to The Athletic, Rashford rejected more lucrative proposals from England and abroad to remain at his boyhood club.

9= Bernardo Silva – £300,000
Since arriving from Monaco in the summer of 2017, Silva has helped Manchester City win 14 trophies, including five Premier League titles and the Champions League.

He was heavily linked with Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain in 2023 and was also offered a £500,000-a-week contract by Saudi Pro League side Al Hilal.

But the Portugal international rejected that lucrative offer and signed a contract extension with City until the summer of 2026.

The new deal, which reportedly includes a release clause, rewarded Silva for his impressive performances and doubled his £150,000-a-week salary.

  1. Raheem Sterling – £325,000
    After spending seven seasons at Manchester City, Sterling opted for a new challenge and joined Chelsea in a £47.5million deal in 2022.

The winger signed a five-year deal which is worth £325,000-per-week, making him the highest-paid player at Stamford Bridge.

He struggled to justify that huge pay packet during a turbulent debut season, registering just nine goals and four assists across 38 appearances in all competitions.

While a lot of Chelsea players got a pay cut for missing out on the Champions League, Sterling’s wages have reportedly stayed the same.

  1. Raphael Varane – £340,000
    Varane’s move to Manchester United in the summer of 2021 saw his wage packet double after he was reportedly paid £170,000-per-week at Real Madrid.

The 30-year-old arrived at Old Trafford with some serious pedigree, having won three La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues and the World Cup.

He’s widely regarded as one of the best defenders in the Premier League and has forged a promising centre-back partnership with Lisandro Martinez.

But the former France international has struggled to stay fit for prolonged periods and has already missed 35 United matches through injury.

4= Mohamed Salah – £350,000
After months upon months of speculation about a potential Liverpool exit, Salah committed his future to the Reds in 2022 by putting pen to paper on a new three-year contract.

The deal saw his wages go from £200,000-per-week to £350,000-per-week, making him the highest-paid player in the club’s illustrious history.

According to The Athletic, various bonuses written into the contract could see that rise closer to £400,000-per-week.

That still pales in comparison to the £2.45million-a-week wage that Al-Hilal are reportedly willing to offer the Egypt international.

4= Casemiro – £350,000
Casemiro enjoyed a trophy-laden career at Real Madrid, winning five La Liga titles, a Copa del Rey and five Champions Leagues.

The midfielder subsequently raised eyebrows in 2022 when he decided to leave Real and join a Manchester United side that had failed to qualify for the Champions League.

His reported wages of £350,000-a-week led to speculation that he only signed for a massive payday, but the Brazil international insisted that the money was not part of his thinking in accepting the switch.

“Those who think that don’t know me,” he said. “I’m not like that. If it was for money, then I could have left four or five years ago. The club always acted well with me. It was my decision. It was simply the feeling that my cycle here had come to an end. This was clear to me.”

He silenced his critics and had a brilliant debut season at Old Trafford, helping United win the EFL Cup and finish third in the Premier League.

But the 31-year-old has had a difficult start to the 2023/24 season and his £350,000-a-week contract doesn’t expire until 2026.

  1. Erling Haaland – £375,000
    Manchester City won the race for Haaland’s signature in 2022 after triggering the £51.2million release clause in his Borussia Dortmund contract.

Having signed Haaland for around a third of his market value, City agreed to make him one of their highest earners and are paying the 23-year-old a base salary of £375,000-per-week.

The striker is worth every penny as he scored 52 goals in 53 appearances in all competitions during a record-breaking debut season.

According to reports, Haaland’s contract also includes a number of relatively straightforward bonuses which could take his wage up to £865,000-per-week.

  1. Kevin De Bruyne – £400,000
    After Cristiano Ronaldo’s Manchester United contract was terminated by mutual consent in November 2022, De Bruyne took his place as the Premier League’s highest earner.

The Manchester City midfielder last signed a contract extension in April 2021, which took his pay up to the £400,000-per-week mark.

He justified that wage increase by winning the Premier League Player of the Season award in 2021/22 before playing an integral role in City’s treble-winning campaign.

Culled from

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