Spending on transfers and activities in men’s and women’s football is at all-time highs. According to the FIFA study, agent fees are also at record highs; Saudi clubs spend more than teams in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.
During the summer transfer window, Moises Caicedo, Jill Roord, and Neymar all changed teams. According to a FIFA analysis, both transfer spending and activity in men’s and women’s football worldwide have broken new milestones.
Between June 1 and September 1, men’s football clubs throughout the world spent a record-breaking $7.36 billion on transfers, a 47 percent increase from the mid-year window in 2022.
Over the same time period, transfer spending in women’s football more than doubled, setting a new mid-year high of $3 million. For the sixth year in a row, there were more transfers than the previous year, reaching a record-breaking 829 transactions (+19.1% over the previous time), 66 of which (+83.3%) were for fees.
Although the Saudis will return, Mohamed Salah will remain at Liverpool for the time being.
Who has joined Saudi Arabian teams?
With $1.98 billion spent on transfer fees in the men’s game during the window, England topped the list. They also signed (449) and sold (514) more players than any other nation.
Clubs from the Saudi region accounted for 14% of global transfer spending, the first time teams from a confederation other than UEFA have surpassed a 10% share of the total. Saudi Pro League clubs made an impact in more ways than one, with their $875.4m summer splurge ranking second, surpassing the remaining ‘big five’ European leagues: France ($859.7m), Germany ($762.4m), Italy ($711.0m), and Spain ($405.6m).
The outcome was that clubs from the AFC region accounted for 14.0% of all global transfer spending, marking the first time organizations other than UEFA’s teams had exceeded a 10% share of the total.
The first time teams from just one league received more than $1 billion in the mid-year transfer window was when Germany made a $1.11 billion profit from their transfer operations.
With $696.6 million paid in agent fees over the course of the month, the total for 2023 as a whole has hit an all-time high of $853 million, which is 36.9% more than in all of 2022 and more than in any other year.
Analysis of Saudi Spending
Only the Premier League spent more than Saudi Arabia during the transfer window, which closed on September 7. Saudi Arabia spent more than four of Europe’s “big five” leagues combined.
Izzy Wray of Deloitte’s Sports Business Group said, “This is the first time since 2016 that another overseas league has outspent any of Europe’s ‘big five’ during a football transfer window.
The Saudi investment in football will shift its focus to the infrastructure in order to raise the bar of Asian football. “European football continues to be the benchmark for the game globally,” the Saudi statement reads.
The league champions Al Ittihad, Al Ahli, Al Nassr, and Al Hilal are a part of the Sports Clubs Investment and Privatization Project, which was launched by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) earlier this year, with a host of top players moving to the league.
Each of the four clubs is owned by PIF to the tune of 75%, with the various non-profit foundations holding the other 25%.
The most expensive transfer this year was made by Al Hilal, the wealthiest club in Saudi Arabia, who paid £86.3 million to sign Brazilian striker Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain.
Al Hilal spent a lot of money on Neymar as well as Aleksandar Mitrovic, Kalidou Koulibaly, Ruben Neves, and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.
While Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr paid out on Otavio, Sadio Mane, Aymeric Laporte, Marcelo Brozovic, and Alex Telles, Saudi Pro League champions Al Ittihad signed Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, and Fabinho.
After spending a season in the second division, Al Ahli returned to the Pro League and completed a number of other acquisitions, including those of Gabri Veiga, Riyad Mahrez, Roberto Firmino, Edouard Mendy, Alain Saint-Maximin, and Merih Demiral.
According to Wray, “the Kingdom’s privatization program implementation is likely to generate a wave of interest around the SPL, possibly fueling the current spending trend for the windows to come.”
“It remains to be seen what effect the SPL’s spending power, which already exceeds some of Europe’s ‘big five,’ will have on the composition of elite football for upcoming generations.”
Despite all of its expenses, the SPL nevertheless fell short of several of its most important goals.
Al Ittihad reportedly made a £150 million proposal for Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, but the Premier League club apparently rejected it. Meanwhile, Al Hilal’s ambitious offers for Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe fell through.
Critics charge Saudi Arabia with utilizing the PIF to engage in “sportswashing” in the face of harsh criticism of the nation’s human rights record despite Saudi Arabia’s recent huge investments in sports like soccer, Formula One, boxing, tennis, and golf.