Saudi Pro League ‘not a threat’ and ‘similar to China’, says Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin

The Saudi Pro League has been dismissed as a competitive threat by Aleksander Ceferin, president of European football’s governing body Uefa.

The league has lured many high-profile players to Saudi Arabia over the last year, offering lucrative contracts and paying substantial transfer fees.

Ceferin feels the Chinese Super League made the same mistakes and said “that’s not the right way to do it”.

“It’s not a threat, we saw a similar approach in China,” he told L’Equipe.external-link

“They bought players at the end of their careers by offering them a lot of money. Chinese football didn’t develop and didn’t qualify for the World Cup afterwards.

“That’s not the right way to do it. They should work on player and coach development, but that’s not my problem.”

Spending by Chinese Super League clubs was curbed by a transfer tax in 2017 but the Saudi Pro League has a long-term investment plan, with Michael Emenalo appointed as director of football to lead its acquisition and youth development strategy.

Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola, who saw Riyad Mahrez and Aymeric Laporte leave for Saudi Arabia this summer, said the country’s financial clout has “changed the market” for transfers and elite European clubs “need to be aware of what is happening”.

However, the Premier League’s chief executive Richard Masters has said he “wouldn’t be too concerned” about Saudi Arabia’s growing influence in football.

‘Mbappe & Haaland don’t dream of Saudi Arabia’

The country’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has taken over four leading Saudi clubs including Al-Nassr, who signed Cristiano Ronaldo in December.

Karim Benzema and Neymar have been the biggest of many signings this summer while Al-Hilal made a world record £259m bid for Kylian Mbappe.

Benzema and Neymar are aged 35 and 31, respectively, while 24-year-old France forward Mbappe has decided to stay with Paris St-Germain.

Ceferin added: “There are players at the end of their careers and others who aren’t ambitious enough to aspire to the ‘top’ competitions.

“As far as I know, Mbappe and [Erling] Haaland don’t dream of Saudi Arabia. I don’t believe that the best players at the pinnacle of their careers would go to Saudi Arabia.

“When people talk to me about the players who went there, nobody knows where they’re playing.”

Ceferin also dismissed speculation that some Saudi clubs could join future editions of the Uefa club competitions or stage the competition finals.

“Only European clubs can participate in the Champions League, Europa League and Conference League,” he said.

“Only European federations can apply [to host] a final, not even clubs. We would have to change all our rules, and we don’t want that.”

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