JEDDADH - The new season for Saudi Arabia’s top-flight football league began Friday night, after a summer of big-name purchases.
A hattrick from Roberto Firmino gave Al-Ahli a 3-1 win over Al-Hazm in the season opener for the Saudi Pro League.
Karim Benzema, N’golo Kante, Sadio Mane, and Jordan Henderson are among the highest-profile signings to the league so far, thanks in part to cash from the Saudi sovereign Public Investment Fund (PIF).
In the latest purchase, Al-Ahli has bought Barcelona midfielder Franck Kessie for £11 million (US$14m) in a deal finalised on Wednesday. The Saudi club has already signed Brazilian star Firmino from Liverpool, Senegal goalkeeper Edouard Mendy from Chelsea, and Riyad Mahrez from Manchester City.
The league has also undergone a major restructuring, with four of the league’s biggest clubs, including Al-Ahli, now under the ownership of the PIF.
The changes to the Pro League are part of Saudi Vision 2030 — the Saudi Crown Prince’s plan to transform the country and its economy by the end of the decade.
As part of Vision 2030, Riyadh has said it wants the Saudi Pro League to be among the ten best leagues in the world.
Though the new season has gotten underway, fresh signings could still be made, as the Saudi transfer window is open until 20 September.
This is much to the chagrin of some European managers, who say it is unfair that the Saudis have three more weeks than Europe to make new purchases.