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Saudi Pro League threat dismissed by Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin

Ceferin says Saudi Arabian soccer top flight is taking “similar approach” to Chinese Super League.

1 Sep 2023 Ed Dixon

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  • CSL spending was curbed by transfer tax in 2017
  • SPL says it is committed to long-term investment plan
  • Ceferin also calls for Fifa’s investigation into RFEF president Luis Rubiales to be allowed to run its course

Aleksander Ceferin, president of European soccer’s governing body Uefa, has dismissed the threat of the Saudi Pro League (SPL), believing it is making similar mistakes to the Chinese Super League (CSL).

The SPL has made waves across European soccer this summer, spending big on high-profile signings in order to establish the Saudi Arabian top flight as a top domestic soccer league and help grow the sport in the country.

While eyebrows have been raised across European leagues at the extent of the SPL’s transfer outlays in a bid to disrupt the soccer status quo, Ceferin believes the competition’s approach is “not the right way to do it”.

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

“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.”

The CSL made headlines in the previous decade with hefty outlays on overseas players, but spending has been curbed by a transfer tax in 2017. In contrast, the SPL has made clear it intends to continue its sizeable investment long term.

Ceferin also pointed to the type of player heading to Saudi Arabia. Notable names such as Karim Benzema and Neymar Jr, who joined from Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain respectively, are both in their 30s. Al Hilal, which is one of four clubs now owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), did make a world-record bid for Kylian Mbappe, but the French star ended up staying with PSG.

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

“As far as I know, Mbappe and [Manchester City striker 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 rejected the idea that some Saudi teams could compete in future editions of Uefa club competitions, including the top-tier Champions League, or stage tournament finals. Last month, it was reported the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) was pushing for a ‘wild card’ entry to the Champions League.

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

“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.”

Away from Saudi Arabia, Ceferin described the behaviour of Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) president Luis Rubiales as “inappropriate” – but called for Fifa’s investigation to be allowed to run its course.

Rubiales has refused to quit for kissing Spain player Jenni Hermoso after their 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup final win over England on 20th August.

All of Spain’s 23 World Cup winners, plus another 58 players, have said they will not represent their country until Rubiales has left his post.

Rubiales, 46, was provisionally suspended by world soccer governing body Fifa on Saturday for an initial period of 90 days pending an investigation into his conduct in Sydney after Spain’s victory.

The president grabbed his crotch in the stadium’s VIP area in celebration, when he was stood metres away from Spain’s Queen Letizia and her teenage daughter.

Ceferin feels the full disciplinary process must be allowed to be completed without added distraction, but admits change must follow.

“I am a lawyer and one of the vice presidents of Fifa,” he said. “His case is in the hands of the disciplinary body of the international federation. Any comments I might make would feel like pressure.

“I just have to say that I am sad that such an event overshadows the victory of the Spanish national team.

“We should change things. I had a meeting today with Laura McAllister [vice president of Uefa] to find ways to change the way we behave. We must do more.”

Ceferin added: “Of course, what he did was inappropriate. We all know it. I hope he knows that was inappropriate.

“This is enough for the moment because the disciplinary committee will decide.”

In his current role with the RFEF, Rubiales is also a vice president of Uefa.

Ceferin said: “He is suspended from all his functions, everywhere. There is no need to suspend it twice.”

PA Media contributed to this report.

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