The Saudi Pro League emerged as one of the richest leagues in football in 2023, with the Public Investment Fund (PIF) pumping astronomical money into the sport in order to sign some of the world’s best players.
Ronaldo, Benzema and Kante all moved to Saudi Arabia on free transfers and were rewarded with bumper salaries, but the Saudi PIF – who own Al-Nassr, Al Ahli, Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal – have also spent big on transfer fees.
Then, Neymar joined them in Saudi Arabia when he signed for Al-Hilal on a two-year deal after they spent €90m to acquire his services from PSG. In the process, Neymar became the most expensive Saudi Pro League signing ever.
Furthermore, the likes of Ruben Neves, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Fabinho left the Premier League for the riches of Saudi Arabia and they likely won’t be the last to make the move from Europe to the Middle East.
January 2024 was a quiet winter window, with no players breaking into the top 10 most expensive Saudi transfers list.
But we can expect another huge summer in 2024 where obscene amounts of cash are spent.
Indeed, Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah is the subject of heavy interest from Al-Ittihad, who could be prepared to pay a three figure sum for the Egypt international.
FootballTransfers takes you through the 10 most expensive Saudi Pro League transfers of all time.
10. Sadio Mane – €30m (Bayern to Al-Nassr, 2023)
Sadio Mane left Liverpool as a club legend having netted 120 goals in just under 270 appearances for the Reds.
His transfer to Bayern Munich, however, didn’t go as planned. Mane was seen as Robert Lewandowski’s replacement, despite only playing as a centre forward for his final six months at Liverpool, and ultimately failed to live up to the hype surrounding the move.
Thomas Tuchel publicly criticised him for his “disappointing” season and Mane’s exit was inevitable after that. He joined Cristiano Ronaldo at Al-Nassr at the start of August 2023.
9. Riyad Mahrez – €35m (Man City to Al-Ahli, 2023)
After years of trophy-laden success at Manchester City, Riyad Mahrez decided it was time for a new challenge after helping Pep Guardiola’s side win the treble in his final year at the club.
In total, Mahrez left Man City with 78 goals and 59 assists for the club and has departed the Premier League as one of its modern greats.
8. Gabri Veiga – €40m (Celta Vigo to Al-Ahli, 2023
While teams in Europe had become somewhat used to the financial pull of Saudi Arabia towards the end of the summer in 2023, few deals stunned the footballing world like Gabri Veiga’s €40m move from Celta Vigo to Al-Ahli in late August that year.
Veiga had enjoyed a breakout season for Celta in the previous campaign, also being capped by Spain for the first time, and the 21-year-old was linked with moves to European giants such as Chelsea and Liverpool.
However, the midfielder turned down a move to Napoli in order to move to Saudi Arabia at a significantly younger age to most the players targeted that summer, becoming the first real ‘wonderkid’ to reject a major European transfer and join the Saudi Pro League.
7. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic – €42m (Lazio to Al-Hilal, 2023)
Perennially linked with Manchester United, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic finally left Lazio in 2023, after spending eight years at the club, but he didn’t move to Old Trafford as many expected.
Instead, the Serbian joined Al-Hilal in the Saudi Pro League after they tabled an impressive salary offer to the player and a €42m fee to Lazio. He signed a three-year contract upon joining Al-Hilal, keeping him at the club until 2026 – when he will be 31.
6. Fabinho – €46.7m (Liverpool to Al-Ittihad, 2023)
Fabinho looked on his last legs during the 2022-23 season and Liverpool snatched at the opportunity to sell the Brazilian when Al-Ittihad offered €46.7m for his services – marginally more than they paid Monaco to sign him back in 2018.
The midfielder was pivotal to Liverpool’s success in the 2019 Champions League final and the 2019/20 Premier League season, with the stability he provided allowing Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson bomb forward.
Fabinho is Al-Ittihad’s record signing and has joined Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante at the club.
5. Aleksandar Mitrovic – €52.5m (Fulham to Al-Hilal, 2023)
Aleksandar Mitrovic finally joined Al-Hilal in mid-August after weeks of speculation that he would leave Fulham.
The Serbian striker has left Fulham as their sixth-highest goal-scorer in history (150), while he is their record ever departure.
The forward is not only the fifth most expensive signing in Saudi Arabian history, but he is also the fourth most expensive Al-Hilal signing following a historic summer of spending.
4. Ruben Neves – €55m (Wolves to Al-Hilal, 2023)
Ruben Neves’ €55m move from Wolverhampton Wanderers to Al-Hilal became the most expensive transfer in Saudi Pro League history at the start of the summer, before it was smashed by first Malcom and subsequently Neymar.
The midfielder, who became the youngest ever captain in Champions League history during his time with Porto, was heavily linked with a move to Barcelona, but the Blaugrana weren’t able to pay a suitable fee for his services.
A continuation of his stay at Molineux looked a possibility until Al-Hilal entered the race for his signature and coughed up a huge fee to persuade Wolves to sell.
The transfer was particularly key as Neves was the first player from Europe’s top five leagues to leave the continent in their prime to move to Saudi Arabia.
3. Malcom – €60m (Zenit to Al-Hilal, 2023)
Malcom is best known for his failed transfer to Barcelona, which lasted just 12 months and saw him score just four goals in 24 appearances.
Remarkably, Barcelona turned a €500k profit on the Brazil winger when they sold him to Zenit one year after purchasing him, with Malcom enjoying a prolific stint in Russia.
He bagged 42 goals for the club in just over 100 appearances before Al-Hilal made him the most expensive Saudi Pro League player ever. That record has since been broken.
2. Otavio – €60m (Porto to Al-Nassr, 2023)
Portugal international Otavio spent seven seasons at Porto before moving to Al-Nassr in late August 2023.
The 28-year-old developed into a fine player in the Primeira Liga, hitting double digits for assists in the his final four campaigns at Porto.
But like many other stars from across Europe, he decided that the Saudi Pro League offered the right challenge for the next stage of his career.
He has teamed up with compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as Sadio Mane, forming what a superb front three.
1. Neymar – €90m (PSG to Al-Hilal, 2023)
Malcom’s transfer record was obliterated by his countryman Neymar when Al-Hilal spent €90m to lure him away from PSG in mid-August 2023.
After a joyous period at Barcelona, Neymar endured an injury-hit career in France, and ultimately failed to win the Champions League or the Ballon d’Or – his two targets upon arriving at the Parc des Princes.
His move means Al-Hilal have signed four of the five most expensive players in Saudi Pro League history.
Unfortunately for Neymar and Al-Hilal, he suffered a serious injury soon after joining.
The 10 most expensive Saudi Pro League signings of all time
|PSG to Al-Hilal
|Porto to Al-Nassr
|Zenit to Al-Hilal
|4. Ruben Neves
|Wolves to Al-Hilal
|5. Aleksandar Mitrovic
|Fulham to Al-Hilal
|Liverpool to Al-Ittihad
|7. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic
|Lazio to Al-Hilal
|8. Gabri Veiga
|Celta Vigo to Al-Ahli
|9. Riyad Mahrez
|Man City to Al-Ahli
|10. Sadio Mane
|Bayern to Al-Nassr