Saudi Pro League chief claims a host of European stars queueing up to join Ronaldo and co

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FOOTBALL Saudi Pro League chief claims a host of European stars queueing up to join Ronaldo and co

Mark Kinyanjui 18:34 - 13.08.2023

Emelano has revealed he has received numerous calls from big European stars about wanting to join the project.

Former Chelsea and current Saudi Pro League Director of Football Michael Emelano says he has received several calls from European stars wanting to take part in the league after the season’s opening match featured Roberto Firmino and Riyad Mahrez.

The Nigerian has also stressed that he is working on trying to curb the “narrative” about the league being tainted with unorthodox pictures about the country’s apparent violation of human rights, amongst other malpractices.

“The biggest concern is narrative. We have to demolish some of these very outrageous narratives out there that there is something wrong with the Saudi League or with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. That’s what they worry about,” Emelano told The Athletic.

“But I cannot tell you how many calls or messages I got last night after players stayed up to watch this game because they wanted to see and after they saw it, thinking, ‘You know what, it’s not what I expected and I would love to be part of it.’”

The league’s recruitment was the big story of the summer, with Karim Benzema (Al Ittihad), Ruben Neves (Al Hilal), and Jordan Henderson (Al Ettifaq) all signing up, the latter of whom will play on Monday night against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr in Dammam in the east of the country.

In the opening match, some of the other recent investment was on display, with Roger Ibanez, Riyad Mahrez, Allan Saint-Maximin, and Edouard Mendy all making their debuts for the club. It was Firmino who proved most valuable to Saudi’s desire to become one of the world’s top leagues, though, scoring a hat-trick in the game.

Emelano has revealed he would like the league to attract bigger stars like Mbappe and Kane, despite the fact Mbappe turned down an offer to move to Al Hilal which has originally been accepted.

“I would love to have Kylian Mbappe here, I would love to have Harry Kane here, the league would like to have all the top players.” 

“I don’t think they are scared,” said Emenalo. “The European leagues, especially the Premier League, are very strong, entrenched, they have no reason to be scared. I do feel they consider our presence to be disruptive.”

With Saudi Arabia’s transfer deadline not closing until September 20, attention now turns to further recruitment. Emenalo says clubs are still “working frantically” to improve their squads.

He has also revealed  it is up to him to smooth away their concerns about not just the weather, but also national team implications and fear of criticism if they do sign up, as former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson experienced.

Henderson had been a prominent advocate for LGBTQI+ equality in the UK and came under fire for his move, due to the lack of LGBTQI+ and women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. Amnesty International has also described Saudi Arabia’s human rights record as “appalling”.