The Saudi Pro League has become a football superpower in 2023.
One of the biggest football stories of 2023 has been the sensational growth of the game in Saudi Arabia. By signing dozens of famous names, the Saudi Pro League became a football superpower overnight.
Many European fans are unfamiliar with Saudi football. But the Pro League, in its current form, is now almost 50 years old. Its history is long and rich, cherished by millions of fans in its home country. Fans of Saudi Pro clubs are delighted that their league is finally getting the recognition they feel they deserve.
In June 2023, four of Saudi Arabia’s biggest clubs were transformed into companies owned by the country’s Public Investment Fund. Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahli, Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal already had winning records and had large, long-established fan bases. These criteria made these clubs obvious choices to lead the Pro League into a new era.
Al-Ittihad, based in Jeddah, is a club that is over 95 years old. They play in one of the biggest stadiums in the country. It is one of the most famous football clubs in Asia, winning the AFC Champions League twice.
They were also among the biggest spenders this summer and are the current Saudi champions. Led by former Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tottenham manager Nuno Espírito Santo, having a manager with a Premier League pedigree has helped them attract star names in the most recent transfer market. They signed Fabinho, N’Golo Kante and Karim Benzema, all of whom have won trophies at the highest level of European football in recent years.
Their city rival Al-Ahli is also one of the clubs supported by the PIF. When these two clubs face each other, it is one of the most important matches of every season. Dubbed the “Saudi El Clasico,” for fans in the Middle East, it’s a match comparable to Barcelona versus Real Madrid and the Manchester derby in England.
The last meeting between these clubs was an exciting match. And as always, the supporters showed up in numbers. More than 60,000 fans filled the Prince Abdullah al-Faisal Stadium. The atmosphere was electric.
Al-Ahli won this exciting competition 4-3. Another man who arrived in the area this summer has scored a hat-trick. former Fulham striker Aleksander Mitrovic.
Speaking to Euronews after the match, Mitrovic told us: “Since I arrived here it’s been incredible. A new experience doing something different.
“People here are just crazy about football and they know it. I myself come here from the Premier League, the best league. I think this league has all the assets to become, in the future, one of the best leagues in the world. They have facilities, funds, people who love football. I think more and more players will be willing to come to this league, especially when you watch a game like this.
YouTube content creator Theo Ogden was also at the game. Theo travels all over the world watching soccer and creating content for his channel, but this was his first time in Saudi Arabia.
The presence of people like Théo, who has a channel with 1.55 million subscribers, shows that the influence of Saudi football is growing. Creators like him are helping bring the Saudi football revolution closer to millions more fans in Europe and beyond.
With around 17 billion euros set aside by the PIF to invest in this project before 2030, more players will choose to play in Saudi Arabia. With more stars playing in the region, the already huge fan base of the four PIF-backed clubs will continue to grow. The goal is for the Pro League, ranked 36th strongest league in the world by OPTA in 2023, to be ranked in the top 10 by 2030.
The foundations for success, in terms of history and passion for football, are already in place.