Manchester City midfielder Rodri has called on football authorities to ‘control’ the exodus from European football to the Saudi Pro League and similar competitions.
A soon to be 38-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo was the first big name to move to Saudi Arabia when he signed with Al Nassr at the end of December 2022.
The Portugal icon was then followed by Karim Benzema, 35, and N’Golo Kante, 32, who both joined Al Ittihad in June after injury-affected seasons. Jordan Henderson, 33, was another to make the controversial switch in the twilight of his career.
The veterans have been offered big money, much in the same way as Qatari clubs experienced a boom in the early to mid-2000s when the likes of Gabriel Batistuta, Fernando Hierro, Pep Guardiola, Marcel Desailly and Stefan Effenberg moved to the wealthy Gulf state.
But others have also followed the finances. At 31, many would have considered Neymar and Sadio Mane both still capable of performing for an elite European club, while players under the age of 30 to take the plunge include Fabinho, Ruben Neves, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Allen Saint-Maximin, Seko Fofana, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Malcom, Otavio and 21-year-old Spain talent Gabri Veiga.
Veiga in particular had interest from several of Europe’s biggest clubs, including Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Napoli. Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos called it “embarrassing” and suggested any player not a veteran making the move is “against football”.
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“European football loses with this situation,” Rodri said while on international duty with Spain.
“The players who decided to go out to these leagues…totally understandable. Obviously, because of the amounts of money they are offering I would take it to be a personal issue.
“We Europeans, so to speak, don’t like it that much. I imagine that we will have to somehow control this escape of talented players because it is true that, at first, it seemed that they were only veteran players at the end of their careers. But we are seeing that they are not, there are already players of my age or even young people who are choosing to go there.”
Rodri’s comments might come across as hypocritical and gatekeeping given the level of Premier League spending this summer. Saudi Pro League clubs spent a combined £760m during the recently closed transfer window, an amount completely dwarfed by £2.36bn in England’s top flight.
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