Why does the Saudi Pro League want to sign Mohamed Salah?

“Exceptional players only.”

That was the bar set by Michael Emenalo, the former Chelsea director now in charge of all the transfers in the wildly expanding, free-spending Saudi Pro League.

“I would love to have Kylian Mbappe here.” Emenalo continued. “I would love to have Harry Kane here.” As Liverpool can attest, Saudi Arabia’s top flight would very much like Mohamed Salah there as well.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Neymar already call the Saudi Pro League home, so why is Emenalo so intent on adding Salah to his roster?

The obvious answer is that Salah emphatically fits the bill of Emenalo’s “exceptional players only” policy. Liverpool’s 31-year-old forward finished fifth in last year’s Ballon d’Or and scored 30 goals across all competitions. Liverpool’s fifth-highest goalscorer of all time became just the second player in the club’s history to exceed 20 goals in six consecutive seasons last term.

Aside from a guarantee of goals, Salah offers a brand almost unmatched in the Middle Eastern market. In Egypt’s 2018 presidential election, more than one million voters spoiled their ballots – twice the figure the opposition’s Moussa Mustafa Moussa acquired. Many of those voided votes had Salah’s name scrawled in place of either candidate. “Mohamed Salah is really important because he is a symbol,” Mohamed Farag Amer, head of Egypt’s parliamentary youth and sports committee said, “like Tutankhamun, like the pyramids.”

Yet, Mo-mania is not limited to the borders of his native Egypt. In late August, Al Ittihad fans were already wearing Salah masks during a game against Al Riyadh.


Mohamed Salah is adored in Egypt, Liverpool and most places in between / KHALED DESOUKI/GettyImages

Both Benzema and Sadio Mane, Salah’s former Liverpool teammate, have spoken of the religious appeal of moving to Saudi Arabia. “It’s important for me to be in a Muslim country,” Benzema explained, “where I feel people [are] already like me”. This is a two-way street.

While Ronaldo has been accommodated at Al Nassr as a non-Muslim – by living with his long-term girlfriend Georgina Rodriguez in a gated community, the Portuguese forward is technically violating cohabitation laws (though they are rarely enforced among foreigners) – there is naturally more appeal for an individual that shares the same beliefs as the vast majority of the nation’s young population.

Salah’s religious zeal is evident after each of his goals, which he invariably celebrates by kneeling with a quiet word of thanks. The devout Muslim named his daughter Makka after the holy city and was given a plot of land in Mecca in 2018 by the Saudi Arabian government as “a wonderful representative of Islam in Britain”.





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Emenalo was in charge of Chelsea when the Blues won the race for Salah’s signature during his time in Switzerland with FC Basel. A decade later, the former Notts County left-back has his heart set on Salah again.

Unlike other leagues, the Saudi top flight has operated a single organism during their summer splurge. Four of the clubs are owned by the nation’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) – which also has a majority share in Newcastle United – but every player that will earn an annual salary in excess of $3m (£2.4m) has to be approved by the league.

Reigning SPL champions Al Ittihad – who already boast Benzema and N’Golo Kante – have been tapped as the team to lead the charge for Salah. Whispers of a move first emerged at the start of August, after Liverpool had already lost Jordan Henderson and Fabinho to the Saudi Pro League.

Liverpool FC v Manchester United - Premier League

Jurgen Klopp (right) is not keen on losing Mohamed Salah / Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/GettyImages

Salah’s agent Ramy Abbas Issa publicly quashed those rumours, pointing to the three-year contract his client signed last summer. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has been adamant any approach – however outrageous – for his perennial top scorer would receive the same response: no, thank you.

However, Al Ittihad are fixated on the idea of adding Salah to their roster. 90min revealed the Tigers were willing to break the British transfer record with a £120m bid for Salah at the end of August. Liverpool turned down that eye-watering offer and again rebuffed a sum of £150m. Unperturbed, Al Ittihad are prepared to exceed the world record transfer fee of £198m which Paris Saint-Germain paid for Neymar in 2017.

Liverpool are not stubborn sellers if the fee is right but Al Ittihad’s interest only intensified at the end of the English transfer window, leaving the Reds with little time to replace Salah’s prolific output. Saudi clubs, by contrast, are not in a race against the clock as the Pro League’s window closes on 20 September.

Klopp has voiced his disdain for the discrepancy already this season but he will be even more enraged if he loses his star forward without any chance of replacing him until January. The German manager may insist that Salah is going nowhere, but there must be a sum that Liverpool can’t refuse – for many reasons, Al Ittihad will try to find that number.

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