In May, the Saudi Tourism Authority sent out a press release telling the world of Lionel Messi’s enchanting encounter with a falcon and his fine dining at Al Bujairi Terrace. This came just after Paris Saint-Germain suspended Messi for two weeks for visiting Saudi Arabia and missing a training session.
At the time, the Saudi Pro League were hoping to sign Messi, and his trip infuriated PSG, causing his time in Paris to end on a sour note.
Now another PSG star could be heading to Saudi Arabia with reports that Al-Hilal are willing to pay around $300 million to sign French striker Kylian Mbappe, who they will reportedly pay $200 million a year. That figure could increase to around $700 million once commercial rights are added, meaning the whole deal could reportedly cost $1 billion.
The deal though looks like a short-term move, with Mbappe likely staying just a year in the Middle East before heading to Spanish giants Real Madrid. Mbappe is yet to agree to the move, but even though Chelsea and Manchester United are also interested in his signature, the huge fee from Al-Hilal could price out any opposition, meaning if PSG play hardball, it could be a case of him either taking the offer or spending much of next season sitting on the bench in Paris.
The huge fee that Saudi Arabia are willing to pay for Mbappe is based on a simple premise: most soccer fans around the world now follow players, not teams.
Evidence for this can be seen on Instagram, where Kylian Mbappe has almost as many followers as Manchester United and Manchester City combined. Paris Saint-Germain have 67 million followers, but their star-studded attacking line up last season was Messi (480 million followers), Neymar (210 million followers) and Mbappe (106 million followers).
Paris Saint-Germain haven’t won the UEFA Champions League, and Ligue 1 is some distance short of La Liga and the Premier League, but they are still the seventh most valuable club in the world, largely on the back of those big-name signings.
Cristiano Ronaldo has almost 600 million followers, four times as many as Real Madrid, and his global popularity can be seen by how his current club Al-Nassr have more Instagram followers than Tottenham Hotspur.
It will take some time for Saudi Arabian clubs to reach the same quality on the pitch as the top sides in Europe. The Chinese Super League during its heyday didn’t even come close. To properly compete, teams need strong players throughout every position in their squad, not just a few star names up front.
But through big-name signings, the league can take a shortcut, attracting soccer fans who follow players rather than teams.
And there’s quite a lot of fans who fall into that category. A survey of 14,000 soccer fans by the European Club Association in 2020 found that 13 percent of fans from the seven countries surveyed supported their club because their favorite player plays for them. That figure jumped to 31% in India, suggesting that many soccer fans outside of Western Europe follow players rather than teams.
Should Mbappe accept the Saudi Pro League’s offer, then him, Ronaldo and Karim Benzema (72 million Instagram followers) will help the league attract those soccer fans who value players over teams.
The Saudi Pro League has a lot of money behind it, but not an infinite amount. Reportedly, it has budgeted 17 billion dollars for players until 2030, so Mbappe’s move will take up a sizeable chunk of that. It also seems overvalued, and could make other clubs push for even higher fees for their players in the future.
For Mbappe’s move to Saudi Arabia to be a success for the league, it will have to attract a huge amount of interest over the next year among fans who follow players over clubs. If it works though, the Saudi Pro League could try to repeat the trick each year, picking off one player in his prime and almost out of contract, and offering them a one-year deal for a small fortune.
One thing is for sure though, should Mbappe move to the Saudi Pro League, there will be plenty of stories of his falconry skills from the Saudi Tourism Agency as the country looks to capitalize on a world-record signing of a player viewed by some as the best in the world.
George Barham, an accomplished journalist and avid gambling enthusiast, serves as the esteemed Editor-in-Chief at fly-to-australia.com, Australia’s leading source for comprehensive gambling news and insights. With an unwavering passion for both the written word and the ever-evolving world of betting and gaming, George brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the helm of our editorial team.