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 has turned itself into a football superpower seemingly overnight.
Many fans in Europe will be unfamiliar with football in Saudi. But the Pro League in it’s current form is now almost 50 years old. It has a long and rich history - cherished by millions of fans in its native country. The fans of Saudi Pro clubs are ecstatic that their league is finally getting the recognition they feel like it deserves.
In June 2023, four of Saudi’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 histories of winning, as well as having long established, large fanbases. This criteria made these clubs obvious choices to lead the Pro League into a new era.
Jeddah-based Al-Ittihad are a club over 95 years old. They play at one of the biggest stadiums in the country. They are one of Asia’s most famous football clubs, winning the AFC Champions League twice.
They were also one of 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 Premier League pedigree has helped them attract some star names in the most recent transfer market. They signed the likes of Fabinho, N’Golo Kante and Karim Benzema, who have all won trophies at the highest level of European football in recent years.
Their city rivals, Al-Ahli, are also one of the PIF backed clubs. When these two clubs play each other, it’s one of the biggest fixtures of every season. Dubbed the ‘Saudi El Clasico’, for fans in the Middle-East, it’s a game on par with Barcelona vs Real Madrid and the Manchester derby in England.
The most recent meeting between these clubs was a thrilling game. And like always, the supporters showed up in force. Over 60,000 supporters packed the Prince Abdullah al-Faisal Stadium. The atmosphere was electric.
Al-Ahli won this thrilling contest, 4-3. Scoring a hattrick was another man who only arrived in the region this summer; former Fulham forward Aleksander Mitrovic.
Speaking to Euronews after the game, Mitrovic told us, “Since I came here, it’s been unbelievable. A new experience doing something different.”
“People here are just crazy about the football and they know about it. Myself, I came here from the Premier League, the best league. I think this league has all the things, in the future, to become one of the best leagues in the world. They have facilities, they have funds, they have people who love football. I think players, more and more, will be open to come to this league, especially when you watch a game like this.”
Also present at the game was YouTube content creator, Theo Ogden. Theo travels all over the globe watching football and creating content for his channel, but this was his first time in Saudi Arabia.
The presence of people like Theo, who has a channel with 1.55 million subscribers, shows that the influence of Saudi football is growing. Creators like him are helping to bring the Saudi football revolution closer to millions more fans in Europe and beyond.
With approximately €17 billion set aside by PIF for investment into this project before 2030, more players will choose to play in Saudi Arabia. With more star names playing in the region, the already huge fan bases of the four PIF-backed clubs will continue to grow. The goal is for the Pro League, ranked the 36th strongest league in the world by OPTA in 2023, to be ranked inside the top 10 by 2030.
The foundations for success, in terms of history and passion for football, are already in place.