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Saudi Arabia’s PIF acquires Saudi Pro League four largest clubs

The PIF club portfolio got expanded in one fell swoop

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Views of Al-Hilal Saudi Football Club Photo by Mohammed Saad/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

City Football Group? Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital? INEOS? Beach, please.

Here’s presenting your new football behemoth, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, proud owners of Newcastle United FC.

On Monday, Saudi Arabia made announced an unprecedented sporting deal in the realm of all-things athletics. The country’s PIF, as stated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Master and Ruler of Saudi, He who knows it all, is trying to relaunch the Saudi Pro League with a focus on significant changes and ambitious goals basically aiming to transform the competition into a top-10 league worldwide while tripling its market value.

Yes, you read that right, and that’s not even the wildest detail about it.

The country’s sovereign wealth fund (PIF) will actually take control of the four largest teams in the Saudi Pro League—Al Nassr, Al Hilal, Al Ittihad, and Al Ahli—all at once and ahead of the 2023/24 season.

Remember when PIF took over Newcastle and there were questions about the legitimacy of that deal? Remember when we hear about issues and problems when some conglomerate (Red Bull) acquires a club from a country that might face another team from a different city/country (Leipzig and Salzburg) in European competitions? LOL.

The new Saudi season is scheduled to start in August, pretty much like the ones across European leagues, and by then PIF will hold a 75 percent stake in these four teams, while a non-profit organization will control the remaining 25 percent. No need to mention this will be the ultimate puppet show, and The Athletic ($) covered it all in the finest possible level of detail for those of you interested in knowing more about the whole thing. I’ll go through some of the most curious and important staff below.

Al Ittihad v Al Nassr - Saudi Pro League Photo by Khalid Alhaj/MB Media/Getty Images

This initiative is part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan, which seeks to “diversify the nation’s economic interests, engage its rapidly growing and young population, and embark on an unprecedented modernization program.” Oh, and just another little detail, bid for and organize the 2023 World Cup. Just in case you were not aware.

This move is unprecedented in football outside of North America, to say the least. I mean, we’re talking about a single entity owning four clubs in the freaking same league, let alone country.

Prince Abdullah bin Turki Al-Faisal, the Saudi Arabian Minister of Sport, stated that the project aims to “elevate the Saudi Pro League to the ranks of the top 10 leagues in the world,” increasing its market value to $2.1 billion through a “combination of commercial revenue and private-sector investment.”

To enhance the league’s appeal and attract external investments, Saudi Arabia plans to “bring in the world’s top players.” This links to PIF’s investment in the sport of golf when they launched LIV Golf. It took them no time, literally, to acquire some of the biggest stars to fill their own tournament and that’s how they plan to establish a strong footballing legitimacy going forward starting this summer.

For the upcoming 2023-24 season, each of the four PIF-owned teams will “target a minimum of three internationally renowned players.” A smaller number of these top players will be “distributed among the other teams in the league.”

Obviously, there are no Financial Fair Play concerns in Saudi Arabia or the Saudi Pro League as those rules don’t apply to them. The only minimal obstacle they will have to clear is simply not rostering more than eight foreign players in their squads, which is easily doable and still leaves ample room for the superstar-squad-building model.

By sharing ownership, league organizers can ensure a more even distribution of talent among the top teams, fostering competition, tightening the league table, and ultimately increasing commercial revenue. Again, it’s just a freaking all-go, no-limits sandbox and fertile ground for testing, financial refeeding, and auto-boosting. And it’s all... legal, somehow?

Clubs in Saudi Arabia will not face limitations on their spending during the summer transfer window (no FFP), which opens in June and closes in September, mirroring the European market. Hmmm...

This, at least in principle, means nothing and has little to do with Newcastle United. NUFC, all of a sudden, is now part of a multi-club model that features a plethora of Saudi organizations in their own national pro league. But that’s hardly new in Europe and across the globe, with the aforementioned City Football Group leading the way with investments and acquisitions in all continents and then some.

PIF is also believed to have an interest in purchasing Belgian second-division club KV Oostende as we reported a few weeks ago, which would make for the first Euro-related and impactful acquisition made by Saudi Arabia’s PIF after landing in Newcastle taking over the club back on Oct. 2021.