Michael Emenalo plays down talk of Saudi Pro League splurge in January

SPL will continue to be aggressive in market but big moves are more likely next summer

Michael Emenalo, the man tasked with identifying new signings for the Saudi Pro League. Photo: SPL
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Michael Emenalo, chief football executive at the Saudi Pro League, says the league will approach the January transfer window in a “very controlled and methodical” manner as it looks to build on the success of last summer.

The Saudi Arabian top flight has experienced a period of significant investment in the past year, with some of football’s leading names joining in the most recent window. Karim Benzema, at the time the Ballon d’Or holder, signed for Al Ittihad in June, and was followed to the kingdom by the likes of Neymar, N’Golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez, Sadio Mane, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson. In all, the Saudi Pro League was reported to have spent £750 million on recruiting international stars.

That has prompted fevered speculation as to which players the league will target next month, with reports claiming Manchester United trio Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Anthony Martial, and Real Madrid veteran Luka Modric, are among those being considered.

In his role with the Saudi Pro League, Emenalo is tasked with identifying potential additions to the league and helping place them at clubs, providing a “centralised approach to transfers” that forms part of the remit of the Player Acquisition Centre of Excellence.

Speaking on Tuesday at the World Football Summit Asia conference in Jeddah, Emenalo said: “We will approach the [January] transfer window in a very methodical and thoughtful way and do what is right for our clubs.

“Are we going to spend? I don’t know how things are going to pan out, but what I can assure you is that there will be a very controlled and managed, professional process through the window.”

Last month, Emenalo said the league are working towards signings of the “highest level”, adding that he hoped next month’s window would not be particularly busy given the “quite interesting and aggressive” business done this summer.

On Tuesday, the former technical director at Chelsea and Monaco, said: “Expect for us to operate like any other league in world football. It’s important whenever we talk about football in Saudi Arabia, or the Saudi Pro League, to understand nothing that’s happening here is alien to the way the football industry or ecosystem have always operated.

“If the ambitions go up, the resources go up with it. If you get an interest in being professionalised, you will get better results – and there is a definite appetite in the kingdom to want to do things right for this industry.

“You can understand that the expansion of opportunities in the industry is good for everyone – and that is what the Saudi Pro League is offering to the football ecosystem.”

Emenalo, who was appointed in July, said the next step at Pace was to professionalise other aspects of the league’s clubs, including infrastructure, facilities, academies and youth development.

“It’s clear that the ambition is high, but we have to take a deliberate process,” he said. “We feel that we have a very good competitive league, and we want to make it better."

In his closing remarks, Emenalo added: “I would like to emphasise that the Saudi Pro League is open to every single player of whatever level that has interest in improving their game and improving their life and living in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We are open for business.”

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Updated: December 12, 2023, 1:50 PM