Saudi Arabia has been determined to break the global football ecosystem by trying to attract some of the biggest names in the sport to the Saudi Pro League. On the way, they have offered some exorbitantly mouth-watering wages to many players. Al-Nassar is paying Cristiano Ronaldo a salary of £173m while Karim Benzema is signed a contract worth £172m annual wages. But it all seemed meager compared to Lionel Messi’s £435m offered by Al-Hilal, Nassar’s eternal rival.
But the Saudi Pro League has been under the highlight for the wrong reasons recently. Football in the Saudi Pro League has been engulfed in a wave of financial challenges that are casting a shadow over the sport in the country. The country is known to ill-treat its worker class, especially the ones who have migrated to the country. Unfortunately, that treatment is also been dealt to the professional footballers in the Saudi Pro League. A series of reports have shed light on unpaid wages, transfer difficulties, and even contract disputes faced by football clubs in the country.
Unpaid Wages Epidemic Hits Saudi Arabian Clubs
One alarming issue that has come to the forefront is the prevalence of unpaid wages within Saudi Arabian football clubs. Numerous players have reported delayed or missing payments, leading to frustration and discontent. This not only affects local talent but has also caught the attention of international stars, such as Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo’s club Al Nassr has been stuck in one financial dispute after another for not paying player wages on time.
Contract Disputes and Legal Battles Emerge
Compounding the wage crisis, contract disputes have arisen within Saudi Arabian football. As highlighted in recent coverage, some clubs have failed to honor their contractual agreements with players, leading to legal battles and widespread unrest. These disputes not only tarnish the reputation of the clubs involved but also raise serious concerns about the overall governance and financial management within Saudi Arabian football.
Lewis Grabban’s court case
Former Nottingham Forest captain Lewis Grabban experienced a tumultuous time after his move to Al Ahli in Saudi Arabia. Within just three months of signing a one-year deal, Grabban’s contract was terminated by the club. The striker alleged that he was owed a £158,000 signing bonus and £150,000 in unpaid wages for two months. When Grabban formally requested payment, he was swiftly released by the club within two weeks.
Seeking justice, Grabban pursued a FIFA tribunal hearing, demanding £2.2 million in compensation. The tribunal ruled in his favor, ordering Al Ahli to pay £397,000 in outstanding wages and an additional £555,000 in compensation for breach of contract. Unfortunately, such incidents of unpaid wages and contract disputes have become increasingly common across Saudi Arabian football clubs.
Seeking Solutions for a Resilient Future
FIFPRO which manages and represents over 65,000 footballers worldwide has cautioned players against joining any club in the Saudi Pro League. FIFA tribunal as mentioned earlier has ruled in favour of Lewis Grabban. With these two bodies involved one can judge the magnitude of the issue.
However oppressive and unfair it might be the model in which Saudi Arabian football functions right now funds the youth academy in these clubs. This project supports several underappreciated footballers which would have otherwise gone unnoticed. The project tasted its first bits of success when Saudi Arabia defeated a Lionel Messi led Argentina in the Fifa World Cup 2022.
With the country finding its footing amongst the top players of world football it needs to solve this crisis at the earliest. Urgent action is needed to address these financial challenges, with a focus on fulfilling contractual obligations, strengthening financial regulations, and fostering collaboration among stakeholders.
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