From Ronaldo to Benzema, Saudi ‘oil offensive’ undeterred by ‘sportswashing’ accusations

Saudi Arabian big club Al Ittihad announced on its official channel today (July 7), ‘Introducing the new superstar Benzema. Welcome to Al Ittihad,” the club announced on its official channel. On the back of Benzema’s jersey was written “2026,” which refers to the length of his contract. “Saudi Arabia is a good league and there are a lot of good players. Cristiano Ronaldo is playing. I will try to win, just like I did in Europe,” Benzema said. His salary is not known, but reports suggest it could be in the same range as Ronaldo’s €200 million ($280 million) move to Al Nasr in January.

Benzema announced his departure from Real Madrid (Spain) in a surprise move on Thursday. Initially, he seemed to be leaning toward staying at Real Madrid. “The reality is different from the internet,” Benzema said of the Saudi offer. But the Saudis’ persistent bidding made him change his mind. For a player in his twilight years, it was a temptation that was hard to resist. The Ballon d’Or winner, who scored 354 goals and lifted 25 trophies in 14 years at Real Madrid, joined the ranks of the Saudis.

Saudi Arabia appears to be the new El Dorado of world soccer. Following Ronaldo’s arrival at Al Nasr and Benzema’s arrival at Al Ittihad, Sergio Ramos, Hugo Llorente, Luka Modric, N’Golo Kante, Robert Lewandowski, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have all received offers from the kingdom, or are considering it.

The kingdom, which is bidding to host the 2030 World Cup, has been focusing on “growing the game,” recently winning the right to host the 2023 스포츠토토 Club World Cup following the 2027 Asian Cup. The kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund (PIF) bought English Premier League side Newcastle United and has a star-studded roster. Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, dubbed “Mr. Everything,” wants to raise the kingdom’s international profile through sports.

While some have criticized this as “sportswashing” to wash away the image of a human rights abuser, it’s hard to argue with the kingdom’s astronomical “oil money”. The PIF, which is already headed by Crown Prince Salman, holds a 75% stake in Al Nasr, Al Hilal, Al Ittihad, and Al Ahli, giving it direct influence over player signings. This gives them the ability to invest more in the future.

The culmination will be the signing of the ‘GOAT’ Lionel Messi. Al Hilal is wooing Messi, whose contract with Paris Saint-Germain recently expired, for €400 million a year. Messi is torn between a return to his hometown club FC Barcelona, a move to the US Major League Soccer (MLS), and a move to Saudi Arabia. The kingdom wants to bring in the “world’s best” to culminate its “Vision 2030” program.

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