The Senegalese central defender from Chelsea, Kalidou Koulibaly, has signed a deal with Al-Hilal, a major team in the Saudi Pro League, following an increasing trend of European professionals transferring to Middle Eastern leagues. This transfer comes as Chelsea’s new manager, Mauricio Pochettino, continues to restructure the club.
Premier League Stars Set New Trend
Koulibaly, 32, will join former Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves at Al-Hilal, continuing a recent trend that began with Cristiano Ronaldo’s move from Manchester United to Al-Nassr in January. Other Premier League stars, such as Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante and Edouard Mendy, have decided to join Saudi clubs, while Arsenal’s Thomas Partey and Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva have been widely linked with similar transfers.
Karim Benzema of Real Madrid marked another significant transfer to Al-Ittihad at the end of the season. This ongoing trend underscores Saudi Pro League’s ambitious quest to ascend into the top five leagues globally.
Financial Moves and Future of Chelsea
Although the financial terms of Koulibaly’s transfer to Al-Hilal are unknown, rumours claim the deal could be for around £20 million ($25.47 million). This follows Chelsea’s acquisition of Koulibaly from Napoli last year on a four-year contract at €40 million, implying a potential loss on Chelsea’s behalf.
Chelsea’s starting lineup is changing dramatically under new manager Mauricio Pochettino. Forward Christopher Nkunku from RB Leipzig has been welcomed, and talks with Villarreal’s Senegal attacker Nicolas Jackson are ongoing. Furthermore, Germany attacker Kai Havertz is expected to join Arsenal in a £65 million move, while Manchester City has had a £30 million proposal accepted for Croatia midfielder Mateo Kovacic.
Al-Hilal’s Resurgence and Premier League’s Growing Influence
Al-Hilal, the most successful club in Saudi Arabia and Asia with a record of 66 trophies, is aiming to regain its league and Asian Champions crowns. The arrivals of Koulibaly and Neves, and the potential addition of Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva, are seen as strategic moves towards that goal.
The attraction of the Saudi Pro League for European-based players can be traced back to the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia’s ownership of Newcastle United and four other top clubs in the country. There is speculation about PIF’s ownership of Clearlake Capital, Chelsea’s ultimate owners, which club sources strongly reject.
As the summer transfer window progresses, the exodus from the Premier League to the Saudi Pro League is expected to continue. It remains to be seen whether these transfers will elevate the Saudi Pro League into one of the top five leagues in the world, as it aspires to be.