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Gary Neville: Premier League should stop Saudi Arabia’s transfers

Gary Neville has called on the Premier League to stop the transfer of players to Saudi Arabia until it is certain the integrity of its competition is not being put at risk.

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Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante have already joined the Saudi Pro League – marquee names but near the end of their career – and there was speculation Lionel Messi would too, before his move to the US.

A growing number of players at their peak are attracting interest too, including Wolves captain Ruben Neves, Chelsea’s Kalidou Koulibaly and Hakim Ziyech and Arsenal’s Thomas Partey.

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It underlines the league’s ambition to be one of the top five in the world.

Neville, though, is among those asking what all this potential activity means.

In June, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which owns Newcastle United, confirmed it was taking over four leading clubs in the country, including Al-Nassr, who signed Ronaldo in December.

Read Also: Cristiano Ronaldo: “I will never give up coming here, because it’s always a dream”

There is uncertainty over whether PIF holds a stake in Chelsea’s ultimate owners, the private equity firm Clearlake Capital, although club sources have rejected suggestions of any direct involvement.

“The Premier League should put an instant embargo on transfers to Saudi Arabia to ensure the integrity of the game isn’t being damaged,” Neville told BBC Sport.

“Checks should be made on the appropriateness of the transactions.

“If it comes through that process, obviously transfers could open up again. But I do believe, at this moment in time, transfers should be halted until you look into the ownership structure at Chelsea and whether there are beneficial transfer dealings that are improper.”

Is Europe worried about a talent drain by Saudi Arabia?

For European football, the rise of the Saudi Pro League presents a challenge. Losing key players is not a new experience – China and Major League Soccer have tempted stars away in the past.

Read Also: Cristiano Ronaldo scores winner on historic 200th cap, Guinness World Record

However, the departure of players in their prime, such as Neves, is a concern. Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin doesn’t see it that way.

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“It’s mainly a mistake for Saudi Arabian football,” he told Dutch broadcaster NOS. “They should invest in academies, bring their own coaches and develop their own players.

“The system of buying players that are almost at the end of their career is not the system that develops football. It was a similar mistake in China when they all brought players who are at the end of their career. “It’s not only about money. Players want to win top competitions. And the top competition is in Europe.”

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