Bruno, Salah, De Bruyne and the FIVE superstars who could be Saudi-bound in summer

Peter Staunton
  • Updated: 16 Mar 2024 14:54 GMT
  • 7 min read
Bruno Fernandes, Man Utd, 2023/24

Only the English Premier League outspent the Saudi Pro League during last summer’s transfer window, with a whole host of household names following Cristiano Ronaldo’s lead and moving to the Middle East.

World Cup winner N’Golo Kante, Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzema and Neymar were among the biggest stars to swap Europe for Saudi Arabia with other talents such as Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Riyad Mahrez, Sadio Mane, Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly, Roberto Firmino and Ruben Neves also being tempted by the riches on offer.

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The four biggest Saudi Arabian clubs - Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr, Neymar’s Al-Hilal, Mahrez’s Al-Ahli and Benzema’s Al-Ittihad - are now part-controlled by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), allowing clubs in the region to spend more heavily than ever before.

READ MORE: Cristiano Ronaldo at Al-Nassr: Goals, assists, results & fixtures

Around €1 billion was spent last summer and although January was relatively quiet it’s expected that the summer transfer window will see big money being spent in an attempt to lure more talents to the league.

Here we look at five big-name contenders who could move to Saudi Arabia this summer.

Romelu Lukaku - Chelsea

Roma have next to no chance of signing Romelu Lukaku on a permanent basis once his one-season loan spell ends at the end of the current campaign given the scale of the finances involved.

But the Belgian leading goalscorer has no future at parent club Chelsea either.

Romelu Lukaku Roma
© IMAGO - Romelu Lukaku Roma

Signed for £97.5 million in the summer of 2021 having fired Inter to the Serie A title, the 30-year-old has been one of the biggest disasters in Chelsea’s long transfer history.

It’s been reported this week that the club’s co-owner Todd Boehly met in secret with Saudi Pro League sports director Michael Emenalo - a former employee of Chelsea - in order to discuss which Blues’ stars might be offloaded to the SPL this summer.

The name of Lukaku came up, as did out-of-favour goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga. The London side are desperate to get rid of £100 million worth of players before the end of June in order to best comply with FFP and Profit and Sustainability regulations.

Lukaku is destined to be among that exodus having surely played his last game for Chelsea despite boasting a contract until 2026.

Bruno Fernandes - Manchester United

Bruno Fernandes first emerged as a key PIF target back in November, according to transfer journalist Rudy Galetti, who disclosed that talks were planned between Saudi league officials and the player’s entourage over the terms of a potential deal.

Fernandes, 29, is Manchester United’s captain and has a contract which extends to 2026, although the club retain an option to trigger an extra year. That means it would take a startling bid for United higher-ups to part with the Portugal international playmaker.

However with Erik ten Hag unable to sign a striker in winter owing to a lack of FFP headroom, some senior high-earners could be sacrificed in order to help Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his INEOS operation to reinvest in the team.

With international team-mates like Ronaldo and Ruben Neves in the SPL, perhaps Bruno might think about a move eastwards.

Kevin de Bruyne - Manchester City

There is interest in Kevin de Bruyne from Saudi Arabia but the midfielder currently wants to stay with Manchester City through the summer and fight for more trophies.

However, at 32 and with a succession of injury issues over the past year, the playmaker could soon find himself on the City scrapheap.

Kevin de Bruyne Manchester City
© IMAGO - Kevin de Bruyne Manchester City

Former City stars Aymeric Laporte and Mahrez were attracted to Al-Nassr and Al-Ahli respectively last summer and so SPL officials know what it takes to do business with Pep Guardiola’s team.

The Belgian has less than 18 months on his current City contract and while there have been reports of a one-year extension, nothing has yet been signed.

De Bruyne missed four months of action with a hamstring problem earlier in the campaign and has been recently sidelined through a separate groin issue, which has kept him out of the Belgium squad.

If City receive a wallet-busting €100m offer then De Bruyne could be on his way.

Raphinha - Barcelona

The latest reports from Sport suggest that Barcelona are preparing themselves for a “dizzying” bid in excess of €80 million from Saudi Arabia for their Brazilian winger.

Raphinha, 27, has recently lost his favoured right-wing position in the team to youngster Lamine Yamal and the Camp Nou club might well consider cashing in should they receive the mooted bid.

The former Leeds United man is not classified as one of club president Joan Laporta’s “untouchables” and with the Cules again in financial distress he could be on his way out of the door.

Raphinha Barcelona
© IMAGO - Raphinha Barcelona

Barca’s issues are well-documented and should they be offered more than the €57m they paid to Leeds in 2022 then surely Raphinha would be on his way.

Although it’s always been the player’s dream to play for Barca and he has no intention of walking away of his own accord, the decision could well be taken out of his hands with Barca having little room to manoeuvere.

Mohamed Salah - Liverpool

Liverpool turned down an Al-Ittihad approach for their superstar winger last summer and it was valued at £150 million.

However, it is expected that Saudi clubs will be back in for the Egypt forward this summer and the same kind of money might be hard to resist for Jurgen Klopp’s successor.

Mohamed Salah Liverpool
© IMAGO - Mohamed Salah Liverpool

The mood music regarding Salah to Saudi has changed in recent weeks with former Egypt star Mido claiming that contracts had already been signed.

Salah, 31, is out of contract in 2025 and so far there has been no indication of a renewal. It’s well known that the Saudi administration would like Salah to become the new face of their Saudi Pro League project and the fees involved might just be enough to tempt Liverpool to cash in on their 200+ goal sensation.

Salah, too, might feel it’s time to join Firmino and Mane in the Middle East, having won every available major honour with the Reds and with big changes afoot in the post-Klopp shakeup.

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