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Sport

21st Jun 2023

Gary Neville calls for Premier League to put an instant halt on Saudi Arabia transfers

Charlie Herbert

He’s asked questions about the ‘ownership structure at Chelsea’

Gary Neville has called on the Premier League to halt the transfer of players to Saudi Arabia until it can be sure that the integrity of its competition is not at risk.

In recent days and months, Saudi Pro League clubs have made big money moves for some of European football’s biggest names.

This started in January when Al-Nassr signed Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United, and already this summer Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema and Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante have moved to the Gulf state.

Meanwhile, 26-year-old Wolves captain Ruben Neves looks set to complete a ÂŁ47m deal to Al Hilal, and Chelsea’s Kalidou Koulibaly and Hakim Ziyech are being heavily linked with moves to Saudi clubs as well this summer.

Manchester United legend Neville has raised questions around what the financial might of Saudi Arabian clubs may mean for the future of the Premier League.

Speaking to BBC Sport, Neville said he would support an “instant embargo on transfers to Saudi Arabia to ensure the integrity of the game isn’t being damaged.”

He continued: “Checks should be made on the appropriateness of the transactions.

“If it comes through that process, obviously transfers could open up again.”

This month, the country’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which owns Newcastle United, announced it had taken over four of Saudi Arabia’s biggest clubs.

In particular, questions are being asked around the potential transfers of several Chelsea players to Saudi clubs, as there is uncertainty around to what extent PIF holds a stake in the London club’s owners, private equity form Clearlake Capital.

Whilst sources at Chelsea have never denied that PIF have an involvement in Clearlake, they have stated that the investment fund has “zero interest, financial or otherwise” in the club.

Neville mentioned Chelsea in particular, saying: “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.”

The increase in Saudi spending comes as some Premier League clubs look to make sure they are staying within Financial Fair Play rules.

Two of these clubs are Chelsea, who spent more than ÂŁ400m on transfers last season, and Wolves, who posted a loss of ÂŁ46.1m last year and whose manager Julen Lopetegui has spoken openly about the financial challenges the club is facing.

And in the background of all of this is Saudi Arabia’s continuing efforts to become a major player on the global sporting stage.

In recent years, the country has hosted F1 Grand Prix and major boxing fights, and recently helped set up LIV Golf, which some have seen as the country effectively buying an entire sport.

But many consider these efforts to simply be a case of sportswashing, with the country attempting to use sport to distract from its appalling human rights record.

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