Everything You Need to Know About the Saudi Pro Football League

The Saudi Pro Football League, also known as the Saudi Professional League (SPL) or Roshn Saudi League (RSL), is the top-tier professional football league in Saudi Arabia.

 

Founded in 1976, it has become one of the most prestigious football competitions in the Middle East.  The SPL was established by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF). SAFF has also established a women’s premier league just recently.

The Saudi Pro League hopes to become one of the world’s top 5 football leagues by tripling its market value. Many deals have been signed with broadcasters in various markets worldwide.

Over the recent months, the Saudi Pro League has attracted renowned players from around the world. Notable figures with their talents include Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante, Ruben Neves, Marcelo Brozovic, and Roberto Firmino.

These players are going to have a lasting impact on the league, its growth and popularity.

European clubs are alarmed by Saudi Arabia’s move to buy up big names from Europe.

History

The Saudi Pro Football League, commonly referred to as Roshn Saudi League due to a sponsorship deal since 2019, is Saudi Arabia’s top association football tier and was first founded in 1976 after decades of football being organized regionally.

In 1990, this league merged with King’s Cup to form its current format before going professional in 2007 when qualifying spots for AFC Champions League were made available.

With a rich history and passionate fans, the Saudi league has played a significant role in the development and promotion of football in Saudi Arabia. According to statistics, almost 80% of the Saudi population either watch or play football.

The league was established by the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) with the aim of organizing a professional football competition that would elevate the standard of the game in the country. Since its inception, the league has undergone various transformations to improve its structure and competitiveness.

SAFF also has established a women’s premier league, much like the European leagues.

The 2023-24 Saudi Pro League season will mark its 48th year. Each team can register up to eight foreign players throughout its respective season.

Sponsorship and the Public Investment Fund (PIF)

Roshn Real Estate Development signed a five-year sponsorship deal with Saudi Pro League, making it known as Roshn Saudi League and yielding over US$127.5 million over its duration.

This move forms part of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to attract private-sector investments that align with Vision 2030 – its national development plan.

Saudi Arabia may seem an unlikely location for such lavish spending on football because of the hot weather, yet that is exactly what is happening. The goal is to build an internationally acclaimed domestic league that will put Saudi Arabia on the map as a destination for soccer fans worldwide, which in turn should help their national team.

One of the key players here is Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which has acquired majority shares in several teams and has ambitious plans to fill them with stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante from Chelsea and more.

Season Schedule

As of the 2022/2023 season, the Saudi Pro Football League consisted of 16 teams competing for the championship title. These teams are selected through a promotion and relegation system, ensuring that the league remains dynamic and competitive. The number of participating teams from the 2023/2024 season and onward has increased to 18.

The season typically starts in the first week of August and concludes in May of the following year. This schedule aligns with the international football calendar, allowing Saudi Arabian clubs to participate in regional and international competitions. The league fixtures are carefully planned to accommodate both domestic and international commitments of the participating teams.

Competition format

For the 2023/24 season, 16 teams will increase to 18, with only two being relegated. Each club will play each other twice in a double round-robin format – once at home and once away – until all 30 games have taken place. Like with European leagues, wins earn three points, while draws count one.

The champions of the league get to play in the AFC championship of the following year, and the AFC champions get qualified for the FIFA Club World Cup of the following year.

Now since FIFA has changed its Club World Cup format beginning in 2025, which will be played every four years now, the winners of the last four AFC championships will secure a spot for the Club World Cup.

Regional Competition

Other than AFC, Saudi Arabia also competes in the Arab Club Champions Cup, and GCC Champions League.

Their domestic competitions include King’s Cup, Saudi Super Cup, and the Saudi Professional League Cup.

Saudi Arabian Football League: Teams, Locations, and Stadiums

  1. Abha

– Location: Abha

– Stadium: Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Stadium

– Capacity: 20,000

 

  1. Al-Ahli (Not to be confused with the Egyptian club Al-Ahly)

– Location: Jeddah

– Stadium: King Abdullah Sports City

– Capacity: 62,345

 

  1. Al-Ettifaq

– Location: Dammam

– Stadium: Prince Mohamed bin Fahd Stadium

– Capacity: 35,000

 

  1. Al-Fateh

– Location: Al-Hasa (Hofuf)

– Stadium: Prince Abdullah bin Jalawi Stadium

– Capacity: 26,000

 

  1. Al-Fayha

– Location: Al Majma’ah

– Stadium: Al Majma’ah Sports City

– Capacity: 7,000

 

  1. Al-Hazem

– Location: Ar Rass

– Stadium: Al-Hazem Club Stadium

– Capacity: 8,000

 

  1. Al-Hilal

– Location: Riyadh

– Stadium: King Fahd International Stadium

– Capacity: 68,752

 

  1. Al-Ittihad

– Location: Jeddah

– Stadium: King Abdullah Sports City

– Capacity: 62,345

 

  1. Al-Khaleej

– Location: Saihat

– Stadium: Prince Mohamed bin Fahd Stadium (Dammam)

– Capacity: 35,000

 

  1. Al-Nassr

– Location: Riyadh

– Stadium: Al-Awwal Park

– Capacity: 25,000

 

  1. Al-Okhdood

– Location: Najran

– Stadium: Prince Hathloul Stadium

– Capacity: 12,000

 

  1. Al-Raed

– Location: Buraidah

– Stadium: King Abdullah Sports City Stadium

– Capacity: 25,000

 

  1. Al-Riyadh

– Location: Riyadh

– Stadium: Prince Turki bin Abdul Aziz Stadium

– Capacity: 15,000

 

  1. Al-Shabab

– Location: Riyadh

– Stadium: Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium

– Capacity: 22,500

 

  1. Al-Taawoun

– Location: Buraidah

– Stadium: King Abdullah Sports City Stadium

– Capacity: 25,000

 

  1. Al-Tai

– Location: Ha’il

– Stadium: Prince Abdul Aziz bin Musa’ed Stadium

– Capacity: 12,000

 

  1. Al-Wehda

– Location: Mecca

– Stadium: King Abdul Aziz Stadium

– Capacity: 38,000

 

  1. Damac

– Location: Khamis Mushait

– Stadium: Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Stadium (Abha)

– Capacity: 20,000

 

Famous Footballers Who Have Moved to the Saudi Pro League

This summer has seen the Saudi Pro League send shockwaves through European football.

The Saudi Pro League is drawing some of the top names in football – especially attacking players. The league allows eight foreign players per team, making it attractive to goal scorers from across the globe.

Former Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina has been proven very helpful ever since he joined Al Nassr. The Brazilian attacking midfielder, Anderson Talisca, is considered a star at Al Nassr and the SPL.

Cristiano Ronaldo made headlines recently with his move to Al Nassr FC in January 2023 and now makes more money than he ever did while at Manchester United. Other high-profile names, including Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante, have followed his example and started earning big bucks themselves.

Below are just some of the footballers who have joined the Saudi Pro League in 2023.

 

1.     Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo made headlines when he decided to switch teams and compete in Asia instead of Manchester United of England Premier League, shocking many observers with his bold move from Manchester United to Saudi Al Nassrc FC.

After failing to secure any serious offers to continue his career in Europe, he chose instead to help develop the Saudi League into an international force. Now the five-time Ballon d’Or winner is the highest-paid athlete worldwide.

Cristiano said after a triumphing match against Al Shabab FC that the “Saudi League has the potential to become world’s top 5 best leagues in the next 5 years”. He was very positive about it when his side scored three goals after conceding two goals from Al Shabab. He went on to say, “It will take time. Saudi Arabia needs more infrastructure, quicker VAR system and players”.

Former Real Madrid star Ronaldo is expected to earn an annual salary of $200 Million, making him the highest-paid footballer ever. Additionally, he serves as team captain while playing central forward.

Ronaldo’s contract duration is two and a half years, starting from January 2023. He may renew it for additional four and a half years, according to some reports.

 

2.     Karim Benzema

Karim Benzema, following in the footsteps of former Real Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, has decided to join other high-profile players playing in Saudi Pro League. The French striker has agreed a contract with Al-Ittihad where it’s estimated he may make as much as EUR100 Million per season.

Real Madrid relied heavily on Karim Benzema as an integral member of their squad, winning four La Liga titles and five Champions League crowns over the 14 years he played there.

Additionally, Benzema stands as second all-time goal scorer with 354 strikes across 648 appearances for Real.

The former Real Madrid Striker’s contract lasts until 2026 with an option for one more year.

 

3.     N’Golo Kante

N’Golo Kante is a French footballer who played as a defensive midfielder for Chelsea and France national team. One of the finest in his position, Kante has amassed numerous titles across both Leicester City and Chelsea, as well as winning the Champions League 2021 and four times being nominated best player of season award winner in his career.

The former Chelsea midfielder has signed a three-year deal to join Al Ittihad and Karim Benzema, which won the Saudi Pro League last season ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo’s side Al Nassr.

On June 21, the French 2018 FIFA World Cup winner N’Golo Kante moved from Chelsea to Al Ittihad on a free transfer. He is also a two-time England Premier League winner.

He moved after an incredible seven-year career with the 2021 FIFA Club World Cup winner Chelsea. He will earn over a total of $100 Million during his career in the SPL.

 

4.     Ruben Neves

Neves’ move to Saudi Arabia seems odd for someone in his prime; most players who make the jump from Europe to join the Gulf league are already well into their thirties.

Al Hilal will offer him nearly double what Wolves are paying him annually, which amounts to almost EUR47m per annum. He had been linked with Barcelona this summer, but their financial problems forced any potential deal to collapse.

 

Before joining Al Hilal, he helped Wolves secure promotion back into the Premier League, appearing 253 times across all competitions with 30 goals scored for Wolves. Ruben was the captain of Wolves.

 

He signed a three-year contract with Al-hilal and will face his fellow Portuguese teammate Cristiano Ronaldo.

 

5.     Kalidou Koulibaly

 

Kalidou Koulibaly moved from Chelsea to Al Hilal for £17 million at the end of June. Although his career at Chelsea was a struggle, the Senegalese defender is a former African Cup of Nations winner. Last summer, he made 32 appearances for Chelsea and scored two goals.

 

No financial amount has been disclosed in his regard yet.

 

6.     Edouard Mendy

 

Another Chelsea player who joined SPL is Edouard Mendy. On June 28, Edouard Mendy was bought by Al Hilal for £16 million. He is also a Senegal teammate to Koulibaly. Mendy will join Kalidou Koulibaly at Al-Hilal.

 

He moved from Rennes in Ligue 1 to Chelsea in 2020 and was an integral part of their successful Champions League and UEFA Super Cup winning seasons. In 2021, Mendy won UEFA Men’s Best Goalkeeper award after winning the Champions League.

 

It is reported that Edouard has accepted an offer from Al Hilal which will see him earn around 11 Million euros annually as well as 3 Million in bonuses per season. But this is yet to be confirmed.

 

7.     Marcelo Brozovic

Marcelo Brozovic is a Croatian professional footballer who played for Inter Milan and represents Croatia at international level.

He is widely considered one of Europe’s premier defensive midfielders , and was the captain of Inter Milan during the 2023 Champions League final, where they were defeated by Man City.

Marcelo Brozovic will join Cristiano Ronaldo at Al Nassr beginning in the 2023/2024 season.

Barcelona had also been considering signing, but they have apparently given up hope due to his wage demands. How much he will earn at Al Nassr is not disclosed yet. But he is sure to be somewhere close to the high-profile players.

8.     Jota

Jota earns an impressive income through his football career and endorsement agreements, in combination with business ventures.

Jota had a very successful season in Celtic for the 2022/2023 season. A key figure at Scottish champions Celtic, he will soon join Al-Ittihad of Saudi Arabia, where he will join former European stars N’Golo Kante and Karim Benzema – further increasing his net worth.

His transfer cost around £25 million.

The Portuguese winger, Jota, is only 24 years old. This is another instance of a younger footballer moving to Saudi Arabia.

9.     Roberto Firmino

 

The Brazilian Liverpool star, Roberto Firmino, made an exit from his 8-year career at Liverpool at the end of last season.

His first year on Merseyside may have been difficult, but once he started working alongside Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, his brilliance began to shine through.

Under Klopp, he helped Liverpool win three league titles, including the Champions League, Club World Cup and two League Championships, which was an amazing feat in itself.

Now leaving Liverpool, he will join Al-Ahli FC, where hopefully his on-field achievements will leave an even deeper mark.

He was also offered to join elite European clubs, including Barcelona, but he chose his next season at Al-Alhi.

Criticism over signing big players

The Saudi Pro league is now drawing top European stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante to its ranks, while clubs have attracted high-profile coaches such as Nuno Espirito Santo at Al Ittihad and Jose Morais at Al Hilal.

China is saying that Saudi Arabia is making the same mistake they made some time ago when the country’s President Xi Jinping sought to make football a key part of his nation’s economic development. It involved big investments in transfer fees and salaries, as well as the acquisition of star players from Europe at the end of their careers.

But Saudi Arabia thinks signing European stars will help the Saudi players grow their skills as Saudi Arabia has had 6 World Cup appearances and of course, their stunning victory against Messi’s Argentina in the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

Current Top Teams and Players

 

Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad are among the top teams of the SPL, while Al-Shabab and Al-Tawooun are also very competitive. Al-Ahli is also expected to be a top team after signing the Liverpool star Roberto Firmino.

Al-Ittihad won the recent Saudi Pro league championship (qualifying for the 2023 FIFA Club World Cup, to be held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia), whereas Al-Nassr came second.

Al-Hilal is the most successful club of the SPL, winning the league 18 times, while Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad each have won it 9 times. They have also won the AFC championship four times. The moment of pride came when they faced Real Madrid in the FIFA 2022 Club World Cup Finals, where they scored 3 goals. Although they lost the finals, being runners-up, the Prince of Saudi Arabia invited them to the palace and awarded them with a total of EUR25 Million.

The Saudi midfielder, Salem-Aldawsari, is the star of the Saudi Arabian Football, playing in Al-Hilal and the national team.

The Brazilian midfielder is also a football star at Al-Nassr.

Rivalries in the SPL

Like with European clubs, Saudi Arabia also has some matches where the stadiums are jam-packed.

1.     Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr

The match between Al Hilal and Al Nassr in the Saudi Pro League is like the El Classico between Real Madrid and Barcelona or the Champions League between Man City and Liverpool.

That’s why they were trying to sign Lionel Messi to recreate the Spanish El Classico once again.

 

2.     Al-Ittihad and Al-Nassr

Another team in the league that has drawn attention is Al Ittihad which pipped Riyadh side Ronaldo’s Al Nassr to the league title last weekend.

And since Benzema and Kante have joined Al-Ittihad, the excitement is going to be even more from next season.

 

Top Goal Scores

Saudi player Majed Abdullah is the all-time top goal scorer in the SPL, scoring a total of 189 in 194 appearances for Al-Nassr.

Another Saudi player, Nasser Al-Shamrani, comes second, scoring 167 goals in 301 appearances for Al-Wehda, Al-Shabab, Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal.

Both these players have retired.

The active top-goal scorer in the SPL is the Syrian, Omar Al Somah, who has netted 144 goals in 180 appearances for Al-Ahli.

Next to him comes the Moroccon, Abderrazak Hamdallah. He formerly played for Al-Nassr but currently is in Al-Ittihad. He has scored 110 goals in 113 appearances. Abderrazak also was the top goal scorer for the 2022/2023 season, scoring 21 goals.

Biggest Stadiums

King Fahd International Stadium and King Abdullah Sports City are the two most famous and biggest stadiums in Saudi Arabia, where many big events are held, including the Spanish Super Cup, Italian Super Cup and AFC Championship. They both have a capacity of over 62,000.

King Fahd International Stadium, also known as the “Pearl of Stadiums”, is the largest stadium in Saudi Arabia, located in Riyadh. It has a capacity of 68,752.

How to watch the Saudi Pro League: Broadcasters for International Football Coverage in Various Countries

Country: Middle East and North Africa

Broadcaster: Shahid and SSC channels

 

Country: Austria

Broadcaster: Sportdigital

 

Country: Germany

Broadcaster: Sport Klub

 

Country: Switzerland

Broadcaster: Sport Klub

 

Country: Australia

Broadcaster: 10 Play

 

Country: Balkans

Broadcaster: Sport Klub

 

Country: Brunei

Broadcaster: Astro SuperSport

 

Country: Caribbean

Broadcaster: DirecTV

 

Country: France

Broadcaster: RMC Sport

 

Country: Greece

Broadcaster: Cosmote Sport

 

Country: Hong Kong

Broadcaster: TVB

 

Country: Indian subcontinent

Broadcaster: Sony Sports Network

 

Country: Pakistan

Broadcaster: Tapmad (Online Subscription Service)

 

Country: Indonesia

Broadcaster: MNC Group (iNews, MNC Sports)

 

Country: Italy

Broadcaster: Sportitalia

 

Country: Myanmar

Broadcaster: Sky Net

 

Country: Portugal

Broadcaster: Sport TV

 

Country: Romania

Broadcaster: Sport Extra

 

Country: Sub-saharan Africa

Broadcaster: StarTimes Sports

 

Country: Thailand

Broadcaster: True Sport

 

Country: Turkey

Broadcaster: S Sport, TVNET

 

Country: Vietnam

Broadcaster: FPT