Premier League players linked to Saudi Arabia this January
Over the summer of 2023, Saudi Arabia became an emerging foe in the transfer market. Amid the Saudi government's relentless desire for sporting relevancy, football fans far and wide endured a frantic summer transfer window like no other.
The bulk of the Saudi Pro League's outlay was splurged by the four clubs taken over by the country's Public Investment Fund (PIF) in June, and the division proved it could attract more than mere has-beens as the league operated on a devil-may-care transfer policy to spend a staggering £728m - with only the Premier League (£2.1bn) splashing more over the summer months.
Net Spend in 2023 Summer Transfer Window
Saudi Pro League
While it was Cristiano Ronaldo who first pioneered the rapid development of the country's football landscape when he moved to Al-Nassr at the turn of the year, the Middle Eastern country hasn't stopped there.
The riches involved are startling, and the nation hosting the World Cup in 2034 means the government will do all they can in the coming years to ensure the Pro League develops into a genuine force.
That means the spending is set to continue in the future, and Saudi clubs will almost certainly attempt to go big again in the 2024 January window. Unlike the fleeting prosperity of the Chinese Super League back in 2016 and 2017, it is expected that the Middle Eastern clubs will refuse to let up on their exorbitant financial feast.
Football FanCast takes a look at ten players who could follow in the footsteps of Jordan Henderson, Cristiano Ronaldo and Riyad Mahrez by making the switch from Premier League to the Saudi Pro League in January and beyond. Every entry ascends in both the likelihood and shock factor of each potential transfer.
Of the Premier League players to remain in England amid Saudi interest, it was Fulham winger WIllian who came closest to leaving in search of a lucrative retirement plan.
It was reported in August that the Brazilian had communicated his desire to leave Craven Cottage, having 'agreed personal terms' with Al-Shabab. But it came as a surprise to the west London club as Willian had only just extended his stay at the club a few weeks before.
Now 35, the forward could seek pastures new again in January, though his recent upturn in form may give Fulham a big decision to make. It'll be interesting how this will impact his potential suitors' interest.
At 39 years old, it is beyond impressive that Thiago Silva still puts together strong defensive displays in the pace of the Premier League. But since he will be entering his 40s next season, the Brazilian sentinel might be on the search for a new adventure, and after heavy interest from the Middle East, he could choose to swap the blue of Chelsea for the gold of Saudi Arabia.
With the role model and elite athlete reputation that Thiago Silva flaunts, his brand image and commercial value could be a perfect fit for the country's strides to become a leading power in world football. Much like Cristiano Ronaldo, the veteran is a criteria-ticking ambassador suited to promoting interest.
It was reported by Football.london that 'serious interest' came from several Saudi Pro League clubs over the summer, with Ronaldo's Al-Nassr thought to be leading the race for the centre-back's signature.
Silva's contract expires in June, so it is expected that he will leave Stamford Bridge by next summer at the latest. However, it is uncertain whether he will choose the opulence of the Middle East like former Blues teammates Hakim Ziyech, Edouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly, or if he will set his heart on a return to where it all started in Brazil.
Apparently, Anthony Martial rejected generous offers from the Middle East to push for a move to a prestigious European club during the summer. But since the Frenchman's wage demands are too high for a striker who is clearly out of favour under Erik ten Hag at Manchester United, the £61.5m flop might need to resort to offers from further afield if he is to get increased playing time.
For Saudi clubs, particularly Al-Shabab and Al-Taawoun (who were reportedly interested in Martial over the summer) his wage demands - currently £250,000 a week at Man United - aren't much of an obstacle. The only stumbling block to his signature is the forward's pining to stay in Europe.
West Ham, Fenerbahçe and Inter were among other clubs rumoured to have held an interest. But, again, questions persist over his lucrative salary, with alternatives being weighed up ahead of Martial in many cases.
In the final hours of the summer transfer window, Al-Ittihad eyed up a move for Richarlison in the scenario that they would miss out on Mohamed Salah's services.
According to the Daily Mail, the Brazilian's Saudi deal failed to progress further than interest due to 'a lack of time'. Initially seen as an alternative to his Egyptian rival, it will be interesting to see if the striker, whose future is potentially in limbo in N17, will be tipped for a move in January to revive his career.
Should Salah make the switch, however, Richarlison might need to rely on interest from more than just one Saudi club if he is to escape Premier League pressures.
Since the £105m acquisition of Declan Rice from West Ham's grasp, Thomas Partey's importance at Arsenal has greatly diminished. At the start of the season, he was pushed into an unfamiliar right-back role by Mikel Arteta, and while a groin injury has stunted his involvement since, his place in the squad is clearly under threat.
The Ghanaian pivot's downfall could be his one-dimensional playing style. Partey has shown his flaws when playing in positions other than defensive midfield, but Rice has taken the No 6 role to the next level, making rivals for his starting berth ponder their futures.
Such is the case with most of the names on this list, Partey was heavily linked with a move to the Middle East in the summer. He initially rejected offers after a Saudi trio of Al-Nassr, Al-Ahli, and Al-Khaleej circled him, but he may regret his decision now.
Whilst the Saudi Pro League deliberates its next move, it is difficult to predict which players will be preyed upon in two months' time. However, given Partey's current squad situation, alongside his ability to still be a top-class midfielder, there's no reason why previous admirers should turn a blind eye to the Ghanaian international just six months later.
A lot of uncertainties surround Manchester United at the minute. Their form, their manager, and their ownership. So, adding the squad's future to their list of worries only helps to paint a clearer picture of the failings in the northwest.
Raphael Varane is another linked with a move away from Old Trafford after dropping down the pecking order under Ten Hag. In recent weeks, Harry Maguire and Jonny Evans have pipped him to a starting place, while the Frenchman has watched on from the bench.
Hearsays about a possible fallout between the defender and his manager have since been quashed. However, as one of the best of his generation, Varane may well be subject to interest from rival clubs should his playing time demands not be met between now and the new year.
He is tipped for a reunion with Cristiano Ronaldo, with Al-Nassr becoming the main source of transfer speculation around the former Real Madrid man. A TEAMtalk report within the last month revealed that he has already received offers ahead of 2024, which include interest from Champions League clubs, suggesting a route to the Middle East isn't so straightforward.
Other Man United names linked with an exit from the club come in the form of those in the autumn years of their careers. But with Jadon Sancho, his links to Saudi Arabia offer him a potential deathwish for a career that's hardly got started.
Of course, there is always the possibility he can reignite his lost spark in a new surrounding away from the limelight. But while the Saudi Pro League's reputation and future condition remains unknown, a move there at 23 years old could hinder his chances of ever making a return to Premier League and Champions League football.
But should the young Englishman value salary over playing time, incoming offers from the Middle East in January could prise him away from Manchester. The Telegraph understands that Saudi outfits have revived interest in the winger after his failed switch to Al-Ettifaq is put back into focus amid a relationship breakdown with manager Erik ten Hag.
Casemiro was a short-term success for the Red Devils. His £70m move from Real Madrid saw him paper over midfield cracks as he showed signs of being at his very best last season.
But at the start of the current term, the Brazilian has struggled with form. His ability to cover ground in Ten Hag's team has been criticised, while the manager himself also controversially stated he "wanted more football" as a reason for substituting him against Brentford earlier in the season.
As one of the highest earners, Casemiro could be shipped off as early as January to free up the wage bill for newcomers. As per 90min, various Saudi clubs are exploring a deal via intermediaries as the country continues its pledge for commercialisation.
With Kevin De Bruyne achieving everything he can at club level, the 32-year-old could bring his Premier League reign to an end, although it's more likely that he leaves next summer as opposed to January as he looks to nurse his way back into contention at Manchester City ahead of the second half of the season under Pep Guardiola.
Over the last eight years, he has won the Premier League five times and supplied the most league assists throughout the season three times, while finishing on the Ballon d'Or podium last year. Coming off early into last season's treble-confirming Champions League final and the following season opener, the Belgian has struggled with persistent injuries in recent years, which could sway his club into seeing him as an expendable, especially if City can offload him for a price.
An offer from Al-Nassr would see KDB link up with Cristiano Ronaldo and Sadio Mane in the Middle East, and although it may come as a surprise, the deal would make sense for both parties, since the Citizens employ a rotational transfer philosophy, and the veteran midfielder has the chance to leave a perfect legacy before his twilight years get the better of him.
Armed with money no club could resist regardless of grandeur, Al-Ittihad will no doubt be back, all guns blazing, for Mohamed Salah in 2024.
They might have had a £175m bid rejected in the summer, with Liverpool failing to turn up to the negotiating table. However, the Saudi Arabian club feels that, as an Arab himself, Salah won't be able to repel the adulation he would receive in the Middle East.
And with a rumoured £200m world-record fee being lined up in the future, the Reds could be persuaded into letting their Egyptian king leave so that they can reinvest the money elsewhere.
Currently, loyalties between club and player cannot be doubted. But with the resplendent resources on offer at N'Golo Kante, Fabinho and Karim Benzema's club, heads might finally be turned in January or beyond.