How Is the Saudi Pro League different from the Chinese Super League?

Why you should take Saudi Pro League seriously?

Remember how Nike assembled a team of football avengers with best player from the globe? that’s exactly what the oil-rich Saudi Pro League is making happen by splashing insane cash to lure soccer’s biggest names.

The Saudi Pro League has splashed close to a billion euros bringing in players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, and Karim Benzema

The Saudis have learned from China’s mistakes though. In 2017, the Chinese Super League went on a spending spree bigger than the Premier League, only for it to fail miserably.

So what went wrong for China, and why will Saudi Arabia’s project be different? Keep reading to find out!

The Rise & Fall of Chinese Super League

The Rise

In 2011, Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled his epic dream for Chinese football – and it came in three phases.

XI Jinping’s Dream

  1. Qualify for the World Cup
  2. Host the World Cup
  3. The craziest one – actually win the World Cup!

Jinping’s plan

In 2016, China went public with a long-term blueprint to make this happen:

  • By 2020, build 20,000 specialist football schools and 70,000 new pitches.
  • By 2030, bump it up to 50,000 schools. The men’s team will be Asia’s best.
  • By 2050, crack the FIFA top 20 rankings. And they’ll have hosted and won a World Cup!

This was Jinping’s mega-ambitious master plan to transform China into a football superpower.

The Rise of Chinese Super League

To make Xi Jinping’s dream a reality, China decided to pump up their domestic league. The effects were insane in the 2016-17 winter transfer window – the Chinese Super League outspent every league in the world.

The CSL splurged a mind-boggling €388 million, even more than the Premier League’s €278 million spending spree.

The transfer that really turned heads? SIPG Shanghai signing Oscar from Chelsea for a massive £60 million fee.

Oscar was only 25 at the time and in his prime. He had offers from elite Euro clubs like Inter, Juve and Atletico. But he chose China for that outrageous £400,000 per week salary!

But Oscar moved to Shanghai because of the massive £400,000 a week salary and he himself accepted it saying “I came from a social background in Brazil that is very poor. We didn’t have anything. This is the fruit of my work and when I earn this, it is because I conquered it.” 

Aside from Oscar, the Chinese clubs went wild – signing stars like Ramires, Hulk, Falcao, Alex Teixeira and Yannick Carrasco.

It seemed like the big-money Chinese Super League had truly arrived on the scene.


Regarding the Chinese Super League, Chelsea’s former manager Antonia Conte said, “The Chinese market is a danger for all, not only for Chelsea but for the whole world.”

The Fall

Fast forward to today and China did not qualify for the Qatar World Cup and it is 11th in Aisan Rankins which is far from what Jinping had imagined. 

Why did the Chinese Super League collapse? 

The league that once seemed like it could compete with Europe’s elite is now nowhere to be seen.

It all started when the Chinese FA announced a new rule – only 4 foreign players per squad, and you can only field as many foreigners as Chinese U23 players.

Then in 2018, they introduced a crazy “Chinese Tax” – clubs had to pay 100% tax to the FA if they bought any foreign player for over £5 million!

In 2020, a salary cap was enforced, limiting foreign stars to just £2.6 mil per year. For context, Oscar was on £20 mil – almost 10x the new limit!

The pandemic was the final nail in the coffin. Most CSL clubs were owned by big real estate companies who invested to cozy up to the government. But Covid tanked the entire real estate sector.

As if that wasn’t enough, the FA banned corporate names for clubs. So Jiangsu Suning FC, the reigning champs, just dissolved their team that same year!

With rules like these, all the big names – Hulk, Carrasco, Hamsik, Witsel – fled the CSL. And no other stars have followed since. The league is now a ghost town.

Saudi Pro League vs Chinese Super League: How is it different?

China’s attempt to attract big players by offering massive wages would sound quite similar to the current scenario of the Saudi Pro League.

The Saudis are going all-in, investing a mind-blowing $20 billion into their football league and developing local talent.

It all kicked off when Ronaldo himself joined Saudi club Al Nassr. Landing one of the GOATs was a massive statement!

After Ronaldo’s signing, they landed Ballon d’Or winner Benzema and then went totally nuts, nabbing Brazilian superstar Neymar too.

This summer’s transfer window showed the Saudis weren’t messing around. They splashed €850 million, outspending even giants like La Liga and Bundesliga!


Why is Saudi spending so much money? 

The Saudis want to move away from just relying on oil money. That’s why they announced the Saudi Vision 2030 plan to invest in other areas, like sports.

In 2021 & 2022, they dropped $2 billion creating a new golf league and signing the biggest golf stars. Now they’re trying to merge with the PGA tour to dominate golf.

They also invested $500 million in the McLaren F1 team in 2021.

Tennis is next – they’re planning to get involved with the ATP tour that runs pro tennis globally.

In 2021, Saudi’s Public Investment Fund bought the majority stake in Premier League club Newcastle United, marking their entry into football.

After that, the PIF went buck wild, acquiring control of Saudi Pro League giants Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahli, Al-Nassr, and Al-Hilal. That’s when the crazy spending started.

The Saudis have even bid to host the 2034 World Cup in their country!

Aside from football, they shell out $65 million yearly to host F1 races, $141 million so far for heavyweight boxing, and $100 million per year for WWE events.

By buying into all these sports, Saudi Arabia is basically buying global influence.

Why Should Saudis be Taken Seriously? 

The Saudi Pro League is backed by the state itself, unlike the Chinese Super League which was backed by private business entities. So external factors like governance and money are not a problem for the Saudis.

The Saudis are football crazy – just look at their packed stadiums! The younger generation must be loving that the superstars they used to only watch on TV are now playing in their backyard.

When Saudi Arabia was accused of sports washing  Shiekh Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia said “If sportswashing is going to increase my GDP by one percent, then we’ll continue sportswashing. I don’t care. I have 1% growth in GDP from sport and I am aiming for another 1.5%. Call it whatever you want – we are going to get that 1.5 per cent,” 

The Saudi Pro League is backed by the state itself, unlike the Chinese Super League which was backed by private business entities. So external factors like governance and money are not a problem for the Saudis.

The Saudis are football crazy – just look at their packed stadiums! The younger generation must be loving that the superstars they used to only watch on TV are now playing in their backyard.

Which is better MLS or Saudi Pro League?

Even though Messi is in MLS, the Saudi Pro League has way more superstar players. But MLS has better overall quality and is more competitive from top to bottom.

Is Saudi Pro League FIFA recognized?

The Saudi Pro League is officially recognized by FIFA, the international football authority. This means Saudi clubs can play in FIFA tournaments like the Club World Cup, and their national team can try to qualify for the World Cup.

Which team is No 1 in Saudi Pro League?

Al-Hilal is the most successful team, holding 18 titles in its history and most recently winning the title in 2021–22.


The Saudi Pro League is a major part of Saudi Arabia’s long-term vision, backed by the government itself. Unlike China’s privately-run Super League, money troubles won’t be an issue.

The Saudis have a plan, they’ve got crazy money, passionate fans, and now they’ve landed the biggest superstar footballers. The only thing left is building a proper football culture to keep this hype going long-term.

Only time will tell if the Saudi Pro League becomes a global phenomenon or just a flash in the pan. But one thing’s for sure – they aren’t messing around.

What do you think?

Written by TackleFromBehind

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