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Saudi Arabia, polluting football

What is behind the pharaonic contracts of Mancini, Ronaldo, Benzema and Neymar? Why are the Saudis investing billions in football? The reason is simple: to increase oil production. In spite of the climate alarm


It has put an impressive amount of money on the football market: in the space of a few months, Saudi Arabia has wrested some of the most beloved and, above all, most followed champions on social media from the major clubs of the old continent. The first was Cristiano Ronaldo, the last Neymar. In between, the likes of Koulibaly, Benzema, Kanté, Dembelé, Brozovic, Milinkovic Savic. Not forgetting the national team: the Saudis had no qualms about offering Roberto Mancini a contract impossible to refuse. And in fact the Italian coach, in the middle of a boiling August - and only 20 days before a decisive double commitment for the Italian team - has signed: 70 million until 2027, the year in which the Asian Cup is scheduled, which can increase considerably thanks to bonuses. With good peace to those who had sewn on him the patriot's uniform after the victory at the European championships, forgiving him the lack of qualification for the World Cup, the second consecutive one after the one signed by Giampiero Ventura.

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Un post condiviso da Corriere dello Sport (@corrieredellosport)

The question is why? What is behind this overbearing entry onto the ball stage of the world's second largest producer of crude oil after the United States? Let us try to understand. 

The new political course is led by the young prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MbS, who in September 2022 took over as premier on the appointment of his father Salman Bin ‛Abd al-'Azīz. Since then, the prince, who wants to make Riyadh a bridge between East and West, has wasted no time. And he has deployed an image strategy based on three cornerstones.

One: promote the idea of an avant-garde country by strengthening the renewable energy development project.

Two: watering down the memory of the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, taking significant steps in the field of women's rights and severing the umbilical cord with the Wahabi clergy that had strengthened the most fanatical versions of Islam and nurtured jiadist terrorists like Osama Bin Laden and 15 of the 9/11 hijackers.

Three: to place sport, and especially football, at the centre of the process by harnessing the communicative power of the champions it has placed under contract, turning them, in effect, into influencers. It matters little if every now and then a misunderstanding escapes us. Like the one that happened to Ronaldo who risked 90 lashes for having embraced a female fan in Iran, committing, he married to Georgina, the crime of adultery. What is important is that Cristiano has 109 million followers and as soon as he landed in Riyadh, he referred to it as the city with the best restaurants in the world: "I chose Saudi Arabia because the future is built here". Yes, but what future?

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Un post condiviso da نادي النصر السعودي (@alnassr)

While the alarm over global warming exceeds the warning levels - the Copernicus Climate Change Service of the European Union and Nasa, the US space agency, have just reported that July was the hottest month ever recorded - Riyadh is increasing its oil production by touching new records. And the planet continues to hoard fossil energy as if the environmental problem did not concern it: in 2023 world demand is set to grow by 2.2 million barrels per day. 

In this scenario, Saudi Arabia is one of the spearheads. Saudi Aramco, the company that pays Roberto Mancini's salary, tops the list of 25 companies that determine half of the climate crisis risk. The aim of the state-owned company is to continue to increase extraction capacity until 2027, coincidentally the same year in which the agreement with the former coach of the Italian national team expires. Target 13 million barrels per day.

At the same time, Riyadh is working to create an avant-garde image. It is no coincidence that at the recent Italian-Saudi forum held in Milan at the beginning of September, Investment Minister Khalid Al Falih announced that tourism will reach 100 million visitors in 2030, recalling how the country is committed to research into green hydrogen and water desalination and recycling technologies. And how a major project to produce electric car batteries is already well advanced.

A major make-up operation under which crude oil extraction continues unabated, which, according to recent estimates, may go on for another 60 years. The plan has sport as one of its strong points: it was in October 2022 that Saudi Arabia will host the 2029 Asian Winter Games in a futuristic facility in the new city of Neom to prove that yes, it is possible to ski even in the desert. A tasty preview, together with the Asian Cup, of the World Cup that MbS is counting on organising in 2030 or 2034 at the latest.

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Un post condiviso da Alessandro Gogna (@gognablog)

On the other hand, football is a global language: it directs opinions towards a country much more than politics. And it provides legitimacy. Little does it matter that the ball is floating in a sea of oil, little does it matter that the time for reducing greenhouse gases is running out. What matters is the spectacle. The Anglo-Saxons, who in terms of synthesis are second to none, encapsulate it all in a word that perfectly sums it up: sportwashing

Champions hired by Saudi clubs:

  • Karim Benzema: parameter zero (from Real to Al Ittihad)
  • Bono: 21 million (from Sevilla to Al-Hilal)
  • Marcelo Brozovic: 18 million (from Inter to Al-Nassr)
  • Yannick Carrasco: 15 million (from Atletico to Al-Shabab)
  • Moussa Dembélé: parameter zero (from Lione to Al-Ettifaq)
  • Merih Demiral: 20 million (from Atalanta Atalanta to Al-Ahli)
  • Hanin Diallo: 18 million (from Strasburgo to Al-Shabab)
  • Fabinho: 46,70 million (from Liverpool to Al Ittihad)
  • Luiz Felipe: 22 million (from Real Betis to Al Ittihad)
  • Roberto Firmino: parameter zero (from Liverpool to Al-Ahli)
  • Seko Fofana: 25 million (from Lens to Al-Nassr)
  • Demarai Gray: 9,30 million (from Everton to Al-Etiffaq)
  • Jack Hendry: 6,90 million (from Bruges to Al-Ettifaq)
  • Jordan Henderson: 14 million (from Liverpool to Al-Ettifaq)
  • Roger Ibanez: 30 million (from Roma to Al-Ahli)
  • Jota: 29.10 million (from Celtic to Al Ittihad)
  • N’Golo Kante: parameter zero (from Chelsea to Al Ittihad)
  • Franck Kessie: 12,5 million (from Barcellona to Al-Ahli)
  • Kalidou Koulibaly: 23 million (from Chelsea to Al-Hilal)
  • Aymeric Laporte: 27.50 million (from City to Al-Nassr)
  • Riyad Mahrez: 35 million (from City to Al-Ahli) 
  • Malcom: 45 million (from Zenit to Al-Hilal)
  • Sadio Mané: 30 million (from Bayern Monaco to Al-Nassr)
  • Edouard Mendy: 18.5 million (from Chelsea to Al-Ahli)
  • Sergej Milinkovic-Savic: 40 million (from Lazio to Al-Hilal)
  • Aleksandar Mitrovic: 52,60 million (from Fulham to Al-Hilal)
  • Neymar Jr: 90 million (from Psg to Al-Hilal)
  • Otavio: 60 million (from Porto to Al-Nassr)
  • Ruben Neves: 55 million (from Wolverhampton to Al-Hilal)
  • Allan Saint-Maximin: 27,2 million (from Newcastle to Al-Ahli)
  • Alex Telles: 7 million (from Manchester United to Al-Nassr)
  • Gabri Veiga: 40 million (from Celta Vigo to Al-Ahli)
  • Georginio Wijnaldum: 8 million (from Psg to Al-Etiffaq)




Illustration by Gloria Dozio - Acrimònia Studios