Michael Emenalo confirms Saudi Pro League transfer intentions

  • Emenalo reveals plans to target players in South America
  • Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Karim Benzema among blockbuster Saudi signings in 2023
  • Director of football tells 90min plans to globalise transfer strategy and pride of work done so far

Michael Emenalo is ready to target South America
Michael Emenalo is ready to target South America / Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/GettyImages

Director of football Michael Emenalo has confirmed to 90min that the Saudi Pro League are ready to set their sights on signing South American talent.

The Pro League has attracted some of the biggest names in world football over the past 12 months, with Cristiano Ronaldo leading the way when he joined Al Nassr in January 2023.

Neymar, Karim Benzema, Riyad Mahrez and Roberto Firmino are four other world renowned figures to head over to the Middle East, with European football very much the favoured hunting ground of Al Ittihad, Al Nassr, Al Ahli and Al Hilal - who are all financially backed by Newcastle's majority owners PIF.

But Emenalo, speaking exclusively to 90min as part of Talking Transfers' Inside Recruitment series, has revealed that the Saudi Pro League are ready to cast their net further afield and target South America.

"Absolutely we are looking [at South America]," Emenalo said. "It’s one of the historical football enclaves, history, culture – we know that opportunities are there to look at these players, there is an incredible production of quality and talent.

"But in my role as a league patron I have to give the clubs the opportunities, it is not easy to focus on every part of the world – they have to decide and what type of players they want but we have a wider outlook in the future."

Premier League clubs have been keen to exploit the South American transfer market after a change in work permit regulations, primarily because buying players at source is far more cost effective than negotiating deals with European counterparts.

Real Madrid have successfully tapped into the market over recent years, signing Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo from Flamengo and Santos respectively, and they already have an agreement in place to sign Endrick - another player tipped to reach the top of the game - from Palmeiras once he turns 18 in 2025.

How successful the Saudi Pro League is at tempting players over remains to be seen, but Emenalo went on to reveal his pride at the work that's been undetaken so far.

"I am incredibly proud of what we have done, we are working around the clock at this,” the 58-year-old added. "Is there some snobbery? Yes, but that is human reaction to change, to competitiveness, we don’t always embrace competition initially but we see from the European countries they are also adapting and changing to us.

"We have come in wanting to expand, to improve and to win. We will compete and we want to be one of the best, we have the resources to be one of the best but we have to put the work in. Is there going to be an increase in ambition? Of course. Are we going to continue to go for what we believe is the best? Yes we are."