LONDON - Representatives of Saudi Arabia’s Pro League want its clubs to compete in the UEFA Champions League, reports emerged on Friday and Saturday. The New Arab takes a look at the likelihood of this happening.


What exactly has been said?


The news first broke with a report in the Italian national sports newspaper Corriere dello Sport last week that the Saudi football authorities want to be allowed entry to the new expanded UEFA Champions League beginning in the 2024-25 season.

According to this report, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation in Riyadh and executives of the four major Public Investment Fund-owned Saudi clubs are preparing a proposal to present to UEFA that would allow the Saudi Pro League's winning team to gain "wild card" entry to the Champions League.

New Champions League format

Saudi Arabia see an opportunity for a Pro League club to be included in the Champions League because of a major change to the tournament's format being introduced for the 2024-25 season onward.

Instead of the current 32-team group stage, the new ‘Swiss-style' format of the tournament will see one single league of 36 teams compete to qualify for the knockout stages.

The Champions League is currently only open to clubs from Europe – as well as those from Turkey and Israel.

However, given the increase in Champions League spots up for grabs under the new format, Saudi Arabia believe they can, with their new star-studded league, convince UEFA to let them take part as non-European wild cards.


Why would Saudi Arabia want this?


The Champions League is the world’s most prestigious and financially lucrative transnational club football tournament. Under the current 32-team format, the Champions League brings in around $3.9 billion in revenues, with the new format set to vastly increase that already staggering sum. The tournament final also brings in an estimated 400 million viewers.

So far, the Saudi Pro League has been all expenditure from the clubs and no revenues. Access to the Champions League could mean that money is brought back into the Pro League, while it would represent new global profile and prestige for Saudi clubs. The Champions League factor could potentially pave the way for the Saudi league gaining the kind of television deal that would make it financially sustainable.

Moreover, some analysts believe that the Saudis would see it as the beginning of a much wider revamp of global football that would involve more Saudi involvement and access to the PIF's huge resources.

Would UEFA go for it?

The only possible gambit Saudi have for UEFA is that they have teams full of superstars. Names like Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Neymar have mass global appeal and, through promotion and advertisement deals attached to their global stature, there is money to be made from them. It could be that part of the Saudi strategy all along has been to buy these players to use as a bargaining chip with UEFA.

But this may not be enough to convince UEFA, as even without the likes of Ronaldo, Benzema, and Neymar, the European competition still has plenty of superstars and mass global appeal.

What happens now?

Until the Saudis make an official approach to UEFA about including a Pro League team, it is difficult to know exactly how the pan-European footballing organisation will react.

However, most analysts would agree that the Saudis would face an uphill struggle in trying to convince UEFA to once again reformat the competition for the sake of a Saudi "wild card". There could also possibly be major kickback from European clubs who would be denied access to a spot in favour of a Saudi club.

Saudi Arabia gaining access to a UEFA competition could also potentially see Pro League clubs forced to acquiesce to UEFA's financial fair play regulations meant to ensure that clubs do not spend more than they earn. Adherence to these regulations could mean an end to the Saudi strategy of luring top talent away from Europe with huge amounts of money.