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The end of Europe’s football monopoly?: Rage over Saudi Arabia’s signing spree ignites calls of hypocrisy

Several western football commentators have criticised players moving to Saudi Arabia, calling for an investigation into the country’s funding source. 

Amid the talks that Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal is set to announce the signing of superstar Neymar Jr, football pundits have urged football chiefs to stop the Middle Eastern country from” taking over the sport,” calling for fair market investigations.

The outrage first ignited after footballer Bernardo Silva was reportedly given a ‘lucrative’ opportunity to join Al Hilal, propelling football pundit Jamie Carragher to plead Saudi Arabia to stop with their ‘sportswashing’.

Writing on Twitter, Carragher said: “Bernardo Silva is in his peak years & has been one of the best players in Europe for the last five years! I wasn’t worried about the Saudi League taking players in their 30’s, a touch worried with players below the elite (Neves) but if this happens it feels like a game changer. Saudi have taken over Golf, the big Boxing fights & now they want to take over football!! This sports washing needs to be stopped!”

The Premier League and European football has rinsed South America dry over the past 25 years, destroying an entire continents football in the process.

But now you want to play the victim because someone else is doing it to you.

— AllThingsSeleção ™ (@SelecaoTalk) June 22, 2023

“Europe has been taking the best players in South America and Africa in their youth/prime, for 25 years. England have been taking the best players in Europe in their prime, for a decade. But dare a non-European state replicate this, now it’s a problem for the whole of football?,” one user wrote back to Carragher on Twitter.

Another user also voiced the hypocrisy, writing, “When China USA & Russia did it then it was ok we can live with it , but when an Arab country do anything in sports that matches the highest level then it’s sport washing!”

Not alone in his frustrations, Carragher’s fellow Sky Sports analyst, Gary Neville, voiced Saudi Arabia’s increasing grip on football should be inspected. 

“The Premier League should put an instant embargo on transfers to Saudi Arabia to ensure the integrity of the game isn’t being damaged. Checks should be made on the appropriateness of the transactions,” Neville told BBC Sport. 

🎙️ Gary Neville on Saudi Arabia buying Chelsea players:

"The Premier League should put an instant embargo on transfers to Saudi Arabia to ensure the integrity of the game isn't being damaged.

Checks should be made on the appropriateness of the transactions.

If it comes…

— Transfer News Live (@DeadlineDayLive) June 21, 2023

“Double standards and racism towards other nations when English and other powerful clubs in Europe challenge by the same element they used against other modest financially clubs around the globe, this is how they built their success in the last 30 years, it shouldn’t be considered as moral and political etc , it is football,” a user wrote in response to Neville’s statements. 

Other social media users said Neville is a hypocrite since he supported the Qatari Manchester United takeover. 

“These same people are also waiting for huge money from Qatar to come buy their team Manchester United. Gary Neville is bitter as hell,” the user wrote

The landscape of football is clearly changing towards a global game, forming opinions like Carragher and Neville which wish to limit the competition to spaces like Europe.

Despite the calls to continue a European model of the sport, football fans appear to be on the side of players joining the teams they prefer.