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MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – APRIL 01: Jordan Henderson of Liverpool applauds the support after the Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool FC at Etihad Stadium on April 1, 2023 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

Mbappe, Henderson and the Saudi football league

Mbappe, Henderson and the Saudi football league


Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson is the latest footballer to accept the offer of a huge salary to join the Saudi Pro League. Why is the country offering so much money to sports stars?

Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has become the latest footballer to join the Saudi Pro League, making him the highest-paid British player in the world.

His move came days after another club, Al-Hilal, made a world record bid for the French captain, Kylian Mbappe.

The £259 million offer was eye-watering even by football standards, but Mbappe and his representatives refused to meet the club to discuss the transfer. 

Mbappe is one of football’s most wanted players, which is why the Saudis want to sign him.

Al-Hilal is owned by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund or PIF, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world that invests money on behalf of the Saudi government.

The club that bought Henderson is not owned by the PIF, but according to the New York Times it is understood that all of the Saudi Pro League clubs “have access to a player signing fund from the Ministry of Sport.”

Groups like Amnesty International and Grant Liberty have accused the country of “sportswashing” to distract from its poor human rights record. Under its current leadership, the number of executions in Saudi Arabia has doubled.

In an interview with Sky News the Saudi Chairman of the General Sports Authority played down those accusations, admitting the country has made mistakes but “there are social changes that are happening”.

Saudi Arabia is currently working towards its “Saudi Vision 2030”, which is an attempt to wean itself off the oil that’s made it so rich and create a more diverse economy. The government hopes tourism will contribute 10 per cent of the country’s GDP by 2030.
The more sporting events, and stars, that Saudi Arabia can attract, the more people it hopes will visit. But for players like Jordan Henderson, it brings accusations of hypocrisy. He’s moving to a country where homosexuality is illegal despite previously describing himself as an ally of the LGBTQ+ community.

Today’s episode was written and mixed by Imy Harper.