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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Nick Ames in Berlin

Clubs seek guarantees Saudi Arabian teams will pay huge transfer fees in full

Neymar is paraded following his move to Al-Hilal
Neymar was one of the major signings in the Saudi Pro League this summer. Photograph: Ahmed Yosri/Reuters

European clubs are seeking guarantees that they will be paid the huge transfer fees agreed with Saudi Arabian clubs in full after a summer of unprecedented spending that has reshaped the transfer market.

Before this year the amount spent by Saudi clubs on players in Europe’s top divisions had never eclipsed 2% of total yearly sales. After a transfer window that has seen players such as Neymar, Rúben Neves, Fabinho, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Riyad Mahrez move for eye-watering amounts, that proportion has risen dramatically to 11%, totalling €878m (£753m). As recently as 2020 the outlay was only €63m.

The Saudis have become serious players but there is an appetite to ensure clubs are safeguarded in case of non-payment. Concerns are understood to have been raised behind closed doors at the European Club Association [ECA] general assembly, which is being held in Berlin from Wednesday to Thursday, with clubs seeking assurances that they have leverage over their Saudi counterparts in case of debts not being honoured.

According to article 83 of Uefa’s financial licensing and sustainability regulations, a club must have “no overdue payables” in order to receive a licence to compete. The rules say payables are considered overdue if they are not paid according to contractual or legal terms, but they count for little in deals conducted beyond Europe.

Given the vast sums agreed with Saudi clubs in some cases, such as €93m from Al-Hilal to Paris Saint-Germain for Neymar, €54m from the same buyers to Fulham for Mitrovic and €47m from Al-Ittihad to Liverpool for Fabinho, selling clubs are keen to ensure they do not find themselves exposed. Fifa may be leaned on to provide certainty that the sellers see their money if necessary.

The topic was among many discussed during a day whose headline announcements were widely welcomed. Solidarity payments for clubs that failed to qualify for the lucrative group stages of European competitions had been a continent-wide point of contention; they were increased to 7% – from a previous figure of 4% – of the projected annual revenue from Uefa’s next cycle of television rights for clubs knocked out in qualifying rounds, which totals around €4.4bn gross.

An extra 3% is reserved for clubs that did not qualify for Europe at all. The Union of European Clubs, a group distinct from the ECA that seeks greater representation for small and medium-sized clubs, was among those to respond positively to the move, which takes effect from the start of the 2024-25 season.

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