Theupdate Eye: 5 Saudi Pro League stars who should leave this January

Just six short months ago, optimism was rife around the potential growth of the Saudi Pro League.

Thanks to the mega money contracts being handed out, Saudi clubs were able to poach some genuinely world class talents from top European clubs – including Karim Benzema from Real Madrid and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic from under the noses of Arsenal, Chelsea and Juventus.

Fast forward to January 2024, and things have already all gone Pete Tong.

Fans still aren’t turning up to stadiums, the standard of football being played is still subpar, and the highly-paid footballers are now keen to return to Europe.

Here’s five players, thought to be disgruntled in some way, shape or formm who should be hellbent on leaving the Middle East in January.

  • 5. Aymeric Laporte

Current club: Al Nassr
Potential destinations: Real Madrid, Bayern Munich

Aymeric Laporte recently exclaimed, despite the ridiculous wages being paid out, that “many players are dissatisfied” with their moves to Saudi Arabia.

As one of said players, Laporte should probably be eyeing a move back to Europe this January – especially when clubs like Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are potentially looking for centre-back cover – as he can undoubtedly do a job for a top European club right now.

The only thing that may keep him in Saudi until the summer is the hunt for silverware, with his Cristiano Ronaldo-led club Al Nassr being right in the middle of a title race this season.

‘Should leave’ rating: 7/10

  • 4. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic

Current club: Al Hilal
Potential destinations: Any top Serie A club

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic reportedly turned down advances from Juventus, Arsenal and Chelsea in the summer to sign a £17m-a-year contract at Al Hilal.

As expected, the 28-year-old is now regretting that decision.

Reports from Italy have suggested that Milinkovic-Savic met with his ex-Lazio teammates recently to tell them he wanted to return to the club – hardly a ringing endorsment for life in the Middle East.

A loan move back to Serie A would make a lot of sense for the midfielder, who is way too good to be playing in the Saudi Pro League in his prime years.

‘Should leave’ rating: 8/10

  • 3. Roberto Firmino

Current club: Al Ahli
Potential destinations: 
Chelsea, Barcelona, Arsenal

Roberto Firmino perhaps realised what he was missing when he returned to Anfield recently and saw fans in the terraces watching a game of football – something that’s rather uncommon in Saudi Arabia.

Since then he’s notably been linked with a return to the Premier League with Chelsea, where you’d imagine he’d get quite a lot game time considering Nicolas Jackson’s struggles to hit a barn door.

Other clubs who should be interested in Firmino are Arsenal, where he’d probably be an upgrade on the misfiring Gabriel Jesus, and Barcelona, if they can find a few million at the back of a sofa.

‘Should leave’ rating: 8/10

  • 2. Jota

Current club: Al Ittihad
Potential destinations: West Ham, Newcastle United, Crystal Palace

Considering that he wasn’t even registered to play in the Saudi Pro League, it’s fair to say that Jota’s move to Al Ittihad hasn’t gone to plan.

The 24-year-old has barely kicked a ball this season and is dire need of a move this January.

That move should be to a mid-table Premier League team in search of a bit of creative spark, potentially even a side looking to secure European qualification. West Ham we’re looking at you, with Lucas Paqueta sidelined, but don’t discount Newcastle or Crystal Palace.

West Ham are the most likely destination right now, with Jota potentially filling the void left back the injured Lucas Paqueta.

‘Should leave’ rating: 10/10

  • 1. Karim Benzema

Current club: Al Ittihad
Potential destinations: Chelsea, Real Madrid, Man Utd

Karim Benzema could be the star striker for the biggest football club in the world right now, and instead he’s playing in front of empty stadiums in the Middle East.

He is getting paid £172m-per-year to do so, but from a sporting perspective it is an utter waste of one of the best footballers of his generation.

Even now, at 36 years old, Benzema would start for pretty much any football club in Europe.

If he values making the most of his talents, and if reports of his willingness to leave Al Ittihad “temporarily” are true, he’ll be doing exactly that very soon – potentially in the Premier League.

‘Should leave’ rating: 10/10

What we know

  • A number of top players are keen to leave the Saudi Pro League
  • Benzema is the latest to reportedly be unhappy with life in the Middle East
  • Assessing where each wantaway player should go this January.


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