Ever since Messi’s transfer to the MLS, a new debate has been raging across football circles. A debate that essentially has its roots in the age-old Messi-Ronaldo rivalry, has created a new dispute between the two of the best developing leagues of the world.
Saudi Pro League:
On one side we have the defiant veteran – the Saudi Pro League which has been around for 47 years and has recently picked up global popularity and recognition by attracting the biggest superstars of the modern game. Featuring the likes of Christiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Ngolo Kante, Riyad Mahrez, Roberto Firmino, Edouard Mendy, Sadio Mane, Ruben Neves, Diogo Jota, and now Neymar. A galaxy of stars does not get bigger than this.
Much of the credit goes to the Saudi Investment Fund whose initial purpose was diversification of income sources for the Saudi Kingdom. Lately, the fund has become the main purveyor that is not just securing assets and viable sources of income but at the same time changing the conservative outlook of the nation to make the country a popular tourist destination like Dubai.
And what better way to do that than stealing your favorite superstars and coaches from top-flight leagues across the world, right? Well, seemingly there is no stopping the ongoing carnage whose foundations are built upon insane wage structures and minimal regulations.
However, is this model of development sustainable in the long term? Will FIFA put a hold on these recent antics of the Saudis? Or will the world of football forever change, with the Saudi League becoming synonymous with the all-star teams that we created in video games?
These are major questions that are not only concern the development of football in KSA but football as a whole. The injected money and lack of regulations are so huge that even the giants of the games such as the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, PSG, and Manchester United are sweating as this new project is potentially raiding the best of the best out there.
Major League Soccer
On the other side of the Spectrum, we have the 29-year-old MLS that precedes the North American Soccer League (NASL) that existed from 1968 to 1984. The latter is best known for featuring the best talents of their generation from the likes of Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff, and Gerd Müller to Eusébio, Bobby Moore, and George Best. At its time, it was considered one of the top-flight leagues in the world, until its unceremonious financial collapse in the early 1980s.
This was a big upset for the sporting nation and it took them almost 12 years to kick-start another domestic league. However, the new league that started in the late 90s was nothing but a complete disappointment. Not only did it alienate and upset traditional soccer fans by ‘Americanizing’ the global sport through certain rule deviations but also utilized American football stadiums for league matches.
Now how absurd is that!
The project itself was a financial calamity that only resurged after the 2006 FIFA World Cup with the world recognizing homegrown American talents such as the likes of Carlos Bocanegra, Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann, Brian McBride, and Clint Dempsey who made a considerable impact across top-flight English clubs at the time.
However, the tables turned in 2007 when the league expanded across the border and global superstars such as the likes of David Beckham, Thiery Henry, and Robbie Keane joined the league. The biggest signing among these was undeniably David Beckham, a football marketing magnet, that changed the fortunes of a sub-par league to the former glory of the NASL.
This renaissance reignited big time, steadily gaining considerable momentum when other clubs instead of criticizing the designated player rule jumped on the bandwagon and signed greats of the games such as David Villa, Frank Lampard, Kaka, Julio Cesar, and Zlatan Ibrahimović.
Today, the league features the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Giorgio Chiellini, Christian Benteke, Lorenzo Insigne, Javier Hernandez, and Douglas Costa with many in line to join one of the fastest-growing leagues in the world.
The decision is simple, at least for now, the league that has the best homegrown talent has to be placed above its biggest competitor. Changing the rules and financial structures of the game to secure the biggest names in the game may work for now but the model is simply unsustainable in the long run.
However, stringent financial rules and policies are also detrimental to the growth of a league as we have shown in the case of MLS. The stunted growth throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s is a great example of how bad policy can make all efforts go down the drain.
In truth, the Saudi Pro League is not a real project. It is simply an image-building project that exists to project a better outlook of the Saudi Nation. It is a retirement graveyard for dead players who have either lost their touch or simply the motivation to compete on the biggest stage day in and day out.
On the contrary, the MLS features fresh and vibrant talent from across the world who are there to prove their mettle in a fairly competitive league thanks to a vibrant school, college, and domestic soccer culture.
Where to Watch Your Favorite Superstars in Action
The Saudi Pro League can be streamed on the Sony Live Network and MLS on Apple TV+ by subscribing MLS season pass. However, before you go down that road make sure that you have a fast and reliable internet connection for an uninterrupted, smooth, and error-free experience.
An excellent option and first-choice companion would be Xfinity Internet. With its lightning-fast speed and fiber coaxial network you will be able to take your viewing experience to a whole other level. So, what are you waiting for? Their team is available 24/7 at the Xfinity customer service number.
In short, MLS will build upon a solid platform that it took decades to create while without a sustainable financial and league structure, the current marketing gimmicks of the Saudi Pro League will simply wither away into oblivion.