Summer transfer window: The biggest moves so far as Saudi Arabia becomes major factor

European soccer’s summer transfer window is in full swing, with several household names already moving to pastures new.

It is one of the most feverish periods on soccer’s calendar, as ITKs – “In The Knows,” people with sources who break transfer news – battle it out on social media to be the first to reveal where a player is going next.

The transfer window for clubs in England and Scotland opened on June 14, but clubs will not be able to sign players from abroad until the international window opens on July 1. All of Europe’s top five leagues close their transfer windows on September 1.

This year, however, there is a significant new factor: Saudi Arabia.

In much the same way the Chinese Super League barged its way onto the scene several years ago with enormous transfer fees and player salaries, Saudi Arabia is now tempting some big names in Europe to move east for one final mammoth payday. That follows Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr in December 2022.

Karim Benzema – Real Madrid to Al-Ittihad

In the first major coup of the summer for the Saudi Pro League, Karim Benzema has agreed to join Al-Ittihad once his contract expires with Real Madrid. The deal is estimated to be worth more than 100 million euros ($106.89 million), according to media reports.

Now 35, Benzema has been one of the world’s best strikers for more than a decade, racking up an eye-watering number of trophies in his 14 seasons with Real Madrid, including five Champions League crowns and three La Liga titles.

His performances during the 2021/22 season – when Real won the Champions League and La Liga double – saw the Frenchman collect the Ballon d’Or award for the best player in the men’s game last year.

Jude Bellingham – Borussia Dortmund to Real Madrid

Perhaps the most sought-after player in world soccer this summer, Jude Bellingham is taking his considerable talents to Real Madrid next season after Los Blancos paid Borussia Dortmund a reported €103 million ($110.4 million) for his signature.

Still only 19, Bellingham has grown into one of soccer’s most complete midfielders since moving to Dortmund from boyhood club Birmingham City in 2020 and has also become a key figure for the English national team.

After a disappointing season, Real Madrid will be hopeful that Bellingham will be a star midfielder for years to come once the ageing Luka Modric and Toni Kroos depart.

N’Golo Kanté – Chelsea to Al-Ittihad

N’Golo Kanté, the all-action midfielder who has rightly drawn praise as one of the best midfielders of his generation, soon became another major name to move to Saudi Arabia, joining Benzema at Al-Ittihad on a free transfer following the expiration of his Chelsea contract at the end of June.

The 32-year-old midfielder has signed a contract worth around £86 million ($109.8 million) a year, according to UK media.

In his eight years in England, Kanté won two Premier League titles – the first as part of Leicester City’s improbable 5000-1 triumph – the Champions League, the FA Cup, the Europa League, the UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup.

Above all else, it’s his almost superhuman fitness that stands out, though he did struggle with injuries last season. So incredible has Kanté’s work rate been since he first arrived in England with Leicester in 2015, he has often been described as single-handedly covering the ground of two midfielders.

Christopher Nkunku – RB Leipzig to Chelsea

Three years after arriving at RB Leipzig from Paris Saint-Germain, Chrisopher Nkunku has established himself as one of European football’s most exciting forwards.

During the 2021/2022 season, the Frenchman scored 35 goals – including seven in six Champions League games – and registered 16 assists in all competitions. Nkunku followed up with another 23 goals in the 2022/2023 campaign as Leipzig won the German Cup for the second straight season.

Chelsea has reportedly paid Leipzig £53 million ($67.7 million) for Nkunku’s services, marking another significant outlay for the club’s American owner Todd Boehly, who will be hoping the 25-year-old can provide the firepower the team so desperately needs in attack.

Kai Havertz – Chelsea to Arsenal?

Arsenal is reportedly close to completing the signing of Chelsea forward Kai Kavertz for £65 million ($83 million) as Mikel Arteta looks to bolster his squad following the team’s capitulation in the Premier League title race.

If Arsenal can get the deal over the line, Havertz will immediately improve the Gunners’ starting XI. Many fans have expressed their surprise that a player of his quality is being sold to a direct rival, but Boehly has put together a bloated squad that desperately needs trimming.

Havertz scored the winning goal for Chelsea against Manchester City in the 2021 Champions League final and Arsenal will be hoping for more of that magic as the team returns to European football’s premier competition for the first time since 2016-17.

Declan Rice – West Ham to Arsenal?

After guiding West Ham to the Europa Conference League title, the team’s first major trophy since 1980, club captain Declan Rice is potentially on the move to Arsenal.

Still just 24, Rice has established himself as one of Europe’s most promising holding midfielders, with West Ham’s reported asking price sitting around £100 million ($127.7 millon). Rice has shown some attacking flare, too, scoring a stunning solo effort against Gent in the Europa Conference League by running half the length of the pitch before slotting the ball home.

Rice, who was in the youth ranks at Chelsea and then West Ham, was voted Conference League player of the season. Arsenal will reportedly have to fend off interest from Manchester City and Manchester United for his signature.

Mateo Kovačić – Chelsea to Manchester City?

Fresh off the back of becoming just the second English team in history to complete the Treble, Manchester City’s recruitment to bolster the squad for the defence of all three titles is already well under way.

Chelsea’s Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovačić looks set to become Pep Guardiola’s first major addition of the window for a reported cut-price £30 million ($38.3 million) as Chelsea continues its summer clear-out.

With club captain İlkay Gündoğan looking increasingly likely to leave the club and Bernardo Silva also weighing up his options, City will need Kovačić to hit the ground running if the club is to continue its dominance in England and Europe.

Alexis Mac Allister – Brighton to Liverpool

Alexis Mac Allister enjoyed a sensational season for Brighton in the Premier League, but it was his performances for Argentina at the World Cup that really made everyone sit up and take notice.

After Lionel Messi, it could be easily argued that Mac Allister was Argentina’s best player in Qatar, his movement and link-up play in attack a crucial factor in La Albiceleste lifting the trophy for the first time since 1986.

Liverpool reportedly paid an initial fee of £35 million ($44.6 million), which could rise to £55 million ($70 million) in add ons, with Jurgen Klopp hoping Mac Allister will fill the departing Roberto Firmino’s sizeable shoes at Anfield.

Rúben Neves – Wolverhampton Wanderers to Al Hilal

Rúben Neves may not be the biggest star to take his talents to Saudi Arabia, but his reported £47 million move to Al Hilal is notable because the midfielder is still only 26 years old. Until his transfer, it had only been players in the twilight of their careers that had moved to the SPL.

Considering Barcelona was reportedly keen to sign Neves, the deal is a significant coup for Al Hilal and the league in general, but the size of the transfer fee has raised eyebrows given the Portugal international only has a year left on his deal. No club in Europe would have paid close to that fee for a player that could leave for free next season.

Neves has been a star for Wolves since joining when the club was in the Championship, England’s second tier, and has only improved since earning promotion to the Premier League, where he has established himself as the team’s best player and captain.

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