Benzema, Messi, Kanté and the Saudi coin


Having endured the kind of owner-induced misery (two relegations from which they immediately bounced back) fans of clubs like Bury or Macclesfield Town couldn’t conceivably get their heads around, supporters of Newcastle United finally caught a break when the tyrannical despot who owned them was bought out by a consortium led by an even worse one. Although you wouldn’t know it from listening to the club’s fans, or local journalists and former players who came as part of the package, the deal was an exercise in sportswashing. Another key to add to the set being loudly jangled by Sheikh Mohammed bin Salman in a bid to distract the attention of the credulous masses from his country’s appalling human rights abuses.

Earlier this week, the Public Investment Fund added to its portfolio of football clubs by seizing control of four teams in its own kingdom’s league. The aim? To attract high-profile players on eye-wateringly massive contracts, all the better to boost the Saudi Pro League’s standings before the PIF’s expected grab for the 2030 World Cup. The bid is more than likely to be successful, given the amount of cash the Saudis are likely to splash, coupled with Fifa’s insatiable lust to get its hands on it. After being drummed out of Manchester United during last year’s World Cup, Cristiano Ronaldo became the biggest name since Dan Burn to take the Saudi coin, pledging his twilight years to Al Nassr, who were recently pipped to the title. And now his former water-carrier, Karim Benzema, has agreed a contract with Al Ittihad, the team who beat them, ending his 14-year association with Real Madrid.

Like fair play of any kind if you happen to be gay, a woman, a dissident journalist or a migrant worker, the rules of FFP do not apply in Saudi Arabia. Clubs are not bound by the kind of pesky regulations imposed by Uefa for the sole reason of ensuring that any success enjoyed by Manchester City must be accompanied by cries about financial doping, technicalities, 115 charges of rule-breaking, caveats and asterisks. Small wonder, then, that the PIF can offer obscenely bumper top-ups for players’ pension funds. Ronaldo’s Al Nassr contract is worth £177m per annum. Benzema is expected to get by on a comparatively paltry £86m, although his Al Ittihad deal includes the provision of a solid gold house, bespoke diamond-studded shinpads and the moon in a pail of water. It has also been revealed that representatives of both clubs are in London to dance suggestively in front of N’Golo Kanté and offer the soon-to-be out-of-contract Chelsea pocket-dynamo a Scrooge McDuck-style money pool in which to swim.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Al-Nassr.
Cristiano Ronaldo of Al-Nassr.

Sergio Busquets, Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, Luka Modric, Neymar, Adama Traoré, Hugo Lloris, Pepe, Alexis Sánchez and Bobby Firmino have also been mentioned as candidates whose heads may be turned (rather than removed) by the Saudis. Meanwhile having seen Traoré’s name in the previous sentence, former Crystal Palace defender James Tomkins is also waiting hopefully for the call. Of course the player the Saudis really want on board is free agent Leo Messi, a man whose father claims he would like to return to his old stomping ground of Barcelona. Messi Jr is believed to have been offered an annual salary of £450m by Al Hilal and considering he already trousers a preposterous amount in his role as chief shill for Saudi Tourism, it would seem almost rude for this insatiable money-sponge not to commit fully to the project. If nothing else, he’ll be well placed to advise his fellow mercenaries on how best to spend their downtime now that, in the interests of those all important optics, those once famously public beheadings tend to be staged behind closed doors.


“[The board] wanted me to extend my time at Celtic and while I am so respectful and understanding of their position, a new opportunity has been presented to me and it is one which I wanted to explore” – your new flamin’ Spurs manager, Ange Postecoglou.


As an Arsenal fan, I join any delusional Tottenham supporters who are upset at the appointment of Ange Postecoglou as their new manager (yesterday’s Football Daily). Tottenham’s hijinks helped take the edge off the disappointment of our being squished by the City steamroller at the end of the season, and Postecoglou’s appointment sadly bodes ill for similar relief next time around. Oh well, at least we’ve still got Chelsea” – David Madden.

As a Spurs fan/shareholder, I’m more than happy to embrace your prediction that Postecoglou will be a big success. Just wish that our ‘chief suit being horse-whipped out of north London’ was a prediction that would come true” – Chris Brown.

I have a lot of sympathy for Alan Willis, your correspondent from Wigan (yesterday’s Football Daily letters) as we at Pompey have also suffered in the past from owners who were far from ‘fit and proper’. However, I would point out that two seasons ago Wigan landed two of our players by offering higher wages than we were willing or able to pay. Wigan gained promotion while we continued to meander along in League One. Ironically it was the inability to pay these wages that has led to their predicament, but Alan did at least get to enjoy promotion” – Steve Beaton.

That was very insightful from David Beckham (yesterday’s Quote of the Day), putting a large part of the historical Treble success down to an affinity with Manchester. Home towns that just happened to include Nottingham, Trinidad and Tobago, Cardiff, Manchester, Tavelsjö, Kempen, Sandefjord, Bury, Cork, Gladsaxe, and of course, London. Maybe this geographical expertise is why he’s called his new team ‘Inter’?” – Neil Bage (and 1,056 others).

If we’re going to pitch documentaries to Netflix such as Mourinho doing a Ted Lasso (yesterday’s letters), how about getting Disney to sponsor Vinnie Jones as Phil Neville’s replacement and renaming the club Inter Them? A true underdog story in the spirit of The Mighty Ducks? Vinnie could growl and scowl for the cameras, which pretty much sums up both his footballing and acting careers” – Kevin Worley.

Send your letters to Today’s winner of our letter o’ the day is … Kevin Worley, who wins a copy of The Three Lives of the Kaiser, a biography of Franz Beckenbauer by Uli Hesse.