Skip to content

Kylian Mbappe, Mohamed Salah, Newcastle and more: Saudi Pro League's Michael Emenalo discusses transfer plans

Plus: Lionel Messi's Inter Miami visits Saudi Arabia for pre-season in early 2024; How Cristiano Ronaldo and Jordan Henderson are faring in the league, plus Neymar's ACL injury; January transfers and whether players are asking to leave; Could Jadon Sancho and David De Gea move?

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Director of Football of the Saudi Pro League Michael Emenalo believes that it would be hard to convince Mohamed Salah to join the league in January

Saudi Pro League director of football Michael Emenalo sat down for an exclusive chat with Sky Sports News' Kaveh Solhekol, discussing transfer plans involving Kylian Mbappe, Mohamed Salah, Newcastle and much more...

On Salah: We will not make the first move

Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah was heavily linked with a move to the Saudi Pro League in the summer, but ultimately decided to stay with the Premier League club.

Emenalo told Sky Sports News: "Mo Salah, like [Lionel] Messi, [Karim] Benzema, [Cristiano] Ronaldo and the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, these are players that when there is a sense of availability for them, we are willing to listen.

"But we also understand that Mo is happy where he is at present and in a historic, wonderful club at Liverpool. We respect that very much and we don't want to come across as putting any pressure on him.

"But if there is any interest to do something, Mo Salah is a player that you want in your league, in any league."

Ruling out January move for Salah?

"We respect Liverpool and in this scenario, the initiative to do anything won't come from us. There has to be an aligned interest from all parties involved.

Also See:

"It's a very personal thing, as a player that I recruited [for Chelsea] and I like. There's nothing I'm saying that is new or ground-breaking - that a player of this level of talent is available and your league wants him.

"If Mo Salah is available, has an interest to come and everything is aligned, I would be incredibly delighted."

On Mbappe: An open conversation, but we don't know what he wants to do

Kylian Mbappe is another player who was on the verge of a Saudi Pro League move over the summer. After he reached a contract impasse with PSG, the forward ended up staying for the final year of his contract.

Mbappe is a free agent in the summer so could speak to foreign club - including those in Saudi Arabia - from January 1...

"It's an open conversation, but we don't know what he wants to do. Our position is very clear - any of these players know where we are.

"If there's any interest in being part of what we are trying to build now or for the future, you can't turn down an opportunity to see if Mbappe can join us. Kylian is someone I love as a player."

How close was Mbappe to a Saudi Pro League move last summer?

"It's never close if it's not done... If it's not done, it's a huge chasm. I can't say how deep the conversation went, but there was an express interest that if he was ready to come, there was a club ready to make space for him."

On Newcastle: No mastermind for January transfers

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Saudi Pro League Director of Football Michael Emenalo played down the relationship between Newcastle's owners, the Saudi Public Investment Fund and the four major clubs they own in Saudi Arabia

A majority share of Newcastle was purchased by the Public Investment Fund in October 2021 and is the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. PIF also own four Saudi Pro League clubs.

There have been questions over whether some of the league's star players could go on loan to Newcastle in January to help the club in the second half of the season...

"I can't speak for PIF, only because they have representatives who are a lot smarter than I am and who understand what is going on. I don't think the club and the processes are aligned as causally as you are suggesting it. There is a separation in management, but again, that is not for me to describe.

"What is clear is with our clubs, if anybody wants our players, then we will listen to them. And if we want a player from Fulham or Burnley, hopefully they will listen - and the same for Newcastle.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League clash between Tottenham and Newcastle

"If they want to talk to players at clubs owned by PIF or owned by somebody else, it's open for discussion. There are no limitations, it's just an organic process of football market investigation. There's nothing else to read into it.

"It is quite casual with the perception there is that there is a link between the four clubs here and Newcastle."

So there is no secret masterplan to help Newcastle by giving them Neves or Kante or Benzema?

"Absolutely not, and these players would cost a lot of money and maybe they wouldn't want to go to Newcastle. People are neglecting the independence and decision making of the players themselves."

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Sky Sports News reporter Keith Downie gives his reaction to Newcastle's 2-1 defeat against AC Milan, which led to their exit from the Champions League

On Messi: If he wanted to come, we could find him a club

Lionel Messi had offers from the Saudi Pro League this summer, but chose to move to Inter Miami in the MLS. The team will play pre-season friendlies in the kingdom in early 2024...

"When you have two of the best players from the last few decades meet each other [Ronaldo and Messi]... We expect it to produce an incredible amount of excitement. It should be fun for the fans and something we're looking forward to.

"What we know for certain is if Messi is still willing and ambitious to perform and is willing to do so in Saudi Arabia, I think we will be able to find him a club to express his skills. It's a possibility if he wants to come here, we will work hard to find him a club."

On Ronaldo, Henderson impacts

Jordan Henderson has been criticised for his move to Al Ettifaq
Image: Jordan Henderson has been criticised for his move to Al Ettifaq

Both Cristiano Ronaldo and Jordan Henderson joined Saudi Pro League clubs in the summer. Former Liverpool captain Henderson in particular faced backlash for his move to Al-Ettifaq...

On Cristiano Ronaldo: "As someone who is an administrator in this league, I am grateful for what he brings. Cristiano is a wonderful example in our industry, he was one of the first players to actively invest in himself as a product for his profession.

"What he's doing at the age he is now is Lebron [James] like, it's very unique. We are really proud of him and personally, I'm very respectful of the contributions he's making to our league.

"He's been challenged here. He's gone through many droughts and come back and raised his level. His level of talent, there are reasons why he is in the discussions as being 'world class'. He's one of the best players ever, he's got world-class mentality to align with world-class talent… He's been a wonderful signing for the league.

Is Jordan Henderson happy here?: "Yes, because he doesn't have anything left to prove and he understands that. He was captain of Liverpool, he started at an academy in Sunderland and worked his way up to the top of the best league in the world.

"He's come here to take up a challenge that he didn't have to, but he understands the importance of it. But I think he's thrilled by the daily challenges and is slowly understanding that some of the discussions around him are a good thing. It gives him a chance to defend his legacy and his decision to come here, which is brave and also reasonable."

On January transfers and discussions with players

Saudi Pro League director of football Michael Emenalo sat down for an exclusive chat with Sky Sports News' Kaveh Solhekol
Image: Saudi Pro League director of football Michael Emenalo sat down for an exclusive chat with Sky Sports News' Kaveh Solhekol

"What we want to emphasise is this league isn't only going to be built on player acquisitions. It's going to have foundations that include improvements in infrastructure that look to the future, that the league and clubs are able to develop their own players.

"Acquisitions of foreign players is a big part of what we want to do, but it's not the aspect we're focused on. What we do in this coming window could also depend on manoeuvres in terms of players moving out to be able to bring players in.

"We are not shying away… but we are always ready to make signings and we have the capability to go in and compete [in the January market]."

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Riyad Mahrez was on the scoresheet with Allan Saint-Maximin also registering three assists for Al Ahli, who beat Al Fayha 4-0 to close the gap on Cristiano Ronaldo's Al Nassr in the Saudi Pro League

What questions do potential signings ask you about moving here?

"Interestingly, which will shock people, maybe because they have their agents or lawyers to do their bidding for them, no player ever talks about money.

"The player wants to know how is the league, how many games do you play, what is the competition, who is the best team in the league? That's a normal question, that's what you expect from a performer.

"All the other things around the talking points around finance are not questions that come from players."

Emenalo on low attendances at Saudi Pro League games...

"It's disappointing, but it's not a concern. We understand that the fanbase here is very high.

"More than 70 per cent of households are interested in football and a lot of fans are expressing their passion in their living rooms. So we need to transfer this passion and the supporters from their living room to the stadium.

To do that, we need to develop a system of fan engagement while understanding the embedded culture and how to manoeuvre that in a respectful and creative manner.

"But the fanbase is there and we're confident we can access as soon as possible."

Have any players told you that they want to leave Saudi Arabia?

"I've not had that. I've had conversations about players who are desperate for things to be at a better level and that's a good thing. We welcome the observation that certain things need to be improved because that's why they're here. They've had experiences at the highest levels and we want their contributions.

"But there's not been any conversations about wanting to escape. On the contrary, the players are coming to me and telling me their friends want to come to join us, but unfortunately we don't have enough spaces for every player who wants to come and join the league."

On Neymar injury absence

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

After joining the league in the summer, Neymar said he would not be surprised if the Saudi Pro League is as high a standard as Ligue 1 considering the quality of players who have joined

Neymar joined Saudi Pro League club Al Hilal in August. However, after just five games, he ruptured his ACL on international duty with Brazil...

"We miss Neymar and his wonderful, flamboyant talent. We would have loved to have him around but when you make these investments, there's always a risk of injuries. It can always happen and unfortunately, it's happened to Neymar.

"We're monitoring his recovery and hoping he comes back hungrier than ever and willing to prove his craft.

"We're in touch, we're getting regular feedback. We know that's committed to come back and he feels personally indebted to the Kingdom and to the league. He wants to come back and show what he can do."

On other rumoured transfer targets: We don't want to be a dumping ground

Jadon Sancho, Man Utd
Image: Jadon Sancho has found himself frozen out at Man Utd

On Jadon Sancho: "We can't discuss specific targets with respect to the parent clubs and also for the player himself. We also don't want to be regarded as a dumping ground for players that didn't work in other clubs.

"We have to look carefully at what our clubs require. We will work closely to make that happen. I don't want to minimise the quality or importance of a player like Jadon, who I've known for a very long time... Right now, there are no specific discussions about any specific players."

On David De Gea: "There's no discrimination as to the positions that we are trying to enforce. We leave that to clubs to decide what is of utmost need for them and to get them that.

"If someone wants David dD Gea and they can afford him and he fits, we would be very happy to bring him into the league. He's someone who has been presented to us, we have had information that's available. Discussed is a completely different thing."

Emenalo on hosting Saudi Arabia hosting the 2034 World Cup

"It's a positive impact. It follows with the alignment of the progress that the Kingdom wants to make. I think also good for the [football] industry.

"I've said many times, we don't want to disrupt, we want to enhance and there is a well thought-out process in this whole project and you're seeing that is aligned. We're going to help foster a very competitive and respected league that will take us in to that period when the World Cup comes into Saudi Arabia.

"The level of interest and passion for football here is extraordinary. I also feel given the experience of Qatar and the proximity to Europe, Africa and South America, and given the culture, which is continually evolving to welcome foreigners, we anticipate it will be a wonderful an exciting World Cup."

Could the Saudi Pro League start targeting top managers?

"Ultimately, if you want to be the best league in the world, then the best from CEOs to managers to coaches and players, most of them have to be in your league.

"One of the reasons the Premier League is thought of as the best is the influx of these quality managers and coaches. Their presence has also improved other younger generations of coaches like Eddie Howe.

"That's the goal, but we're opening to welcoming who is willing to come and perform here. The door is wide open."

Win £750,000 with Super 6!
Win £750,000 with Super 6!

The Super 6 Christmas Rollover hits £750,000! Play for free, entries by 3pm Saturday.

Around Sky