In recent days, com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent news has been com­ing from the coun­tries of the Mid­dle East at the same time. The Asian Cup start­ed suc­cess­ful­ly in Qatar: the impres­sive open­ing cer­e­mo­ny end­ed with the launch of more than six thou­sand fire­works, and the best clubs in Europe and Rus­sia chose the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates as the venue for their train­ing camp.

At the same time, by the mid­dle of the sea­son, the first prob­lems began in the Sau­di Pro League. Some top play­ers are not sat­is­fied with the atten­dance, the qual­i­ty of foot­ball and the cli­mate: Ben­ze­ma, Firmi­no and Hen­der­son are already con­sid­er­ing a return to Europe. How­ev­er, each news pro­vokes increased atten­tion to the region, which local author­i­ties have been try­ing to achieve for sev­er­al years.

Investment in youth

The coun­tries of the Mid­dle East remain among the most eco­nom­i­cal­ly devel­oped in the world. Sau­di Ara­bia is the first in oil exports, Qatar is the world’s largest sell­er of liq­ue­fied gas. Foot­ball is a new vec­tor for the country’s devel­op­ment, which can solve sev­er­al prob­lems at once: it will attract new investors to the coun­tries and increase media expo­sure, and increase the flow of tourists.

League lead­ers are now focus­ing on devel­op­ing young tal­ent. In Sau­di Ara­bia, fund­ing for youth foot­ball has increased by 162% since 2021. The num­ber of train­ers has also increased: over the past five years the num­ber has reached 5,500, of which more than 1,000 are women.

In addi­tion, aggres­sive league reforms should lead to increased play­ing time for young Sau­di foot­ballers. For the same rea­son, the age of admis­sion to the main team was low­ered to 16 years. And next sea­son, each club must reg­is­ter one Sau­di play­er born in 1998 or lat­er.

Oth­er coun­tries in the Mid­dle East are also invest­ing in the devel­op­ment of sports acad­e­mies. For exam­ple, Qatar has opened the Aspire Acad­e­my in Doha, which offers world-class train­ing facil­i­ties to young ath­letes. In par­al­lel, the UAE launched the Emi­rates Sports Acad­e­my for sports admin­is­tra­tors, coach­es and play­ers.

Minimum transfer restrictions: they even want to soften the limit on foreign players

In the sum­mer, the Sau­di Pro League spent almost a bil­lion dol­lars on trans­fers, sec­ond only to the Pre­mier League in terms of this indi­ca­tor. How­ev­er, if the lead­ers of the Eng­lish league must adhere to fair play rules and can­not offer their stars astro­nom­i­cal salaries, then in the Mid­dle East such an oppor­tu­ni­ty exists: in the leagues there are sim­ply no trans­fer restric­tions or salary caps for play­ers.

The fact that there is no ban on own­ing mul­ti­ple clubs in the same league has an impact. So, this sum­mer, four of the strongest clubs came under the con­trol of PIF — a pub­lic invest­ment fund cre­at­ed to attract pri­vate finan­cial invest­ment and pro­vide teams with almost unlim­it­ed oppor­tu­ni­ties.

Some­thing sim­i­lar has exist­ed before in the form of the 2016 Chi­nese Super League. How­ev­er, in Sau­di Ara­bia, the trans­fer sys­tem looks clear­er. This was part­ly influ­enced by the clubs’ not always con­sid­ered spend­ing dur­ing the sum­mer trans­fer win­dow: not all acquired play­ers were able to pro­mote the state’s brand in the right direc­tion. There­fore, in win­ter, lead­ing clubs will be able to buy play­ers only at their own expense.

At the same time, PIF does not refuse to finance teams: it’s just that now all tran­si­tions will be coor­di­nat­ed with the fund. On the one hand, this approach will min­i­mize pos­si­ble image dam­age and focus on the devel­op­ment of young play­ers. On the oth­er hand, the rea­son for this restric­tion may be prepa­ra­tion for the next sum­mer pur­chase: teams are already look­ing at Mohamed Salah and Casemiro.

In addi­tion, accord­ing to The Tele­graph, the Pro League man­age­ment is already dis­cussing the issue of chang­ing the lim­it on for­eign play­ers start­ing from the 2024/25 sea­son: then clubs will be able to enter not eight, but ten for­eign play­ers into their appli­ca­tions.

Cooperation with leagues around the world and high comfort

The nec­es­sary infra­struc­ture is also devel­op­ing rapid­ly. After the World Cup, Qatar received new sta­di­ums. Each of them hosts match­es of the Asian Cup moved from Chi­na. And Sau­di Ara­bia, in fact, has already won the right to host the World Cup in 2034: there­fore, the coun­try is going to recon­struct the largest sta­di­ums.

In addi­tion, club tour­na­ments are held in the coun­tries of the Mid­dle East. The UAE host­ed the Club World Cup five times, the tour­na­ment was held twice in Qatar and once in Sau­di Ara­bia. The lat­ter, in addi­tion, received the rights to host the Ital­ian and Span­ish Super Cups until the 2028/2029 sea­son. Abu Dhabi is the home of Win­line RPL Win­ter Cup

They are also try­ing to keep up in the UAE, which has long become a famil­iar place not only for pre-sea­son train­ing camps for top clubs from around the world. Friend­ly tour­na­ments are also held here, which dis­rupt the mea­sured life of the train­ing camp.

For exam­ple, Abu Dhabi will host the Win­line Win­ter RPL Cup for the sec­ond time in a row — the main tour­na­ment of the Russ­ian off-sea­son, which received inter­na­tion­al sta­tus this year. Four teams will tra­di­tion­al­ly take part in the Cup, and the match­es will take place from Feb­ru­ary 2 to 14 at the Al Nahyan Sta­di­um, the home are­na of the Al Wah­da club.

This year, in addi­tion to rivals from Kaza­khstan and the UAE, the tour­na­ment will receive greater media sup­port. Every day, fans will be treat­ed to exclu­sive con­tent from the scene, cre­at­ed not only by play­ers and coach­es, but also by com­men­ta­tors, come­di­ans and blog­gers. And on one of the Win­line days of the RPL Win­ter Cup, foot­ball play­ers, with the sup­port of stream­ers, par­tic­i­pate in a CS 2 cyber tour­na­ment.

In gen­er­al, lead­ing Russ­ian clubs pre­fer to hold train­ing camps in the UAE and Qatar. The nec­es­sary infra­struc­ture in these coun­tries (fields, hotels, fit­ness) is of bet­ter qual­i­ty and more com­fort­able than in Turkey. In addi­tion, find­ing oppo­nents for test match­es has become much eas­i­er: the Emi­rates are inter­est­ed in attract­ing the Russ­ian mon­ey mar­ket, and the league’s lead­ing clubs are flex­i­ble in nego­ti­a­tions. This year, as part of the tour­na­ment, Spar­tak and Ros­tov will meet with Al-Shabab from the UAE.