Very nice piece, Ben!

Expand full comment

Let me explain the real reason why Saudi is spending big not just in sports but all round. It’s a pissing contest between the two Mohammed’s. MBS vs MBZ. That’s Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi vs Mohammed bin Zayed of UAE. They are engaged in a Cold War. MBS is a protege of MBZ. MBZ took him under his wings more than a decade ago, trained him, gave him the know how, that’s how he was successful at ousting the previous King and taking over and detaining all his cousins and nephews at the Ritz. Now he wants to prove himself by going to war with UAE in all areas to make Saudi the super power of the Gulf. This is the real reason they spend on concerts, F1 races, football and real estate and so forth.

Here’s the issue with Arab Football. Arabs are wealthy. They don’t need football to pay their bills or make millions from it. That doesn’t pushes them to take football seriously. I remember the days of Adnan Talyani (UAE captain). He would tell me why UAE footballers are not great at football. Most of his team mates wouldn’t show up for training. If they do, they are playing PlayStation. Their fitness was poor because of what they eat. The Sports council was the son of a rich guy so all he cared about a fat gov salary and house and cars. The Royals who govern such institutions are super rich so their focus was more selling oil and building hotels or malls than focusing on sports. The weather also doesn’t helps. Crowds don’t go to stadiums because of the year round heat. Parents don’t push their kids to play football or dream about winning World Cup unlike in Europe or other countries where parents would take their kid for Sunday football or school competitions. Here, kids are mostly brought up by the nanny and taken to school by their drivers. It’s the culture.

China tried the same. You can’t make your league better by buying out (bribing really) ‘almost’ retired European players. They should instead invest in good coaches and academies.

Saudi spending is temporary. UAE did the same.

Expand full comment