The MEED 100 largest listed firms revealed

30 May 2023

 

The value of the top listed firms in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region held largely steady during the 2022-23 financial year as international investor sentiment wavered over the state of the global economy.

Viewed through the lens of the MEED Top 100, an annual ranking of the largest Mena-listed companies, the market capitalisation of the top 100 companies stands at $3.83tn, having edged up by a slight 1.6 per cent from the $3.77tn in MEED’s 2022 listing.

This almost static scenario contrasts with buoyant growth the previous year, when the region’s top stocks leapt in value by 23.4 per cent from only slightly above the $3bn mark amid higher oil prices and post-Covid growth optimism.

The relative stability of the list also belies some significant downward sliding in the value of oil and gas companies, amid lower oil price projections, and banks, amid higher interest rates and the global banking concerns following the crises at several US and Swiss institutions. The value of Saudi Aramco alone, which accounts for about 55 per cent of the list’s total value, dipped by more than $200bn.

Growth areas

The value loss has been balanced by growth in other areas, including telecommunications and real estate – the latter having been particularly supported by a strong recovery in the UAE property market. New entries have also been added to the list following a spree of high-value initial public offerings (IPOs) in 2022 and 2023.

Notwithstanding the overweighted presence of Saudi Aramco, the banking sector remains the largest contributor to the list, with 34 entities worth a combined $553bn. 

There are also 16 utilities and telecoms companies worth a combined $369bn; 12 other oil and gas companies besides Saudi Aramco, worth a combined $234bn; and 21 companies in other areas of industry, including manufacturing, construction and logistics, worth a combined $206bn. 

There are also 10 companies involved in services such as healthcare, retail and technology provision, worth $86bn, and six holding companies making up $270bn. The latter are led by Abu Dhabi’s International Holding Company (IHC), which is valued at $234bn after several years of value growth.

IPO activity

The Mena region had an exceptionally strong 2022 for IPOs, with regional stock exchanges seeing a total of 51 listings raise $22bn, close to a quarter of the $90bn raised on equity markets worldwide, according to a report by EY. Overall, it was 143 per cent more listings and 179 per cent more value than in 2021.

While global IPO activity experienced a decline in both volume and value compared to the previous year, the Mena region remained strong. Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia stand out in terms of the number and value of their recent listings.

Abu Dhabi had two record-breaking IPOs, first with Borouge in June 2022, in an offering that raised $2bn, and then with Adnoc Gas in March 2023, which raised $2.5bn. 

Saudi Arabia also went on a listing spree in the fourth quarter of 2022, with seven IPOs on the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul) raising $4.7bn in proceeds. The largest came from Saudi Aramco Base Oil Company (Luberef), which raised $1.3bn. The Tadawul saw its first dual listing, with the UAE’s Americana Restaurants listing on both the Saudi and Abu Dhabi exchanges in December in an IPO that raised $1.8bn.

The 2023 MEED Top 100 list also incorporates the September 2022 listing of Dubai’s road toll system Salik on the Dubai Financial Market, which raised $1bn; the November 2022 listing of Saudi utility company Marafiq, which secured $897m; the November 2022 listing of Dubai’s Empower, which garnered $724m; and the March 2023 listing of Abu Dhabi’s Presight AI, which brought in $496m.

The region has largely retained its IPO momentum heading into 2023, with the first quarter seeing 10 new listings raising a total of $3.4bn. Despite a 33 per cent drop in the number of IPOs and a 14 per cent decrease in value compared to the first quarter of 2022, the region outperformed the global market, which saw a 61 per cent drop in IPO volume to 299 IPOs for the quarter, raising $21.5bn.

Uncertainties over the global economic outlook nevertheless continue to weigh on the markets in 2023, and the GDP forecasts for the Mena region are generally lower than in 2022. Despite these brakes on activity, there is optimism for an ongoing pipeline of large government-backed and private IPOs.

Major upcoming IPOs include the offering of 15 per cent of the shares of Adnoc Logistics & Services through an IPO on the Abu Dhabi stock exchange, scheduled for June 1. 

The listing of Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Global Aluminium is also still on the cards, as is the potential listing of Saudi Arabia’s First Mills on the Tadawul. Abu Dhabi-based Lulu Group is also considering a dual listing in Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia.

 

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John Bambridge
Related Articles
  • Samsung confirms Saudi chemical contract award

    28 September 2023

    Register for MEED’s guest programme 

    South Korea’s Samsung Engineering has issued an official statement confirming that it has been awarded the front-end engineering and design (feed) contract for Alujain Corporation’s planned propylene plant in Saudi Arabia’s Yanbu Industrial Complex.

    MEED revealed that Samsung was working on the feed contract for the petrochemical project earlier this month.

    In its statement, Samsung said that it had been given the notice of award for the feed contract for the facility, which is being developed by Alujain and will produce propylene and polypropylene (PP).

    The scope of the contract will also include utilities and offsites.

    The value of the contract is $19.4m and the feed work is expected to be carried out in Samsung Engineering’s offices in the South Korean capital of Seoul until May 2024.

    The regional project-tracking service MEED Projects has estimated that the EPC contract will be worth $2bn.

    The propane dehydrogenation (PDH) plant, which produces propylene, will have an annual capacity of 600,000 tonnes, and the PP plant will have a yearly capacity of 500,000 tonnes.

    Samsung Engineering said: “Alujain has expressed its confidence in Samsung Engineering by awarding feed after previously awarding Samsung Engineering with the pre-feed contract.”

    The South Korean company also said that it intended to win the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract.

    Samsung Engineering said it expected the EPC contract for the petrochemical project to be released in mid-2024.

    It has already executed 32 projects in Saudi Arabia, five of which were propylene projects.

    Samsung Engineering also worked on the Luberef lube base oil plant in Yanbu, located near the planned Alujain petrochemical project site.

    Hong Namkoong, president and CEO of Samsung Engineering, said: “As we are proceeding from the initial pre-feed stage to the feed stage of the project, we are applying all of Samsung Engineering’s innovative technologies.”

    In May, it was announced that Alujain had selected the C3 Catofin PDH technology from US-based Lummus Technology for the planned propylene plant.

    The scope of work for Lummus Technology covers the provision of the technology licence and basic engineering.

    Alujain said in April this year that it intends to accelerate work on the planned project.

    In a filing with the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul) on 10 April, it said it would improve its business through “accelerating work on the development of engineering works and then the construction and operation of the company’s new factory to produce propylene, polypropylene and other specialised products”.


    MEED’s October 2023 special report on Saudi Arabia includes: 

    > POLITICS: Saudi Arabia looks both east and west
    > SPORTSaudi Arabia’s football vision goes global
    > ECONOMY: Riyadh prioritises stability over headline growth
    BANKSSaudi banks track more modest growth path
    > UPSTREAMAramco focuses on upstream capacity building

    > DOWNSTREAMSaudi chemical and downstream projects in motion
    > POWERRiyadh rides power projects surge
    > WATERSaudi water projects momentum holds steady
    > GIGAPROJECTSGigaproject activity enters full swing
    > TRANSPORTInfrastructure projects support Riyadh’s logistics ambitions
    > JEDDAH TOWERJeddah developer restarts world’s tallest tower

    https://image.digitalinsightresearch.in/uploads/NewsArticle/11179043/main.jpg
    Wil Crisp
  • Riyadh reshapes its global role

    28 September 2023

    Commentary
    John Bambridge
    Analysis editor

    Riyadh is on a mission to cultivate its global status and diplomatic and geopolitical soft power like never before, seeking out forums and platforms of interest at all levels of international engagement and interaction. 

    In 2023 alone, Saudi Arabia has joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, launched the Global Water Organisation and been formally invited to join the Brics bloc of emerging markets.

    Global sports has also become a major new arena of activity for Saudi Arabia. The kingdom has secured the rights to host football’s 2027 Asian Cup and the 2029 Asian Winter Games. In 2022, it oversaw the Public Investment Fund’s launch of the LIV Golf League. 

    It also directed Saudi Pro League clubs to engage in an extraordinary spending spree in the 2023 summer transfer season, buying 94 overseas players, including 37 from Europe’s Big Five leagues. 

    Riyadh is bidding for the 2030 Winter Olympics and has dispensed with its efforts to jointly host the 2030 World Cup with Egypt and Greece in favour of a standalone bid for the 2034 World Cup that would ensure undivided global attention for Saudi Arabia.

    In its determined emphasis on sport, Riyadh is emulating a strategy pursued by Doha for many years to cultivate a role for itself as an international sports hub for the region. However, Saudi Arabia’s approach – together with its larger population or captive audience, and even greater economic clout – is amplifying its position within global sport at an astonishing rate.

    Of equally vital interest to Saudi Arabia’s long-term economic prosperity and stability are its efforts to better physically connect itself with its surrounding neighbourhood. Projects such as the GCC railway network, which is back on track, and the electrical grid interconnection projects launched this year, including a $1.8bn connection with Egypt and $570m connection with Iraq through Kuwait, also point to Riyadh’s intent to be a regional nexus and conduit for everything from freight to power.

    Perhaps no clearer sign of the kingdom’s will to reshape the regional future is its recent moves to bury the hatchet with Iran – a detente that yet hangs in the balance over Saudi Arabia’s position on Israel amid the murmurings of a normalisation deal being within sight. Riyadh may have to choose one or the other. Yet regardless, down either path lies the potential for a change that overthrows decades of regional geopolitical convention.


    MEED's October 2023 special report on Saudi Arabia includes: 

    > POLITICS: Saudi Arabia looks both east and west
    > SPORTSaudi Arabia’s football vision goes global
    > ECONOMY: Riyadh prioritises stability over headline growth
    BANKSSaudi banks track more modest growth path
    > UPSTREAMAramco focuses on upstream capacity building

    > DOWNSTREAMSaudi chemical and downstream projects in motion
    > POWERRiyadh rides power projects surge
    > WATERSaudi water projects momentum holds steady
    > GIGAPROJECTSGigaproject activity enters full swing
    > TRANSPORTInfrastructure projects support Riyadh’s logistics ambitions
    > JEDDAH TOWERJeddah developer restarts world’s tallest tower

    https://image.digitalinsightresearch.in/uploads/NewsArticle/11176946/main.gif
    John Bambridge
  • Riyadh prioritises stability over headline growth

    28 September 2023

    MEED's October 2023 special report on Saudi Arabia also includes: 

    > POLITICS: Saudi Arabia looks both east and west
    > GIGAPROJECTSGigaproject activity enters full swing
    > TRANSPORTInfrastructure projects support Riyadh’s logistics ambitions

    > UPSTREAMAramco focuses on upstream capacity building
    > DOWNSTREAMSaudi chemical and downstream projects in motion
    > POWERRiyadh rides power projects surge
    > WATERSaudi water projects momentum holds steady
    > BANKSSaudi banks track more modest growth path
    > SPORTSaudi Arabia’s football vision goes global
    > JEDDAH TOWERJeddah developer restarts world’s tallest tower


     

    As 2023 heads towards its final quarter, Saudi Arabia has elected to continue to pursue further voluntary Opec+ oil production cuts, supporting oil prices at the expense of its own immediate GDP growth.

    On 5 September, Riyadh confirmed its intention to roll over its additional 1 million barrels a day (b/d) of production cuts until the end of the fourth quarter. Analysts had largely expected Saudi Arabia to extend the cuts with a view to further tightening oil markets, and the price of Brent crude broke the $90-a-barrel mark and reached its highest point in 10 months shortly after the cut extension was announced.

    Despite the rise in prices, Saudi Arabia’s ongoing oil production restraint will ensure no improvement is likely to be made on its modest mid-year real GDP growth forecasts.

    In July, the Washington-based IMF lowered its projection for Saudi Arabia’s economic growth to 1.9 per cent, down from an earlier forecast of 3.1 per cent in April – and compared to an 8.7 per cent growth figure for 2022, which saw oil reach highs of up to $124 a barrel and the kingdom’s first fiscal surplus in nearly a decade.

    The country also entered a technical recession in the second quarter after its economy contracted for its second successive quarter in a row – shrinking by 0.1 per cent after a contraction of 1.4 per cent in the first quarter, according to estimates from the General Authority for Statistics (Gastat). This resulted in a slowing of year-on-year growth to 3.8 per cent in the first quarter and 1.1 per cent in the second.

    There is now a risk that the Saudi economy could see an overall contraction for 2023. The further three months of production cuts will translate into a 9 per cent overall fall in production in 2023, the largest drop in 15 years, according to Khalij Economics.

    Non-oil growth

    Despite the disappointing headline GDP growth figures and projections, however, Saudi Arabia is maintaining a robust non-oil growth rate.

    The non-oil economy is estimated to have grown 5.5 per cent year-on-year in the second quarter of 2023, according to Gastat, while oil sector growth declined by 4.2 per cent. Private sector growth for the quarter has been estimated to be even higher, at about 6.1 per cent.

    At the same time, the Riyad Bank Saudi Arabia purchasing managers’ index (PMI) settled to an 11-month low of 56.6 in August 2023, down from 57.7 in July, reflecting a moderation of non-oil activity. It was the second stepdown in two months for the index from a multi-year high for new business in June.

    The headline PMI figures remain deeply positive, however, with the index well above the 50 mark that delineates growth from contraction. 

    The index also saw the rate of job creation pick up further in August amid sustained new business growth. This reflects a continuation of a job creation trend in the country that has seen unemployment fall from 9 per cent during the Covid-19 pandemic to 4.8 per cent at the end of 2022. Meanwhile, youth unemployment has been halved over the past two years to 16.8 per cent in 2022.

    On the flipside, input cost inflation accelerated to its fastest rate in over a year due to a sharper uptick in purchase prices, though selling prices partially compensated for this by also rising. Business confidence nevertheless slid to the lowest level since June 2020 over concerns of rising market competition.

    Project performance

    The kingdom’s non-oil sector should continue to be well supported by Saudi Arabia’s infrastructure and project spending plans. These schemes remain affordable thanks to the kingdom’s broad financial reserves and buffers.

    As of mid-September, Saudi Arabia’s project spending for 2023 had already all but matched that of 2022, with contract awards in the kingdom approaching the $57bn mark – last year’s figure – but with three and a half months still left to run. 

    This is the third straight year with project awards of around $55bn or more. This is a 75 per cent increase in spending compared to the period from 2016 to 2020, which witnessed an average of only slightly more than $30bn in awards each year.

    There is a further $50bn-worth of project work in bid evaluation and expected to be awarded this year. Even accommodating the possibility of delays for much of this work, the award of even a modest portion of this would make 2023 by far the strongest year on record for project awards in Saudi Arabia.

    This heightened level of projects activity is as much due to above-average spending on oil and gas infrastructure, amid a spree of investment by Saudi Aramco in the optimisation of its core assets, as it is to the kingdom’s gigaproject programme

    Oil and gas project awards alone have exceeded $21bn in 2023 to date and could readily be on track to beat the previous award high of $24.7bn seen in 2019.

    It is the construction and transport sector that has the furthest to go to outdo itself in the last quarter of 2023. 

    Awards in the sector to date have hit $24.6bn, whereas awards in 2022 reached $34.7bn – so there is a $10.1bn gap to bridge to beat last year’s performance. This is not unrealistic given the $14.2bn-worth of projects in the sector under bid evaluation, and especially given the backing of the Public Investment Fund for the kingdom’s gigaprojects and other Vision 2030 schemes.

    Overall, the ongoing upsurge in projects activity should continue to prove supportive of the non-oil economy, regardless of either the vicissitudes of the oil price or Saudi Arabia’s moderation of its own oil production.

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    John Bambridge
  • Saudi’s Jeddah Tower reaches for new heights

    27 September 2023

     

    A landmark moment came for Saudi Arabia’s construction sector in mid-September when Jeddah Economic Company (JEC) invited firms to bid for a contract to complete the world’s tallest tower project, the 1,000-metre-plus Jeddah Tower.

    Work on the tower “is back in full [swing]”, a source close to the project told MEED.

    When completed, Jeddah Tower will be the first structure in history to exceed 1 kilometre in height. It will also be taller than the current world’s tallest building, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, by more than 172 metres. 

    When contacted by MEED, Talal Ibrahim Almaiman, CEO of Kingdom Holding Company, confirmed that the tender to complete the record-breaking tower had been officially issued.

    The companies that have been invited to bid for the contract include:

    • Almabani (local)
    • Bawani (local)
    • China Harbour (China)
    • China State Construction Engineering Corporation (China)
    • Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC – Lebanon)
    • El-Seif Engineering Contracting (local)
    • Hyundai Engineering Construction (South Korea)
    • Mohammed Abdulmohsin al-Kharafi & Sons (Kuwait)
    • Nesma & Partners (local)
    • Powerchina (China)
    • Samsung C+T (South Korea)
    • Saudi Freyssinet (local)
    • Skanska (Sweden)
    • Strabag (Europe)

    The contractors have been given three months to prepare their bids, and are expected to form joint ventures comprising local and international partners. It is understood that contractors have visited the site.

    When completed, Jeddah Tower will be the first structure in history to exceed 1 kilometre in height

    Restarting construction

    One important question for the potential bidders is the condition of the tower’s existing structure. JEC commissioned an independent assessment of the structure before the tender was issued. Sources close to the project have told MEED that the report concluded that building work can restart.

    The construction work for the superstructure of the tower, which began in the early 2010s with the local Saudi Binladin Group (SBG) as the contractor, is one-third complete.

    SBG stopped working on the project in February 2018. In September this year, JEC called in the performance guarantees or bonds provided by SBG. A source close to the project said that the value of the bonds totals SR653m ($174m).

    Almaiman confirmed that the developer has exercised its rights under the contract after having given SBG five years to re-engage.

    While SBG is no longer working as the contractor on the project, the consultancy team remains the same. The architect is US-based Adrian Smith & Gordon Gill, and the engineering consultant is Lebanon’s Dar al-Handasah (Shair & Partners).

    Project stakeholders 

    The shareholders in JEC are Kingdom Holding Company with a 40 per cent stake, Bakhsh Group with a 40 per cent stake, and Sharbatly Group with a 20 per cent share.

    In 2015, JEC and Saudi Arabia’s Alinma Investment established a $2.24bn fund to finance the first phase of the Jeddah Economic City project and Jeddah Tower. The Alinma Jeddah Economic City Fund is a sharia-compliant fund that will operate under the Saudi Arabian Capital Market Authority. 

    Alinma Bank agreed to finance the fund, which is managed by Alinma Investment. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, chairman of Kingdom Holding Company, was appointed as chair of the fund’s board. 


    The 170-storey Jeddah Tower will have a variety of revenue streams and will
    feature the world’s highest observation deck. Credit: Jeddah Economic Company

    Development plans

    Jeddah Tower is the centrepiece of the Jeddah Economic City development in the Obhur district, north of Jeddah. The project’s first phase, which includes Jeddah Tower, covers an area of 1.5 square kilometres.

    The mixed-use tower will have 170 storeys, seven of which will be allocated to a five-star, 200-room Four Seasons Hotel. There will also be 11 storeys housing 121 serviced apartments, and seven storeys of offices. 

    A further 61 storeys of the tower will comprise 318 residential units, a gym, spa, cafes and restaurants. Plans also include several sky lobbies and the world’s highest observation deck, located on the top floors of the tower, 660 metres above the ground. 

    Development work on the project began in 2006. Building the world’s tallest tower requires state-of-the-art technologies and construction methods. 

    The piling and foundations work for the tower was completed in 2014. Germany’s Bauer was the piling contractor, and 270 piles were cast, reaching 105 metres below ground. The raft sitting on top of the piles is one of the world’s largest reinforced steel foundations, with a thickness of between 4.5 and 5 metres. 

    Cranage is a major challenge when constructing megatall towers. In early 2015, JEC took delivery of custom-made cranes, supplied by Germany’s Liebherr & WolffKran.

    For elevators, Finland’s Kone was appointed to supply the fastest and highest double- decker elevator system in the world. The planned system will travel at a speed of more than 10 metres a second, rising to 660 metres. 


    MEED's October 2023 special report on Saudi Arabia includes: 

    > POLITICS: Saudi Arabia looks both east and west
    > SPORTSaudi Arabia’s football vision goes global
    > ECONOMY: Riyadh prioritises stability over headline growth
    BANKSSaudi banks track more modest growth path
    > UPSTREAMAramco focuses on upstream capacity building

    > DOWNSTREAMSaudi chemical and downstream projects in motion
    > POWERRiyadh rides power projects surge
    > WATERSaudi water projects momentum holds steady
    > GIGAPROJECTSGigaproject activity enters full swing
    > TRANSPORTInfrastructure projects support Riyadh’s logistics ambitions
    > JEDDAH TOWERJeddah developer restarts world’s tallest tower

    https://image.digitalinsightresearch.in/uploads/NewsArticle/11177248/main.gif
    Colin Foreman
  • Saudi Arabia’s football vision goes global

    27 September 2023

    MEED's October 2023 special report on Saudi Arabia also includes: 

    > POLITICS: Saudi Arabia looks both east and west
    > GIGAPROJECTSGigaproject activity enters full swing
    > TRANSPORTInfrastructure projects support Riyadh’s logistics ambitions

    > UPSTREAMAramco focuses on upstream capacity building
    > DOWNSTREAMSaudi chemical and downstream projects in motion
    > POWERRiyadh rides power projects surge
    > WATERSaudi water projects momentum holds steady
    > BANKSSaudi banks track more modest growth path
    > JEDDAH TOWERJeddah developer restarts world’s tallest tower


     

    Saudi Arabia has invested more than $6.3bn in sport since early 2021, but that figure will be a fraction of what is coming if plans for its 18-club Saudi Pro League bear fruit.

    The kingdom’s entry into world football started in October 2021, when the Public Investment Fund (PIF) bought Newcastle United. Benefitting from a new manager and fresh on-field talent, the team came fourth in the premiership in the 2022-23 season and qualified for this year’s European Champions League.

    It is said that Riyadh aims to emulate Abu Dhabi, which bought Manchester City in 2008, but the kingdom’s ambitions go beyond owning a single European club: it is aiming to remake its position in world sport. 

    The exertions are not dissimilar to the way in which the Brics economic grouping, which the kingdom was invited to join in August, hopes to remake the world’s monetary dogma by breaking the dollar’s grip on the global economy. The Saudi Pro League may be the kingdom’s way of ending Europe’s dominance in football.

    Establishing the Saudi Pro League as one of the best will enhance the kingdom’s desire for a say at the highest levels of global club football

    Mixed returns

    Abu Dhabi has demonstrated that owning a football club can deliver benefits that go beyond income and capital appreciation. It has boosted the emirate’s image, promoted its airline Etihad and given Abu Dhabi a seat at the table of the English Premier League. It has also faced challenges.

    Manchester City has been accused of breaching Premier League and Uefa rules about licensing and financial sustainability. In 2020, it was fined and banned from European competitions for two years for alleged breaches of Uefa’s fair play rules, though that was overruled. The club is now subject to a long-term investigation into 115 alleged breaches of Europe’s fair play rules.

    Now Newcastle United, which the premiership never wanted to be bought by Saudi Arabia, is being closely scrutinised for evidence that the kingdom is unfairly boosting the club’s spending.

    There are also signs that the British football boom, which began after the English premiership was created in 1992, is coming to an end. Top clubs enjoyed a windfall from satellite television rights and then the influx of investment from wealthy individuals, starting with Russia’s Roman Abramovitch 10 years later. This has now been overshadowed by the financial might of Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia in England and by Qatar, owner of Paris Saint Germain since 2011, in France.

    But the appetite among even the wealthiest investors for football assets may be fading. Earlier this year, Manchester United’s owners rejected an offer for the club from Qatar as inadequate.

    Sports Saudisation

    Saudi Arabia’s new approach is different. Instead of sending money overseas, it is looking to invest heavily in football within the kingdom. In the 2023 summer transfer season, Saudi Pro League clubs spent a net $907m on players, more than all of the Big Five leagues but the Premier League, which spent $1.39bn.

    The economic benefits are easily comprehended. PIF finance would go into building domestic stadiums and training facilities. Money paid to players and support staff would be retained in the kingdom. In addition to a domestic audience of football fans, Saudi Arabia has international airports and an aviation network to bring in fans from across the globe.

    Establishing the Saudi Pro League as one of the best will enhance the kingdom’s desire for a say at the highest levels of global club football. 

    European football’s perilous financial position is why plans for a European Super League comprising 12 teams, announced in the spring of 2021, initially attracted support from the clubs involved. It was scrapped at the last minute, but dreams of a super league – and the problems that inspired it – remain. It is conceivable that the kingdom could argue a case for membership should it be revived, though that is a consideration for the future.

    In the meantime, Saudi Arabia’s impact on football is already being felt. Last December, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo signed for Riyadh’s Al-Nassr. Other top players that have since signed to play in the kingdom include Brazil’s Neymar, Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzema, African Footballer of the Year Sadio Mane, World Cup winner N’Golo Kante and former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson.

    In July, Kylian Mbappe turned down an offer from Riyadh’s Al-Hilal worth almost €300m ($321.5m) and a salary of €200m for a one-season stay. But – in what would be a coup for the Saudi league if it is accepted – a world-record signing fee is reported to have been offered by Al-Ittihad in September for Egypt’s Mohamed Saleh.

    Newcastle United could fit into the kingdom’s broader football plan as a source of talent that can be sold to the Saudi league to bring money into the English club while avoiding the fair play charges encumbering Manchester City. The first example of the process may have been Allan Saint Maximim, who was transferred to Al-Ahli for a reported transfer fee of almost $30m in July.

    Last summer, Riyadh also launched what is now the Liv Golf League. There has also been talk of it buying a US National Football League club. The kingdom is investing in other sports as well, but it is football that it is bringing home this autumn.

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    Edmund O’Sullivan