They may have been bitter rivals in their playing days, but Manchester United and Liverpool pair Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher are firmly on the same team where the Saudi Pro League is concerned.
The middle eastern competition has been sending shockwaves through the world of soccer this summer with a wild acquisition of the game’s top talent.
Stars like N’golo Kante and Karim Benzema have already signed for clubs in the SPL with many more linked.
One such potential departure from Manchester City triggered Carragher greatly.
“Bernardo Silva is in his peak years & has been one of the best players in Europe for the last five years!” The ex-Reds defender raged on Twitter.
“I wasn’t worried about the Saudi League taking players in their 30’s, a touch worried with players below the elite (Ruben Neves) but if this happens it feels like a game changer.
“Saudi have taken over Golf, the big Boxing fights & now they want to take over football!! This sports washing needs to be stopped!”
The call from his TV pundit colleague Neville was even more extreme.
“The Premier League should put an instant embargo on transfers to Saudi Arabia to ensure the integrity of the game isn’t being damaged,” Neville told BBC Sport, “checks should be made on the appropriateness of the transactions.”
The former Red Devils defender was especially concerned about transfers from Chelsea, whose ownership consortium has Saudi investment.
“If it comes through that process, obviously transfers could open up again. But I do believe, at this moment in time, transfers should be halted until you look into the ownership structure at Chelsea and whether there are beneficial transfer dealings that are improper.”
Conspiracy theories about Chelsea have been running wild this week after Saudi clubs moved for Kalidou Koulibaly, Hakim Ziyech, Edouard Mendy and N’Golo Kante.
The suggestion was based on the middle eastern investment this was some sort of scam which enabled the club to shift the deadwood from its roster and balance the books after several transfer windows of gratuitous spending.
If it were just Chelsea players being targeted this theory might be worth exploring. But the fact that Real Madrid star Luka Modric, Manchester City winger Riyad Mahrez or indeed Lionel Messi have been targeted is more indicative of the transfers being part of efforts to establish a competition to rival those in Europe.
Indeed, as most conspiracies do, the theory ignored the blindingly obvious point that if you are an ambitious club from a lesser-known division looking to add flagship soccer talent by offering high wages a Premier League club with a bloated squad is exactly the place you’d want to do business.
There’s also the fact that this has happened before.
The last time an aspiring overseas league decided to go shopping for surplus elite talent Chelsea was the prime benefactor in England.
Ultimately the Chinese Super League project never really got off the ground. But not before clubs parted with a combined $86 million to bring Brazilians Oscar and Ramires to the Far East.
As has ever been the case with Chelsea the deals were useful in balancing out some pretty significant incomings and removing a pair of high earners from the wage bill.
Karma For The Premier League?
Fans of clubs in other parts of the world could be forgiven for having a wry smile hearing Premier League complaints about losing talent to a wealthy overseas competition.
For years, clubs like Boca Juniors and Santos in South America, who once boasted of having the worlds best players gracing their teams, have been reduced to mere stepping stones to careers in Europe.
The most talented players on the continent, which used to rival Europe for prestige, are spirited away as teenagers with riches the local teams could never hope to challenge.
Closer to home, the past decade has increasingly seen European giants in competitions like Serie A, which used to dominate world soccer, fail to compete with England’s wealth.
The likes of AC Milan and Roma these days struggle to offer the same wages as Crystal Palace and Bournemouth.
These usurped teams might well consider the Saudi Pro League’s pilfering of Premier League talent as some long-overdue karma.
Now, they might say, you know how it feels.
The concerns around sports washing-using soccer to launder the image of a nation with an otherwise questionable reputation regarding human rights-feel a little too convenient from commentators like Carragher too.
Of course, it is relevant that this round of transfer spending has been driven by the Saudi Public Investment Fund purchasing several of the league’s clubs.
But neither Neville nor Carragher raised the issue when the very same group acquired Newcastle United.
Their extensive discussions on the PIF takeover of the North East giants were largely positive.
At best it is hypocritical and at worst a cynical distraction from the wreckage the disparity in Premier League wealth has caused.
Better awareness might at least be present in the English division’s headquarters if their reaction to the Chinese Super League several years back is anything to go by.
“We welcome the competition in many ways,” former Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore said at the time “How could we possibly be worried about other leagues coming along and doing what our clubs do all the time? Our clubs use their financial muscle to acquire talent from abroad.”