21, June 2023
Saudi Arabian soccer champion Al-Ittihad has another high-profile French player to accompany Karim Benzema at the team next season.
N’Golo Kante completed his move on a three-year deal on Wednesday after leaving Chelsea, with Al-Ittihad welcoming the 32-year-old midfielder with a series of tweets containing the hashtag “WelcomeBox2Box” — referring to his hard-running style of play.
He will reportedly earn more than $100 million across the length of the deal at a club based in Jeddah and coached by former Tottenham and Wolverhampton manager Nuno Espirito Santo. It recently won the Saudi league ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr.
Kante, who won the World Cup with France in 2018, the Champions League with Chelsea in 2021 and has been one of the best players in the Premier League in recent years as a back-to-back champion with Leicester and Chelsea, has struggled with injuries over the past two seasons.
That hasn’t put off Al-Ittihad from apparently spending big on Kante, a few weeks after bringing in Benzema after the expiry of the reigning world player of the year’s contract at Real Madrid.
“It is part of the club’s efforts to establish itself as a top choice for world-class players in the Saudi Professional League,” Al-Ittihad said.
The big names — albeit players nearing the end of their careers — are being enticed to the Saudi league, where spending is being fueled by a move by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth Public Investment Fund to take a majority ownership stake in four of the country’s top clubs, including Al-Ittihad and Al-Nassr. The move is part of a nationalization project that encourages public sector organizations to invest in sports, with soccer teams a priority under the initiative backed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Another of those four teams, Al-Hilal, tried to buy Lionel Messi but Argentina’s World Cup winner decided to join Inter Miami in the United States.
A slew of leading players are being linked with moves to Saudi Arabia in this European offseason, including Manchester City winger Riyad Mahrez, Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and Wolverhampton midfielder Ruben Neves.