What the papers say

The Daily Mail reports that Real Madrid, Chelsea and Saudi Arabian clubs are spearheading a pursuit for Victor Osimhen, with the possibility of the 24-year-old striker pushing to leave Serie A side Napoli in January.

Staying in Italy, the BBC reports that Roma could look to make a move for Tottenham’s Eric Dier in January. The 29-year-old England international has yet to feature for Spurs this season and is out  of contract next summer.

Manchester United will open contract talks with Hannibal Mejbri to keep him at Old Trafford, according to the BBC, although Spanish side Sevillia are rumoured to have their sights set on the 20-year-old Tunisia midfielder.

Social media round-up

According to the Transfer News Live Twitter account, Barcelona has verbally agreed to a 35 million euro (£30m) fee with Manchester City to see Joao Cancelo‘s loan turned into a permanent move.

Players to watch

Jadon Sancho: The i reports that the soured relationship between the England winger and  Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag may be beyond repair.

Chelsea: Italian football site Calciomercato reckons the Blues are on the hunt for a new left-back, and the Stamford Bridge club apparently have their eyes set on Inter Milan’s Federico Dimarco and AC Milan’s Theo Hernandez as their first stops in the January transfer window.

Sevilla vice president Jose Maria del Nido has hailed the club's "prodigal son" Sergio Ramos for rejecting a huge offer from Saudi Arabia in order to return to his boyhood team. 

Ramos came through Sevilla's youth system before making his La Liga debut for Los Nervionenses as a 17-year-old in 2004. 

The defender made 39 league appearances for Sevilla before joining Real Madrid in a controversial €27 million move in 2005, going on to win five league titles and four Champions Leagues with Los Blancos. 

After struggling with injuries during a two-year stint in Ligue 1 with Paris-Saint Germain, Ramos was heavily linked with a move to Al-Ittihad, where he could have been reunited with former Madrid team-mate Karim Benzema.

Despite reportedly being offered around €19m per year to join the Saudi champions, Ramos made an emotional return to Sevilla earlier this month, and Del Nido says the club will not forget the sacrifice he made.

Speaking at the Thinking Football Summit, Del Nido told Stats Perform: "We are very happy with Sergio's return.

"First and foremost, we have a great central defender that will help us achieve the objectives we have set for this season. 

"He is a player who was raised in Utrera's youth academy, in Sevilla's youth academy, and he is a player who comes back home as a prodigal son. 

"He is a player with a lot of media attention but the most important thing is the individual and team titles he has won.

"He is a player who has a worldwide impact. We are really happy for him to end as he started. We've signed a great football player and a player that is a Sevilla supporter."

Asked about Ramos rejecting a move to Saudi Arabia, Del Nino added: "Words are really beautiful and really simple to say, but in life, in the end, things are demonstrated with facts. 

"The fact that Sergio has given up a lot of money to play for Sevilla shows the commitment he has, the desire he has, as he said, to hear the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan chant his name. 

"He has shown it with a lot of effort. He waited until we had the money to bring him to the club, then he gave up two economic offers that multiplied the amount he was going to be paid at Sevilla. 

"He has shown his commitment to the club and it is another reason for satisfaction. As we have said, we can only thank him for the effort he has made, among other things, at an economic level."

Ramos made his second Sevilla debut against Las Palmas on Sunday, 18 years and 20 days after playing his last league game for the club against Racing Santander in August 2005.

While Del Nido was delighted to see Ramos reject Al-Ittihad's advances, he believes the financial might of Saudi Pro League sides offers an opportunity for clubs like Sevilla to generate funds.

"We have seen a strong eruption of the Arab market," he said. "They say that clubs from this league invested €600m to €700m. One of the players was our goalkeeper, Yassine Bounou [who joined Al-Hilal].

"We are a club that sells to grow, so the fact there is another league that invests in good footballers is good for us. 

"We have sold good players to Madrid, Barcelona, and clubs of different leagues with a higher economic magnitude than Sevilla and we have continued to compete.

"Now the key is to see if this league is prolonged in time and continues to inject money in Europe. 

"It is true that a player who has earned x millions of euros there, more than what we can pay… that can cause you to not access these players. 

"But the policy we have is to sell to grow. The more leagues invest in good footballers, and if they are from Sevilla, the better for us."

Carlos Carvalhal has refused to rule out a move to the Saudi Pro League, also expressing pride for his role in Gabri Veiga's development after the young midfielder joined Al-Ahli.

Carvalhal has been out of work since leaving Celta Vigo in June, having kept the club in La Liga courtesy of a dramatic final-day win over Barcelona.

Prior to his stint in Spain, Carvalhal led Rio Ave to a club-record tally of 55 points in Portugal's Primeira Liga in 2019-20, before moving to Braga and winning the Taca de Portugal the following season. 

The Portuguese coach is no stranger to the Middle East, having managed UAE Pro League outfit Al Wahda in 2022, and he would not necessarily be against a move to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabian clubs have spent heavily in the transfer market this year, acquiring the likes of Karim Benzema and Neymar after the country's Public Investment Fund took control of four of the league's biggest clubs.

Though many have expressed concern about the financial power of Saudi clubs and the potential for the league to act as a "sportswashing" vehicle for the state, Carvalhal would be open to a move if presented with an attractive project. 

"We never know. We never know. I have said that if the project is structured, let's see," Carvalhal told Stats Perform at the Thinking Football Summit when asked if he would manage in the league.

"It has not been a long time. If the project is to buy good players, with good coaches and also to develop youth football, if there are these kinds of projects in the future, I believe they can do something important.

"I remember China six years ago or seven years ago, they bet with very good coaches, very good players and after one moment they decided, 'no, we don't want this anymore, we are spending too much money', and they finished. 

"It's over to everybody [in Saudi Arabia], let's see if this is consistent, if it will be here for 15 or 20 years. 

"It is very welcome what they are doing – if it's something circumstantial. It's something that we don't know [yet]. "

Carvalhal's Celta side was built largely around the talents of Veiga, who scored twice as they upset Barcelona to clinch survival back in June.

Veiga was linked with Serie A champions Napoli before opting to join Al-Ahli, who also signed Riyad Mahrez, Roberto Firmino, Edouard Mendy, Allan Saint-Maximin and Franck Kessie in the recent window.

Carvalhal is proud to have played a role in Veiga's development, highlighting the way his move brought much-needed funds to Celta.

"Gabri Veiga for Celta Vigo in the B team was like a striker, then we decided to put him in the second midfielder [role] because the way that he plays there, he can score goals and give assists," he said.

"It was a big challenge for him because he started as a striker and after with us, we played with two midfielders, and he was one of the midfielders. 

"He has improved to another level in this kind of position, with the goals and breaking lines. 

"Of course, when he finished the season and we saw that big clubs wanted him, he moved to Saudi Arabia as an option.

"Big money came into the club, of course. We are very proud and very satisfied about everything."

Celta have four points from five matches under Carvalhal's successor Rafael Benitez, who has become the first coach in the club's history to lose his first three home league games at the helm.

Veteran Italy midfielder Marco Verratti has signed for Qatari side Al-Arabi, ending his 11-year stay at Paris St Germain.

Verratti, who turns 31 in November, signed for PSG from Serie B outfit Pescara during the summer of 2012.

The midfielder went on to win the Ligue 1 title nine times while also helping the French club reach the final of the interrupted 2019–20 Champions League, where they were beaten by Bayern Munich.

Verratti, part of Italy’s successful Euro 2020 side, had also been linked with a potential move to Saudi Arabia, with his transfer fee to Al-Arabi reported to be in the region of 45million euro (£38.6m).

“I’ve been very proud to play for Paris Saint-Germain for over a decade, to rub shoulders with so many great players and to win 30 trophies,” said Verratti, who made 416 appearances for PSG, the second-highest total in the club’s history.

“Paris, the club and its fans will always hold a very special place in my heart. I’ll forever be a Parisian.”

PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi added: “Marco will be forever linked to Paris Saint-Germain, playing such a big part in our great history.

“He will always be part of the club. We wish him all the very best with his new adventure.”

The Saudi Pro League continues to edge closer to competing with Europe's elite competitions as lucrative contracts entice players who "work for money".

That was the message from Portuguese winger Fabio Martins, who switched Braga for Saudi Arabian football and plays his football for top-tier side Al Khaleej.

Martins' compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo – as well as Neymar, Karim Benzema, Sadio Mane, Jordan Henderson and N'Golo Kante – all followed suit with moves from Europe to the Middle East and have reaped financial rewards.

The ethics of those transfers, in a country where same-sex marriage is prohibited alongside questions over its human-rights record, have been scrutinised – but Martins understands why Europe's top talent are moving ashore.

Martins, a former Portugal youth international, told Stats Perform at the Thinking Football Summit: "I believe that all of us, players or not, work for money.

"You are a journalist and you work for money and I'm sure that if some brand or some [newspaper] came to you to give you more money to change your job, you will change it because all of us want money.

"I believe that people are free to choose what they want for their life. I'm not critical because I'm here too for sure.

"When I arrived here I came 80 per cent because of the money because they pay me much more than in Portugal, so it's a thing that I don't understand people judging the others because of his choices.

"We have freedom to choose what we want what we want for our life, and what we want for our career."

Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos labelled Gabri Veiga's move to Al-Ahli as "embarrassing" after the promising Celta Vigo youngster was tempted into a Saudi Arabia move.

But Martins insists players, whether at the end of their career or the start, cannot refuse the proposals on offer in case they do not come to fruition again.

"I understand Kroos because maybe he saw a lot of potential in Veiga, and he was kind of young [but at 21] if he gets one proposal like this, you don't know if in two, three or four years [that another proposal like this will come]," Martins added.

"I said a lot of times to the people beside me, around me, that in Portugal we say [the train does not stop in the same place twice].

"You get the proposal. You don't know if the proposal will come again with these numbers, with this money, so we have a time to say yes or say no and we have to make choices.

"I believe that all the players that are here are happy.

"The people around football and out of football, they all change places, they change jobs too because of the money, so I don't understand this judgement."

A plethora of Europe's top talent from the Premier League, La Liga and Bundesliga have joined the Saudi Pro League, as the Middle East look to close the gap on football's top competitions.

Martins believes the next step for the development of the Saudi Arabian top tier will come from investing in management and well-known head coaches.

He continued: "I believe the league still has a lot of potential to grow but without a doubt is getting closer to these big leagues.

"However, I think it's not in the same step yet.

"But with these kind of players arriving I think the one thing that I would invest in, if it was me with the money, is about the professionalism in the management too.

"I would bring some foreign managers to the clubs because with this level of investment, if you have good management too and not only good players, the league will grow much faster.

"With these and with a lot of sponsors and marketing, the league will grow and in three, four or five years, I think that the Saudi league will be in the level of the Premier League."

Neymar needs to lift the World Cup with Brazil to etch his name as a Selecao great, so says Mauro Silva, who referenced Lionel Messi's global success with Argentina.

Messi powered Lionel Scaloni's Argentina to their first World Cup triumph in 36 years after lifting the coveted Jules Rimet trophy at the Qatar World Cup in 2022.

Neymar and his Brazil team-mates were eliminated from that edition of the world's top international tournament in a quarter-final defeat to Croatia on penalties.

The Selecao forward equalled Pele's scoring record for Brazil in the Croatia loss, and subsequently broke the landmark with two goals against Bolivia in Friday's World Cup qualifier.

But former Brazil and Deportivo midfielder Silva believes Neymar must achieve glory in the United States and Canada at the 2028 World Cup to fully write his name into national folklore.

The 59-cap Brazil international Silva told Stats Perform at the Thinking Football Summit: "Neymar is among the best. I would say among the five or 10 best in Brazil.

"There are very good footballers in there. Pele, there is Ronaldo, Romario, Bebeto – some very important people. But Neymar is undoubtedly among the best too.

"There is the expectation in Brazil that a player with Neymar's talent is capable of leading Brazil to a World Cup, just as happened with Messi and the Argentina team after so many years.

"Here in Brazil, people hope that a player with Neymar's talent can lead us to this important achievement.

"He is among the most important players in the history of Brazilian football, without a doubt, because of his numbers, for breaking Pele's record, for example.

"But he still has a lot to do.

"I hope he can achieve a World Cup for Brazil and this will undoubtedly consolidate him as one of the greats in the history of Brazilian football."

Since the World Cup Neymar has left Paris Saint-Germain, who he joined from Barcelona, to move to Al Hilal on a lucrative contract in Saudi Arabia.

While the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema have made similar transfers to the Saudi Pro League, Silva hopes Neymar can continue to play at his peak in what he feels is a less competitive competition.

Silva added: "It is a challenge because when you are in the best competitions, competing every day, every week with the best teams and players, the demands make you maintain a very high level of performance.

"Now as being in a competition of a level that is not so high, it is a challenge. But let's see what happens.

"Nor can it be said that he will not be able to maintain the level, but I am convinced that this will be a great challenge for Neymar.

"We are in 2023 and the World Cup is in 2026, so there are still three years ahead where despite his age, his years, [Neymar] is in a league that is not as competitive as the European leagues.

"So he will have to maintain this high level to lead Brazil to a conquest. Hopefully he will be able to maintain this level until 2026 at least."

Al Ittihad failed in a late approach for Mohamed Salah, but Al Khaleej winger Fabio Martins believes the Egyptian will be in the Saudi Pro League soon enough.

Liverpool turned down a bid reportedly worth up to £150million for Salah, who Jurgen Klopp was determined not to lose late in the transfer window.

It has been speculated that Al Ittihad – who signed Karim Benzema, Fabinho, Jota, Luiz Felipe and N'Golo Kante – will return with another bid for Salah in the coming 12 months.

Salah is an icon of the Arab world, and Martins hopes to soon go up against the 31-year-old.

"If this transfer happens, it will be another big star arriving here to the country," he told Stats Perform at the Thinking Football Summit.

"Playing against Salah would be very special too. It didn't happen [this time] but I think in the next market in January, they will try for sure again to bring him, and let's see what happens.

"I will be very happy because Salah is a player that I like, he's similar to me, because of the hair, the way he plays. So, I like Salah, and I hope that he comes to Saudi."

Saudi's wealth was not enough to draw Lionel Messi to Al Hilal, with the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner instead electing to join Inter Miami.

Martins, though, has not given up hope of Messi joining Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar in the Pro League.

"Messi is a player that I like so much. But I understand, Messi had a plan in his head about his career, what he wants and he went to Miami," Martins said.

"But for sure, if Messi arrived here in Saudi, the league with big stars like Cristiano and Messi, and now with Benzema and Neymar, it will get to a level that was never seen before.

"Let's see if Salah comes, he's a big player too. I believe that in the next market, they will try to bring some big players and let's see what will happen."

It is not just players that Saudi clubs have attempted to lure from Europe, with coaches also heading to the Gulf state. Those have included former Rangers and Aston Villa boss, and Liverpool great, Steven Gerrard, who has helped Al Ettifaq sign Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum, Moussa Dembele and Demarai Gray.

Martins added: "You saw Gerrard go to Al Ettifaq and bring good players like Henderson, Gray, Moussa Dembele.

"In Al Shabab now with [Yannick] Carrasco, [Roman] Saiss. I think step by step the league will grow and for sure it's important to bring coaches that have the potential to make the players grow to the next level, and I am sure that the league step by step will grow."

The huge spending of the Saudi Pro League has served as an extra motivation for players plying their trade in the Gulf state, says Fabio Martins.

Four Saudi clubs – Al Ittihad, Al Nassr, Al Hilal and Al Ahli – made huge moves over the course of the transfer window.

Karim Benzema, Neymar, N'Golo Kante, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Fabinho, Marcelo Brozovic, Riyad Mahrez, Franck Kessie and Ruben Neves were among the big names to join Cristiano Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia.

Speaking at the Thinking Football Summit, Martins, a Portuguese winger who first played in Saudi Arabia in 2020 and now plays for Al Khaleej, believes the eyes of the world are now on the Saudi Pro League, and that is only an extra motivation for players who are able to go up against superstar names.

"It's impossible to not be excited to play against Cristiano, Neymar, Benzema, Firmino, Mane, a lot of stars that arrived, and they came with a lot of talent, a lot of quality, but they bring the visibility to the world," Martins told Stats Perform.

"Because I think I'm not afraid to say that the league is in top three or four of visibility because every person is speaking about this.

"Now, every person is excited to see what will happen here in Saudi. So all players here are excited too, are motivated to do the things well because all of us know that the eyes of the world are here right now."

Asked specifically about the impact Ronaldo has had since he joined Al Nassr last season, Martins said: "Oh, for sure, huge impact. He brings quality. He brings the visibility because for Cristiano to arrive in a country like Saudi Arabia, it brings the visibility, and like it or not, the professionalism is growing with Cristiano and now with the arrival of the other big players.

"I believe that is good for everyone here. I believe that it is good for the Saudi football. And I believe that the league and the country have potential to grow step by step for sure.

"Last year, when Cristiano arrives I was very happy because I never thought that I would be able to play against Cristiano, to speak with Cristiano. I was lucky because he gave me his shirt.

"We were there speaking like five or ten minutes about the country, about the things here in Saudi. So, we are lucky the people who are that are here are lucky to play against such big players because from Portugal we have now here Ruben Neves too, Otavio, Jota for example.

"So it's very special to play against these kinds of players and of course we are motivated to do the things."

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has criticised the “morality officers” who have rounded on Jordan Henderson following his move to Saudi Arabian club Al-Ettifaq.

The former Liverpool captain, as a long-time supporter of the LGBT+ community, has drawn widespread condemnation for his decision to move to a country where homosexuality is illegal.

However, Rodgers – who managed Henderson during his three years at Anfield – defended a player’s decision to choose where they ply their trade.

“It’s their profession, it’s their life so they have to do what’s best for them,” Rodgers told talkSPORT. “There are so many morality officers around the world nowadays that are judging people.

“But Jordan I know extremely well and I know the love he had and will always have for Liverpool.

“He was at the stage of his career where he probably wasn’t going to be the first name on the teamsheet any more.

“At 32 years of age, he’s won absolutely everything. He probably fancied a different challenge and out of respect, it probably didn’t feel right for him being at another Premier League club.

“So to go abroad and take on a new challenge clearly suited him.”

In his interview with The Athletic, Henderson stressed money was not a motivating factor for him and denied reports he was earning £700,000-a-week.

But the wealth of the Saudi Pro League, particularly Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad, and Al-Ahli who are backed by the country’s sovereign wealth fund, has undoubtedly had a massive impact on this summer’s transfer window and will on windows to come.

“It’s definitely something that makes players wobble because of the money that’s talked about and what it can do for players and the legacy it can create for their families for years down the line,” Rodgers added.

“What makes (Saudi Arabia) dangerous is not only the money, they have a plan. The plan is attracting top players and looking to get top managers out there.”

Liverpool have rejected a £150million offer for Mohamed Salah from Saudi Arabia Pro League side Al-Ittihad.

The Egypt international has been the subject of interest from the Middle East for some time and the PA news agency understands a verbal offer was made on Friday.

However, the club have rejected it out of hand and consider the matter closed as the forward is not for sale.

What the papers say

With the transfer deadline looming, Premier League sides are making their final moves as the clock ticks down to September 1. According to the Daily Mail, one of the big moves could see a star name leave the Premier League, with Saudi Arabian side Al-Ittihad gearing up for a £118million bid for Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah, 31. The Daily Star reports that Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp would be “furious” if the move went ahead.

The Daily Mirror reports Manchester United are keen to nab a midfielder before the transfer window closes, with Sofyan Amrabat, 27, their prime target. The Daily Mail reports Fiorentina have turned down a £1.7million loan deal but would consider a deal with an obligation to buy.

One player who could be on his way out of Old Trafford is English defender Teden Mengi. Luton are close to signing him, according to the Daily Mail.

Tottenham’s move for Wales forward Brennan Johnson, 22, from Nottingham Forest has stalled, according to The Independent. Crystal Palace’s Eberechi Eze, 25, has emerged as a new target.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Callum Hudson-Odoi: Nottingham Forest are close to a deal for the England winger, 22, from Chelsea, according to the Guardian.

James McAtee: Manchester City’s England Under-21s midfielder could return for a second loan spell at Sheffield United, who are leading the chase for him, according to Football Insider.

Newcastle United are back among Europe's elite and Harry Redknapp sees no reason why Magpies supporters will care about their Saudi Arabia-backed ownership if their success continues.

Eddie Howe's side finished fourth in the Premier League last season, qualifying for the Champions League in their first full campaign under the majority control of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF).

The Magpies were flirting with relegation when a PIF-led consortium took charge in 2021, with signings including Bruno Guimaraes eventually helping them to safety.

Sandro Tonali, Alexander Isak and others have since joined as Newcastle continue to invest heavily, though their owners have attracted plenty of criticism from supporters of other clubs.

Saudi Arabia has been condemned for its poor human rights record and criminalisation of same-sex relationships, but Redknapp believes those ethical questions will be ignored by most fans.

"[The Saudis] are not going to mess about, they've got the money," former Tottenham and Portsmouth manager Redknapp told Stats Perform.

"They've come in and bought Newcastle. It's the Saudis that have bought Newcastle. Do the Newcastle fans really care now whether they're from Saudi Arabia or whether they're Geordies who own the club?

"They couldn't care two monkeys. For them, if they're winning games and they're taking a club forward and improving the team… they don't care, they're just happy."

Newcastle's supporters became disenchanted during the reign of previous owner Mike Ashley, with their new financial power a major boost for a club that last won a major trophy in 1955.

The Magpies are expected to mount another top-four challenge this term, and Redknapp believes that will be the only concern for most supporters. 

"Their team is winning, they've got good players, the manager's great, everything's fine," he continued. "They're not bothered about who owns the club.

"So I think we'd all get carried away. I've always said if Saddam Hussein had bought a team, they'd be singing 'There's only one Saddam'.

"The fans don't care who owns a club, as long as they're producing, bringing in better players and the team are winning."

The PIF has also started to invest heavily in the Saudi Pro League in recent months, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and other elite players making big-money moves to the Gulf.

Premier League clubs are largely unable to compete with the financial incentives offered in Saudi Arabia, and Redknapp is unsure how England's top clubs can respond.

"I don't know what response [the Premier League] can make," he continued. "You're not going to stop players going over there. Give players a chance and they will go.

"They can all come out and say I don't agree with this, don't agree with that, but when the money's put in front of them, they're all whizzing off over there and it won't stop.

"We've seen players going and there's an awful lot more who would love the opportunity. I speak to people who ask me if I know anybody who can get certain players, top players, over there, international players that want to go.

"When the money is there and they can treble or quadruple their wages, they're going to go. It's going to be the place a lot of players are going to want to go and play, and make a fortune."

Neymar’s move to Saudi Arabian club Al Hilal is set to be completed in the next 48 hours, the PA news agency understands.

Sources close to Paris St Germain say the club are set to receive up to 100 million euros (£86.3m) from Al Hilal for the 31-year-old Brazilian as they rebuild their squad around younger, up-and-coming players.

The deal has been sanctioned by PSG because Spanish coach Luis Enrique was open to letting Neymar leave. Selling Neymar would also shift his 25m euro annual wage off the club’s books, with his existing contract due to run until the summer of 2025.

News of Neymar’s imminent exit comes less than 24 hours after the club confirmed striker Kylian Mbappe had been reinstated to first-team training.

Mbappe is understood to have indicated his commitment to the club, who have offered him a contract with a “guaranteed sale” clause in it allowing him to seal a move to Real Madrid next summer for a fee.

The club had been convinced Mbappe was preparing to let his current deal run out, which would have allowed him to leave Paris and join Real on a free transfer next year.

The club acted by omitting the player from the pre-season tour of Japan and South Korea and forcing him to train away from the main first-team group, until the thaw in relations confirmed on Sunday.

They had also granted Mbappe permission to talk to Al Hilal after receiving a world record £259m bid for the player in July, but it was reported the 24-year-old refused to even meet with a delegation from the Saudi club.

The imminent exit for big money of Neymar and the news on Mbappe marks a major and positive turnaround for PSG.

The French champions are consciously moving away from what their president Nasser Al Khelaifi has called their “bling bling” era, with Argentina playmaker Lionel Messi also exiting the club earlier this summer.

Neymar’s signing for a world record £200m fee in 2017 arguably marked the start of that era, but the club’s incomings this summer indicate a difference in approach, with the likes of 22-year-old Portugal striker Goncalo Ramos changing the profile of the team.

Roberto Firmino scored a hat-trick on his Al Ahli debut as the former Liverpool striker got the much-hyped Saudi Pro League season up and running with dash of star power.

A host of big-name player from Europe’s top clubs, including Premier League stalwarts and Champions League winners, have been attracted to the oil-rich Gulf state in a trolley dash worth almost half a billion US dollars leading up to the 2023/24 campaign.

Firmino arrived as a well-paid free transfer from Anfield and the Brazil forward enjoyed a memorable start as he inspired a 3-1 win for Al Ahli over Al Hazem in Jeddah.

The 31-year-old, who was handed the captain’s armband, netted twice in the first nine minutes as he linked up with fellow imports Riyad Mahrez and Allan Saint-Maximin and rounded off the scoring midway through the second half.

There was an assist apiece for former Manchester City winger Mahrez and Newcastle old boy Saint-Maximin, but not all of Al Ahli’s high-profile acquisitions excelled.

Edouard Mendy, the former Chelsea goalkeeper, was enjoying a quiet evening until he side-footed a clearance straight to opposition forward Vina and found himself chipped from 25 yards as he scrambled back into position.

The error did not cost the home side, who were promoted last season and are one of several sides to have built a star-studded squad with the assistance of the Saudi Public Investment Fund.

Firmino opened his account with a powerful near-post header in the sixth minute and doubled his tally soon after when Saint-Maximin sprayed a pass wide for Mahrez, who left the striker a close-range tap-in.

He made the match ball his own in the 72nd minute when his headed effort from Saint-Maximin’s curling cross was saved, hooking his leg round to finish on the rebound.

Firmino has been joined in the league by his former Liverpool team-mates Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Sadio Mane, while Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante also take their place among the A-list cast of recruits.

Mohamed Salah’s agent has dismissed speculation linking the Liverpool forward with a move to Saudi Arabia as the 31-year-old “remains committed” to the club.

A report in the Middle East claimed talks were taking place between the Egypt international’s representatives and Al-Ittihad over a deal said to be worth over £155million over two years to the player.

Salah’s former team-mate Fabinho has already made the move to Al-Ittihad this summer in a £40m transfer.

In that context the £60m fee being touted for Salah – who has scored 139 goals in 231 Premier League appearances – appeared to under-value a player who is only 12 months into a three-year deal which is the most lucrative contract in Liverpool’s history.

And Salah’s representative insists the former Chelsea and Roma forward has no intention of leaving Anfield in any case.

“If we considered leaving LFC this year, we wouldn’t have renewed the contract last summer. Mohamed remains committed to LFC,” Salah’s agent Ramy Abbas posted on Twitter.

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