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Barcelona President Joan Laporta says there are ‘no sporting reasons’ for soccer stars to join Saudi Pro League

“They like our club for the way that we manage the club, for the kind of players that we had in the past and in the present.

“And when a player, and with all respect, prefers to go to Saudi Arabia, basically there are no sporting reasons. You know, there are other reasons that are the priority. And the football must be the priority – the sporting reasons must be the priority.”

Vast amounts of money are being spent on sports, and other interests, by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF). The PIF is a government-controlled fund that has $650 billion in assets under management, according to its most recent filing, and is aiming to top $1 trillion within a few years.

Last week, Al-Hilal, which is one of four Saudi clubs owned by the PIF, made a world-record bid of over $332 million (300 million euros) for Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) striker Kylian Mbappé.

The French star reportedly spurned a meeting and contract with the Saudi Arabian football club, but the enormity of the bid shows how determined the Saudis are to become a major player in world soccer.

Mbappé might have said no, but the likes of Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kanté, Kalidou Koulibaly, Edouard Mendy, Roberto Firmino, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson have all said yes to offers from SPL clubs.

Meanwhile, five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo played in the SPL last season after signing a two-year contract with Al-Nassr, where he will earn an estimated $200 million a year.

Laporta was at pains to point out that, in soccer, the team is of paramount importance compared to the individual. “I respect the decisions of the Saudi government that, you know, incorporate talented players” he explained.

“Football is a team sport. Of course, the talented players help us to promote this sport and to make the fans happy because the talent is the talent, but … the team is the priority.”

Despite questioning the “sporting merits” of playing in Saudi Arabia, Laporta suggested that his club, one of the established powers of global soccer, “could help” the Gulf state’s teams.

“My view is that it’s more important to have the assistance of the clubs, the traditional clubs, specifically the European clubs,” added Laporta.

“There are big European clubs, including Football Club Barcelona, that could help these teams in the Saudi Pro League in order to get some associations to transfer our know-how and to help them to improve their teams.

“I think that this is the way to do it. Maybe with academies of football, but at the same time with a direct association in order to improve the quality of these teams in terms of football.”

Last season, Barcelona won its first La Liga title since 2019, though the team failed to make it out of the Champions League group stages.

“The priority of last season was the Spanish league and this new season, for us, the league is the priority as well,” said Laporta.

“But we would like to compete better in the Champions League, and we would like to be among the candidates for winning this competition. But our priority still is the Spanish League.”

Barca’s La Liga success last season had much to do with the defensive structure implemented by current coach and celebrated former player Xavi.

According to Laporta, Xavi represents a continuum of two former Barca coaches – Pep Guardiola and the late Johan Cruyff.

“They belong to the same school and they share the same philosophy; this great philosophy, the Johan Cruyff philosophy, was for Pep and now is for Xavi,” said Laporta. “And of course, both have some differences, but are coaches with a high personality and they improve this genuine style of playing football that Johan Cruyff implemented in Football Club Barcelona in the past.”

Earlier this year, before joining MLS club Inter Miami, Lionel Messi’s father and agent, Jorge Messi, said his son’s preferred move would have been a return to Barcelona during the summer transfer window.

One of the greatest footballers of all time, Messi made 778 appearances over 17 years for the Blaugrana, broke the club’s goalscoring record, and won 35 trophies during his time at the Camp Nou, including 10 La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues.

“He’s the best player in the world, but a better person,” said Laporta, adding that Messi has been “the best player in history.

“We love him. He took the decision to go to Inter Miami. Good for Inter Miami, good for MLS. And of course, we want that this decision has to be good for him as well, because we respect, of course, his decision and we wish Messi and his family the best in Inter Miami.”

This post appeared first on cnn.com

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