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Saudi football clubs will return to the transfer market for more big signings in the summer as part of Riyadh’s commitment to the sport, according to a leading executive of the country’s top league.

“This is a long-term investment. We are not in it for a season,” said vice-chair of the Saudi Pro League Saad Al Lazeez on the first day of the Financial Times’ Business of Football Summit.

“We are pleased with what has been achieved so far. In fact, I think we are a bit ahead of schedule,” he said, underlining the kingdom’s aim of pumping money into football as part of a broader strategy to diversify the economy.

Clubs from the Gulf kingdom sent shockwaves through global football last year when they spent more than €800mn on new players, including stars such as Brazilian forward Neymar and Portuguese midfielder Ruben Neves.

They joined Cristiano Ronaldo, the most followed man on Instagram, who signed for Al Nassr in January last year.

The spree followed a move in June to hand control of four top clubs to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which has bankrolled some of the country’s other forays into sport such as LIV Golf.

However, Saudi clubs were quiet in the January window, as tighter spending rules in Europe sent a chill through the market.

Saudi authorities have made their ambitions in football clear, with a desire to make the domestic league one of the top five in the world.

The country is also set to host the 2034 men’s World Cup after emerging as the sole bidder for the tournament.

Al Lazeez said the Saudi Pro League’s rapid transformation had already been “highlighted by player acquisitions” last summer and that this approach would continue “in the upcoming windows”.

He also said another batch of clubs was set to be privatised before the end of the season in May, potentially bringing in fresh capital to teams that were not active in the transfer market last year.

The arrival of several big stars, including former Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema and ex-Premier League player of the season N’Golo Kante, has helped the Saudi league to sell its broadcast rights to a global audience.

However, the league has struggled at times with low attendances. The average number of fans going to games this season is just over 8,000, lower than the third tier of English football.

Al Lazeez acknowledged that poor turnout was a “huge area for improvement” and that “viewership and attendance is the name of the game”.

When asked about the large pay packets being offered to players to bring them to the Saudi league, Al Lazeez said the numbers would eventually justify themselves, adding: “You’ve got to start somewhere.”

On Jordan Henderson, the former England captain who quit the league after less than six months at mid table side Al Ettifaq, Al Lazeez insisted he would remain “one of the best signings that we made for the Saudi Pro League”.

“You don’t expect all of them to stay,” he said. “He’s a great guy. It did just not work out. That’s life.”

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