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Saudi’s billion-dollar football league a work in progress

Anyone expecting immediate results from Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented splurge on football stars was probably disappointed as the billion-dollar spending created a lopsided season with no international silverware so far.

Despite last year’s pyrotechnical unveilings for superstars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Neymar, the new-look Saudi Pro League has provided few fireworks since.

On Saturday, Al Hilal cantered to their fourth title in five years with three games to spare, even without the services of Neymar who was injured on Brazil international duty in October, reports AFP.

None of the Saudi teams reached the Asian Champions League final, hosts Al Ittihad exited in the second round of the Club World Cup in Jeddah, and Roberto Mancini’s Saudi national side lost in the Asian Cup’s last 16.

Al Hilal were so dominant that they won 34 consecutive games in all competitions — a record for a top-flight team — and remain unbeaten in the Pro League.

Victories of 9-0, 7-0 and 6-1 highlighted the gulf between Al Hilal, one of four clubs bought last year by the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s oil-funded sovereign wealth vehicle, and the rest.

Al Hilal, Ronaldo’s Al Nassr, Riyad Mahrez’s Al Ahli and Al Ittihad, Benzema’s new employers, occupy four of the top five positions in the league table.

“The lack of a proper distribution of players among all the teams created a clear gap between the big and small teams and killed the competition in favour of Al Hilal,” Mohamed Mandour, a Paris-based journalist from the Sportsdata website, told AFP.