Sadio Mane has defended the quality of the Saudi Pro League and says it is “watched by everybody in the world”.
Mane, 31, was one of several high-profile stars to swap European football for Saudi Arabia last summer, moving to Al Nassr from Bayern Munich.
But football in the Gulf state has come under scrutiny this season, with low attendances at games despite the influx of global talent. Jordan Henderson’s return to Europe with Ajax, just six months into a three-year deal with Al Ettifaq, has also raised questions.
Mane’s Al Nassr team-mate, former Manchester City defender Aymeric Laporte, also said in an interview with Spanish outlet AS that many players are “dissatisfied” with the conditions and treatment in Saudi Arabia.
“That’s what you think because I’m not in Europe,” Mane said, via AP, when asked if he was getting less attention playing in Saudi Arabia. “This is sad for you guys. Because, for you guys, if you don’t play in Europe, it doesn’t matter — I’m not around as a football player.
“Fortunately, I can say the Saudi league is a very good league, and watched by everybody in the world, so, for me, as long as I’m doing my best and I’m enjoying myself every single minute, that’s more important.”
Mane moved to Saudi Arabia after the country’s Public Investment Fund took control of four of the league’s biggest clubs — Al Ahli, Al Ittihad, Al Hilal and Al Nassr — in June. Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante and Roberto Firmino were among the players to join Mane in leaving Europe for the Saudi Pro League, with Cristiano Ronaldo having moved to Al Nassr in December 2022.
“Yes, they take care of us, but not enough for my taste,” Laporte added. “In Europe, they pay you a good salary, but they take better care of you.
“At the moment, I haven’t thought about it (leaving Saudi Arabia), but if I’m disappointed in such a short time, you wonder what to do. That moment has not yet arrived, but in the future, it could be if this dynamic continues.”
At his Ajax unveiling press conference, former Liverpool captain Henderson refused to criticise the Saudi Pro League when asked about his reasons for leaving so soon after joining.
“I think a lot of people would like me to sit here and criticise the Saudi league and everything that went along with that but that certainly wasn’t the case,” Henderson said. “It’s not something I’m going to do. I’ve got full respect for the league, for Al Ettifaq, the people over there, who really made me feel welcome.”
Mane, meanwhile, was speaking after scoring the third goal for Senegal in their 3-1 Africa Cup of Nations group-stage game against Cameroon. His Senegal side have qualified for the knockouts after their second win in as many games and face Guinea in their final group fixture on Tuesday.
(Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images)
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