Wolverhampton captain Neves joins Saudi's Al-Hilal

AFP , Friday 23 Jun 2023

Wolverhampton captain Ruben Neves on Friday became the latest major player to move to Saudi Arabia, the 26-year-old Portuguese international joining Al-Hilal.

Ruben Neves
Wolverhampton Wanderers' Portuguese captain Ruben Neves celebrates after scoring a goal against Liverpool in the Premier League soccer match at the Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton, England, February 4, 2023. Photo: AP


"From the 'Wolves' to the biggest team in Asia," Al-Hilal announced on social media after the player signed a three-season deal in Paris.

Neves leaves Wolves after six seasons for "a club record fee", the Premier League side announced, reported to be around 55 million euros.

Neves, who arrived at Wolves from Porto, had one year on his contract left at Molineux.

He joins in the Saudi Pro League Real Madrid's Karim Benzema, 35, and Cristiano Ronaldo, 38, in what is expected to be just the start of a series of move for stars based in Europe.

Thanks to its oil riches, Saudi Arabia, the conservative Gulf monarchy frequently targeted over its human rights record, has swiftly achieved a prominent role in world sports, dishing out billion of dollars in the process.

France's World Cup-winning midfielder N'Golo Kante, 32, has joined Benzema at Al-Ittihad.

The kingdom's league had already signed up five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo, who joined Al-Nassr in January.

But in contrast to recent moves for players in the twilight of their careers, Neves still has his prime years ahead of him.

Barcelona had held a long-term interest in the former Porto midfielder.

The huge deal eases Wolves' financial pressures.

They have been under pressure to sell to avoid breaching Premier League spending rules after splashing out £150 million on transfers over the past 12 months.

Neves has made 253 appearances for Wolves, scoring 30 goals, since arriving in 2017.

"Ruben is the embodiment of everything you look for when trying to bring players into a football club; a leader, a humble man and an extremely talented footballer who took Wolves to a different level," said the English side's sporting director Matt Hobbs.

He helped them win promotion from the Championship a year later and then to two consecutive seventh-placed finishes in the Premier League.

Wolves also reached the Europa League quarter-finals in 2020, but have struggled to replicate that success and finished 13th last season.

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