LIVERPOOL, England — Liverpool lost another midfielder to the emerging Saudi Pro League when Brazil midfielder Fabinho joined Al-Ittihad, the team where Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kanté now play.
Fabinho moved for a reported 40 million pounds ($51.5 million) to end his five-year stay at Liverpool, which he joined from Monaco.
Fabinho will join Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema and former Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante at the Jeddah-based club.
His exit comes a week after Jordan Henderson left Liverpool after 12 years to join another Saudi team, Al-Ettifaq. Roberto Firmino also moved to the oil-rich kingdom after his contract expired at Liverpool.
The Saudi league hopes to raise the profile of soccer in the country by signing some of the world’s top players. Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Al-Nassr in December.
The 29-year-old Fabinho made 219 appearances for Liverpool and helped the club win the Champions League in 2019 and the Premier League a year later.
Fabinho was not always a regular for Liverpool last season after a loss of form. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has overhauled his midfield by signing Argentina’s Alexis Mac Allister and Hungary captain Dominik Szoboszlai, and the club is now searching for a holding midfielder to replace Fabinho.
“It´s been five years wearing this jersey and always with the greatest honor and happiness possible,” Fabinho wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“Since day one at Liverpool, I´ve been embraced by everyone. What I saw inside this club, the relationship between the people there, made me feel like family. In these five years, I grew as a player, as a man, I made dreams come true.”
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said that the Saudi Pro League had “completely changed the market” as he expects more and more high-profile players to move there.
City winger Riyad Mahrez became just the latest big name to move to Saudi football, following in the footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and numerous others from Europe’s top leagues.
Algerian international Mahrez, who scored 78 goals and made 59 assists for City in a trophy-laden spell at the club, joined Al-Ahli for a fee understood to be worth up to £30 million.
Asked if he had wanted Mahrez to remain at City, Guardiola told reporters: “Definitely. I enjoyed as a manager to be with him. I had a special relationship with him…
Bayern Munich’s Sadio Mane looked poised to join the exodus.
“The Saudi league completely changed the market,” Guardiola said in Seoul on the eve of City’s friendly with Atletico Madrid.
“A year ago when Cristiano Ronaldo was the first player, no one could imagine how many top, top quality, extraordinary players were going to play in the Saudi league.
“In the future, it will happen more and more,” the Spanish boss added according to AFP.
“Right now, the Saudi league, I don’t know how long they will sustain it, but the feeling is that they will stay. The players want to take this experience to play in that league and they are able to do it.”
Guardiola said that he had a “special relationship” with Mahrez, even though the attacker fell from favour towards the end of his time at the English and European champions.
“He’s one of the players I’ve seen in my career I enjoyed the most.
“(He was) an important figure for the success we had during the five or six years together.”
“The market is open until the end of August,’ Guardiola said. “I think a few things, or many things, are going to happen. We will see if we need wingers or inside players, we will see what happens with loan players, which players stay or not.”
That so many have indicated they could leave has been a surprise, yet seemingly every year lies talk of up to half-a-dozen moving on and it never materialises to that extent.