I must admit to being a bit too blase about the Saudi Pro League.

Back in those early days of, eh… just a few weeks ago, when they were only making bids for the odd ageing superstar and midrange Premier League player, it felt much easier to reserve judgement on whether this was the beginning of a new footballing era or a re-run of the Chinese Super League’s mid-2000s experimentation with a similarly lavish spending policy.

There were, after all, some quite obvious parallels – a league around which there was previously very little fanfare until clubs started throwing exorbitant sums of money at players largely considered to have passed their best. You’ll remember Carlos Tevez suddenly becoming one of the world’s best paid players at the tender age of 33, followed by the likes of Hulk, Oscar, Yannick Carrasco and Jackson Martinez, all with considerable European football pedigree.

The tipping point may just have been the fact that paying Ezequiel Lavezzi £798,000-a-week is apparently not the most sustainable way to grow a football brand. The CSL became the monster that ate itself, differing from the Saudi Pro League in that big-spending clubs were privately owned by property developers at the encouragement of the Chinese government. These companies were already feeling the financial strain before Covid-19 turned the world upside down.

Some clubs fell from their free-spending frenzy all the way to relegation, others went out of business entirely. The Saudi clubs riding roughshod over this summer’s transfer window, by contrast, are being fuelled by seemingly unlimited state wealth, the boldest offensive yet by the country’s Public Investment Fund and its efforts to exert influence over world sport.

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Whether the Pro League achieves its aim of becoming one of the world’s ‘top five’ domestic divisions remains to be seen. There is no doubt they have snared some big names, probably already more than the CSL ever did, and there will certainly be more to follow. You may have heard about the €300million bid from Al-Hilal for Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe, the one that would shatter the world transfer record and, if successful, potentially become a watershed moment for the game.

That it would likely only be for a single season is seemingly of no hindrance to Saudi ambitions (Mbappe is believed to have verbally agreed to join Real Madrid next summer), it’s about what this signing would represent over anything that actually happens on the pitch. The biggest problem facing the Pro League was how to position itself as something other than a luxury retirement home, where the residents can gorge on tax-free millions to further grow their already bloated bank accounts.

They clearly feel Mbappe is the solution, it’s a power play designed to alter perceptions. If one of the world’s most high-profile stars chooses the Pro League, you can bet every penny of that €300m there’ll be countless other up-and-comers all having the same ‘well, if it’s good enough for Kylian…’ thought simultaneously. Yes, there’s something more than a little gross about players who already have more money than a single person could spend in a lifetime jumping at this cash, some of them at the expense of what they proclaimed to be closely held principles – looking at you, Jordan Henderson. But despite all that, the capture of a genuine superstar still to hit the peak of his powers to put him in the shade would almost definitely wind up Cristiano Ronaldo, so who am I to say whether it’d be a bad thing or not?

In all seriousness, it feels like the easy option to drone on about greedy footballers following the money, and they will probably take the brunt of the flak. But you wonder if, at any stage, may football’s powerbrokers pause to reflect on their role in the game reaching this point. One where one of its most high-profile talents could essentially find himself being used as a geopolitical pawn in the Saudi state’s pursuit of soft power, influence and the assuaging of scrutiny over its human rights record. Given how anyone who dared point out that Liverpool captain Henderson opting to play in a country where homosexuality is a criminal offence is rather at odds with his long-standing, vocal support of LGBT rights was shouted down, it seems that strategy is somewhat working.

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That football has been left open to the relentless wielding of state wealth is starting to feel like the inevitable consequence of a complete lack of serious financial regulation. Nobody in power was really bothered when monetary imbalance created a scenario where Bournemouth became a more fiscally attractive proposition than some of Europe’s most historic clubs, when those same clubs were marginalised in continental competition to preserve and progress the interests of a select few, when an Abu-Dhabi backed Manchester City spent their way to the top of the tree, because it helped cement the Premier League’s status as the most lucrative competition on the planet. The 115 charges of alleged financial impropriety over a nine-year period now levelled at a club still celebrating a European and domestic treble suggests those running the game may just have gone wrong somewhere down the line.

We are now seeing what happens when elite football’s coveting of money above all else runs headfirst into the realisation that ‘there’s always a bigger fish’. As queasy as the Saudi revolution should make us feel, it’s difficult to take seriously the protestations from certain quarters that it’s ‘ruining the game’, as though that hasn’t been happening for a long time already. As City hoisted the Champions League trophy high back in June, it was gleefully heralded live on BT Sport as the conclusion to ‘the greatest story in football’. Something about reaping and sowing springs to mind.

Even if Al-Hilal do not succeed in signing Mbappe, it feels increasingly inevitable a Saudi club will prevail in a similar gambit before long. That would likely be enough to turn the Pro League into a serious consideration for players who would previously not have considered it a progressive career move. And for that, football’s established powers would only have themselves to blame.