It is looking increasingly likely Ruben Neves will soon return to the Premier League from the Saudi Pro League after just half a season in the Middle East.
The Portugal international left Wolves in the summer of 2023 as one of many Premier League stars who decided the riches of Saudi Arabia were too much to reject. His move was arguably one of the biggest for the Saudi Pro League given he is in his peak years and was a touted target for many top clubs in Europe.
It’s one thing to convince ageing players to join the league but Neves was playing in the Premier League in his prime years and was linked with the likes of Manchester United and Barcelona for a move.
Two of the best teams in the Premier League are now looking very seriously at bringing the Portuguese midfielder back to England, and here’s a closer look at the potential options available to Neves.
There was talk in the days and weeks after Neves moved to Al Hilal about a potential future loan to Newcastle, which would have really caused anger given Newcastle’s Saudi ownership and the government control over Al Hilal and three other sides.
That ended up not materialising, but they are very interested in Neves again given they need a replacement for Sandro Tonali while the Italian serves his gambling ban. The negotiations would obviously be very simple for Newcastle, but a rule change could put the breaks on it.
There is going to be a vote by Premier League sides at the next shareholders’ meeting on a proposal to fast-track a ban on loan moves for players in the Premier League between associated clubs. This means that by the time the January transfer window arrives, Newcastle could be banned from loaning Neves from Al Hilal. The Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund have a majority 80% stake in Newcastle, while they have control of four Saudi Pro League clubs – Al Hilal, Al Nassr, Al Ittihad and Al Ahli.
That major barrier that is expected to appear in front of Newcastle means that the door is open for Arsenal to swoop in and agree a deal for Neves.
Arsenal sporting director Edu is a long-term admirer of Neves and sees him as a solution to Thomas Partey’s ongoing fitness problems. The Ghanaian has a very uncertain future with Arsenal and Neves’ arrival would speed up a departure.
Neves is a player that has angered Arsenal fans in the past. After a late win for Arsenal at Molineux in February 2022, he said: “We saw the way they celebrated the win and that shows the level we are. I didn’t see Arsenal celebrating like this in the past ten years – it was like they won the league.”
That rumbled on until the return game at the Emirates, which Arsenal won again with a late Jose Sa own goal. After the game, Mikel Arteta said: “I encourage them to celebrate every victory. Because you can tell how difficult it is in this game to win football matches. Our supporters are the same, every time we win we should celebrate because when you lose or draw you know the faces are always [sad].”
All of this will have to become water under the bridge if Neves does arrive on loan at Arsenal, but it really isn’t a big issue so that shouldn’t be hard to do.
90min understands that Neves is very keen on the idea of joining Arsenal but he is one of many midfielders that the Gunners are looking at. Aston Villa’s Douglas Luiz, Fluminense’s Andre, Real Sociedad’s Martin Zubimendi and Joao Neves of Benfica have all been linked with Arsenal.
Tottenham have also been tipped to move for Neves given they are faced with the prospect of losing two starting midfielders at the beginning of 2024 for the Africa Cup of Nations.
Ange Postecoglou may lose Pape Matar Sarr and Yves Bissouma for six weeks after Christmas and they will be light in midfield. Neves would help to limit the impact and it would not require a big financial outlay.
The almost complete guarantee of game time immediately after joining will be attractive to Neves and could help Tottenham’s case.
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