Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos has given Gabri Veiga’s impending move to the Saudi Pro League a scathing review.
The Saudi influence over the transfer market has grown quickly over this summer, with the likes of Neymar, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Ruben Neves and Riyad Mahrez just a few of the names among the deluge of players heading east.
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However, where most of the players so far have reached the latter part of their careers or, at least, been around the block in Europe, Veiga is very much at the beginning of his. Just 21 years old, the midfielder is capped for Spain only at youth level.
The central midfielder enjoyed a breakthrough campaign last season, scoring 11 goals in 36 La Liga matches. The likes of Napoli, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal were all linked with a move this summer for Veiga, whose career appeared to be on an upward trajectory. However, the Spaniard is instead seemingly on his way to Saudi Arabia, with Al Ahli confirming his signing on Thursday.
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Real Madrid star Kroos hasn’t held back with his verdict on the move, labelling Veiga’s choice as “embarrassing” in a comment on an Instagram post made by journalist Fabrizio Romano.
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Rafa Benitez, in the build-up to his side’s 1-0 defeat to Real Madrid on Friday, offered a more measured appraisal of the player’s transfer.
“The situation of the footballer himself is a life-changing situation for him and his family,” Benitez told reporters. “It also changes for him and given his age, he can return to play in more competitive leagues, but perhaps the Arab league will become a competitive league. The boy has an opportunity, it is also an opportunity for his family.
“We cannot forget that. It is a decision he will have to make. The club did not want to sell him, and he is in a situation that can be advantageous with financial control limiting him.”
Of course, Benitez has experience of dealing with players making similar choices having managed in China. Belgium international Yannick Carrasco was one of Benitez’s star players during his time with Dalian Professional, but only stayed for a 52-game spell (scoring 24 goals) before returning to Europe and winning a La Liga title with Atletico Madrid.
Benitez pointed to Carrasco’s career path and Veiga’s age as proof that this particular move doesn’t necessarily spell the end of the 21-year-old’s European ambitions.
“I was in China and I had Carrasco, who then returned to Europe and now plays in the Champions League. It’s not an elephant’s graveyard,” he said. “The Arab League came with money, and it can be a radical change in our lives, it can be a big help. It’s not that we want that, but it has happened.”
Benitez added: “When important offers come in, you assess the financial aspect for the club and the interest of the player. At the beginning, we thought he could go to a team playing Champions League football. Then the situation changed.
“If you can’t sign any player you want because the wage limit prevents you from doing so, this sale to Arabia, perhaps, opens a way. You have to be intelligent instead of thinking stubbornly. That is what happened to us.”