Al Hilal, leaders of the Saudi Pro League (SPL) soccer competition, have hired Esteve Calzada, currently of English Premier League giants Manchester City, as their new chief executive.

Calzada has worked as Manchester City’s chief commercial officer for just over four years and will take up his new role at the helm of Saudi Arabia’s most successful soccer club in January. Al Hilal are one of the four SPL sides in which the country’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) vehicle now owns a 75% stake, through a deal in June designed to give the league a financial boost.

While numerous top players and famous managers have been heading to the SPL over the last six months, as the country’s government continues its policy of plowing funding into that league, up to this point there had not been a significant number of senior executives and front-office figures taking the same route.

In a prior role, before his time in England, Calzada spent five years as the chief commercial and marketing officer at Spanish heavyweights Barcelona between 2002 and 2007. There, as well as at Manchester City, he worked with colleagues such as Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain, who have both been important figures in the English club’s rise to European dominance over the last decade.

In 2007, meanwhile, he took the role of CEO at the Prime Time Sport consultancy.

The Saudi club have described Calzada as “one of the most renowned sports marketers,” and has said he “looks forward to working [with the team] for the benefit of Al-Hilal, their goals, and their successes.”

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By GlobalData

He will replace Abdullah Al-Jarboua as CEO, with Al Hilal currently sitting top of the 18-team SPL after 14 matches.

Recently acquired Al Hilal players include Brazilian legend Neymar, as well as Portugal’s Ruben Neves and Serbia’s Aleksandar Mitrovic. In total, the SPL made 94 signings from other countries during its most recent transfer window.

In September, the SPL detailed substantial increases in engagement from local and international fans, match-day attendance, broadcasting revenue, and digital growth, during the first month of the ongoing 2023-24 campaign.

In early June, meanwhile, the Kingdom’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched the Sports Clubs Investment and Privatization Project, which is aimed at encouraging private investment in the sports sector and is aligned with the kingdom’s Vision 2030.

Between January and July this year, UK sports executive Garry Cook was the league’s CEO, leaving after a relatively short stint to take the same role at English second-tier side Birmingham City.