Reggae Boy Demarai Gray joins Al-Ettifaq from Everton on Saudi transfer deadline day
Everton's Demarai Gray in action during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham United and Everton at the London Stadium in London, Saturday, January 21, 2023. Demarai Gray joined Saudi Arabian club Al-Ettifaq from Everton on Thursday, September 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)

LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Reggae Boy Demarai Gray became the latest player to join the exodus to Saudi Arabia after signing for Al-Ettifaq on Thursday on the final day of the country's transfer window.

The Everton winger moved for an undisclosed fee and signed a four-year contract.

He follows a slew of stars from Europe's top leagues who have headed to the lucrative Saudi League in recent months. Marquee names like Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Karim Benzema have all taken up the riches on offer as Saudi has embarked on a spectacular recruitment drive.

The ambitious attempt to lure top stars has been criticised as "sportswashing" to improve Saudi Arabia's image in the face of its human rights record.

Yannick Carrasco, who joined Al Shabab from Atletico Madrid earlier this week, made light of that criticsm on Thursday during a news conference with Belgium's national team.

"I see how women live there, and how people go about their lives," Carrasco said. "Honestly, it is a beautiful country. It is hard to judge if you only listen to what people say about it. You have to experience it yourself."

The 27-year-old Gray joined Everton from German team Bayer Leverkusen in 2021. He made 75 appearances and scored 12 goals for the Premier League club.

"There has been a lot of speculation about my situation all summer," Gray posted on Instagram. "The truth is, I gave my all to this club on and off the pitch through good and bad. I was ready to play as much football as possible this season but it felt like this was not going to happen. It's time for my next chapter."

Al-Ettifaq has already signed former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson this window and hired former Rangers and Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard as coach.

Real Betis also said on Thursday that it had reached an agreement to sell defender Luiz Felipe to Al-Ittihad. Felipe played 34 games for Betis after joining from Lazio last season. No financial details of the deal were disclosed by the Spanish club.

The Saudi League has shaken up world football after targeting the biggest names in the sport.

As well as luring Ronaldo, Neymar and Benzema, it also made moves for Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe.

Champions League winners Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante are among other leading players to have moved to the oil-rich kingdom.

Al-Ittihad reportedly had a 150 million pound ($188 million) offer for Liverpool striker Mo Salah, which he rejected last week.

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