Cristiano Ronaldo, who joined Saudi Pro League club Al-Nassr in early 2023, is taking credit for the influx of elite players joining the league, saying that he is a “pioneer.”
Ronaldo, who is making abound $213 million per year through his contract with Al-Nassr, said that he “knew” the league would grow at the rate it has in recent months, as football players such as Neymar, Karim Benzema, Sadio Mane, Ngolo Kante, Riyad Mahrez, Roberto Firmino, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Allan Saint-Maximin, Marcelo Brozovic, Ruben Neves, and more have joined SPL clubs in recent months.
“I knew this would, happen, it’s a privilege to change the culture of a country and football, to have great players and it makes me proud. I was the pioneer and I feel proud of that,” Ronaldo recently said.
While Ronaldo is certainly right about being the first high-profile player to move to the Saudi Pro League, it ignores the context that he didn’t really have any other choice, as Manchester United couldn’t find any other suitors for him.
There is also the wages factor, as the Saudis have been offering extraoridinary salaries to former European players. In an attempt to lure Mo Salah from Liverpool, for example, Saudi Pro League club Al Ittihad reportedly offered a $1.5 million per week salary. For comparison, he’s currently making about $350,000 per week with Liverpool.
Yes, Ronaldo’s presence in Saudi Arabia did add an element of legitimacy that it did not previously have. That said, though, players would still be making the jump there given the extraordinary salaries they’re giving the players, who are largely entering the twilights of their careers, anyway.
Not every player is opting to take the Saudi’s money to participate in their sportswashing program, however, as the legendary Lionel Messi chose Inter Miami and MLS instead. Similarly, Ronaldo’s former teammate Sergio Ramos also opted to go to his boyhood club Sevilla instead of the SPL.