PORTUGAL: On Friday, Cristiano Ronaldo signed a lucrative deal to join Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr. The signing is a significant development for football in the Middle East, but it will witness one of Europe’s most prominent stars leave the sport’s elite stage.
After Ronaldo signed a contract until June 2025, Al Nassr shared a photo on social media of him holding up the team’s jersey. The club called the move “history in the making.”
Al Nassr, in a statement made after the signing, said that it would not only inspire the club to achieve even greater success but also inspire the “league, the nation, and the future generations, boys and girls,” to be the best versions of themselves.
Additionally, it provides Ronaldo, who is 37 years old, with a substantial payday in what could be his final contract. According to media reports, the Portugal star could earn up to $200 million per year from the agreement, making him the most generously compensated football player ever.
“Eager to experience a new football league in a different country,” Ronaldo said in a statement.
The forward continued that he felt it was the right moment to share his experience in Asia. He said that he is fortunate to have won everything in European football.
Even though the deal is a massive boost for football in the Middle East, it will also stoke the debate about Saudi Arabia’s use of so-called “sports washing” to improve its international image.
Newcastle is a Premier League team owned by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. The Middle Eastern nation is also considering bidding to host the 2030 World Cup.
Following an explosive television interview in which Ronaldo criticized manager Erik ten Hag and the club’s owners after being benched and even temporarily suspended by the club, Manchester United released Ronaldo from his contract with the team.
He also just concluded a disappointing World Cup, where he was benched in the knockout rounds and left the field in tears after Portugal lost to Morocco in the quarterfinals.
And after a legendary career that saw him win the Champions League with Manchester United and Real Madrid, as well as league and cup titles in England, Spain, and Italy, he appears to be spending his final years away from the spotlight of top European football.
Although Saudi Arabia defeated eventual champion Argentina in its first group-stage match at the World Cup in Qatar last month, the domestic league has few other stars and is not watched by a significant international audience.