Cristiano Ronaldo has found a new home at the Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr until June 2025. The Portuguese striker will continue his career in Riyadh which will report back the former Real Madrid player as the highest-paid football of all time.
“I’m eager to experience a new football league in a different country. The vision that Al Nassr has is very inspiring and I am excited to join my team-mates,” Ronaldo said in his first statement as an Al Nassr player.
The striker left Manchester United on November 2022 and his deal with Al Nassr is set to bring his wages to a level similar to Lionel Messi’s total earnings of $120 million a year. But the reality is that Ronaldo’s move to Al Nassr is in fact a “retirement league” for football players to earn one last big payday. The move is not new. Look at David Beckham who became the highest-paid player in the US Major League Soccer Players’ Union after being paid $6.5 million for Los Angeles Galaxy. Al Nassr, who finished third last season already has some older players like 35-year old Luiz Gustavo in its contingent of foreign players.
Although Ronaldo’s move to Al Nassr will attract a huge amount of international exposure to Saudi Arabia who is trying to host top sports events in order to become a global sports hub. Fans will travel to Riyadh from all over the world to watch the superstar on the pitch, having a similar impact to David Beckham on MLS. Saudi has also reportedly expressed its desire to host the World Cup, if this were to happen then Ronaldo would likely be the face of it.
Yet Ronaldo’s decision to play for Al-Nassr will also provoke criticism. At 36 years old, Ronaldo is no longer seen as being in the prime of his career and some have questioned whether he is really worth such a large payout. More than that, Saudi Arabia has long been criticized for its treatment of women, minorities, and foreign workers, as well as its lack of freedom of expression and political freedoms. Many have called into question the appropriateness of Ronaldo, a global sports icon, aligning himself with a regime that has been accused of such human rights abuses. Many will see Ronaldo’s move to Al Nassr as an attempt to whitewash Saudi Arabia’s reputation and distract from its human rights record.
Ronaldo’s move to Al Nassr has been met with a great deal of controversy and criticism due to the human rights record of Saudi Arabia, the financial aspect of the deal, and questions about Ronaldo’s age and performance. While some may see it as a smart business move, others believe it is unsuitable for a global sports icon to align himself with a country that has been accused of such serious human rights abuses. But if the World Cup showed us anything, one crazy final game and we instantly forget the people who have died in its creation of it.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Jon Super