Cristiano Ronaldo’s focus right now might be on helping Portugal get as far as possible in the 2022 World Cup, but that hasn’t stopped speculation about his future.
The striker left Manchester United on November 22, leading to questions about where he will go after the games in Qatar.
One of the offers on the table is reportedly a huge deal from Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr.
ESPN has said the Saudi club is offering Cristiano Ronaldo a three-and-a-half-year deal worth more than $119 million a year.
That would make Ronaldo the highest-paid soccer player in the world, topping the $110 million a year that French forward Kylian Mbappe earns at Paris Saint-Germain.
Ronaldo was on around $40 million a year at Manchester United before mutually terminating that deal in November. On top of that though, he earns around $60 million from off-the-pitch sources like his partnerships with Nike, Herbalife
The Al Nassr deal would bring Ronaldo’s wages alone to a level similar to Lionel Messi’s total earnings of $120 million a year. The funding for the deal is backed by sponsors and it’s expected that some sponsorship agreements are included in the $119 million/year contract. This could impact Ronaldo’s other partnership deals, but as long as he keeps hold of some of them, his total earnings would surpass those of his rival from Argentina.
The length of the contract also means Ronaldo would be earning those sums into his 40s.
Many people assume that Saudi Arabia’s Pro League is something of a “retirement league” for soccer players to earn one last big payday. While Al Nassr, who finished third last season, does have some older players like 35-year-old Brazilian defensive midfielder Luiz Gustavo, its contingent of foreign players also includes players in their late 20s like Gonzalo ‘Pity’ Martinez and Talisca.
Saudi Pro League champions Al Hilal only has one foreign player older than 31, Nigerian striker Odion Ighalo, and has spent big to bring in players like Matheus Pereira, who at the time attracted interest from several top Premier League sides. In fact, Cristiano Ronaldo would be the oldest foreign player among the sides that finished in the league’s top three spots last season.
Many top players move to slightly easier leagues as they get older. In recent years, Major League Soccer has been the league of choice, with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Thierry Henry among the players who finished their careers in North America. But none of those players had such a game-changing impact on MLS as David Beckham.
When Beckham moved to MLS, the league got a huge amount of international exposure, with games shown in 100 countries and jersey sales through the roof.
In terms of stardom or global popularity, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are on a completely different level from Henry or Rooney. From the viewing records set by Argentina’s World Cup match against Mexico to fans suing the organizers after Juventus didn’t play Ronaldo in a friendly, these two players are bigger than clubs. Ronaldo has almost half a billion Instagram followers; Manchester United have just 60 million. As the biggest stars of their generation by miles, Ronaldo and Messi could have that same game-changing impact on whichever league they choose to finish their playing days.
Saudi Arabia has been looking to host top sports events and become a global sports hub. It has hosted Italian and Spanish cup competitions, the Saudi Public Investment Fund is the majority owner of Newcastle United, and the country has spent around $2.4 billion creating the LIV golf tournament. It also reportedly has a desire to host the World Cup. Should such a bid happen, then Cristiano Ronaldo could be the face of it.
Instead of trying to bring soccer events to Saudi Arabia though, bringing in Cristiano Ronaldo would create a sporting event in itself.
People would travel to Riyadh, not just from within Saudi Arabia, but from other nearby countries, in order to see the superstar on the pitch. He would be the main attraction, with people planning their vacations and trips around Al Nassr’s fixture schedule. Cristiano Ronaldo could have that same impact on Saudi soccer as David Beckham did on MLS.
This all presumes that Ronaldo will take the Saudi Arabian deal.
While the superstar failed to earn a move to a Champions League club last summer, he is likely to still harbor dreams of playing at the very top level for a while longer, should a European team make him the right offer.
But should he decide to join Al Nassr, Cristiano Ronaldo will still be making headlines.