The Saudi Arabia Pro League has grabbed global headlines in recent days following the arrival of five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo was officially presented by Al Nassr as the Saudi Arabian club’s superstar new signing on Tuesday, and said he turned down multiple other offers from Europe and North America.
The former Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus forward signed a two-and-a-half-year contract to play in the Saudi Pro League and, according to reports, will receive $75m per year, making him the highest-paid footballer in history.
“I’m so proud to make this big decision in my life. In Europe, my work is done. I won everything and played for the most important clubs in Europe. This is a new challenge,” Ronaldo said at a news conference after his unveiling.
“I don’t care what people say. I have come here to keep scoring goals and winning. In the last 15 years, football has changed a lot in Arabia. It is much better now.
“Saudi Arabia beat Argentina, the champions, which shows their improvement.”
The 37-year-old, who has also won five UEFA Champions League titles, will play outside of Europe for the first time in his storied career.
Following the arrival in recent seasons of marquee signings like Nigerian strikers Odion Ighalo and Anthony Nwakaeme, Malian Moussa Marega, Ahmed Hegazi, Vincent Aboubakar, Luis Gustavo, David Ospina, Ever Banega and Grzegorz Krychowiak in recent seasons, the Saudi Pro League has gradually become the next challenge for stars who have proved their mettle in the top European leagues.
Portuguese Ronaldo’s arrival buttresses the fact that Saudis can attract the very best of the best to help develop their league.
Being the most accomplished footballer the saudis would attract to their topflight league, what exactly is Ronaldo bringing to Al Nassr and the entire league?
Al Nassr coach Rudi Garcia said the signing of Ronaldo was a huge step for the Saudi Arabian league.
“In my life, I’ve seen that great players like Cristiano are the simplest to manage, because there’s nothing I can teach him,” Garcia told reporters.
“Like he said, we are here to win, nothing else. I want him to enjoy playing with Al Nassr and winning with Al Nassr, just that.”
His new teammates will include former Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina, Cameroon forward Vincent Aboubakar and Talisca, the Brazilian striker who leads the scoring charts in the Saudi Pro League with nine goals so far this season.
Odion Ighalo, the former Manchester United forward, is in second place with eight goals from 12 matches. Yet life in Saudi Arabia will be a whole new experience for Ronaldo, whose career so far has been based in the historic football cities of Lisbon, Manchester, Madrid and Turin.
How the Portuguese battles Talisca and Al Hilal forward Ighalo in the race for the top goals scorer award will surely be one of the highlights of the league this season.
Former Super Eagles forward Ighalo moved to the Saudi Arabian to join Al Shabab FC in the 2020/21 season and scored nine goals, and three assists in 17 appearances across all competitions.
He moved to Al Hilal the following season and had an outstanding performance, scoring 30 goals with four assists in 44 matches, scored 30 goals in all competitions. The 33-year-old’s fine form helped Al Hilal win the Saudi Arabia Pro League last season, claiming the Golden Boot award with 24 league goals.
Football pundit Mozez Praiz believes Ronaldo is a more clinical striker than Ighalo and believes he can take the shine off the Nigerian and win the Golden Boot Award in his first season in the East.
“Everybody has a chance to win it, it’s all down to who wants it the most. Ronaldo is more of a proficient scorer than Ighalo and it’s a new entrance for him,” Praiz told PUNCH Sports Extra.
“Most of Ronaldo’s teammates will want to work for him and he may end up becoming the highest goal scorer.”