Cristiano Ronaldo finalised a lucrative transfer to Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr on Friday, setting a precedent for soccer in the Middle East.
Al Nassr tweeted a photo of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner carrying the team’s shirt on social media, with the club describing the signing as “history in the making.”
This signing will encourage not just our club to achieve even greater success, but also our league, our nation, and future generations, boys and girls, to be the best versions of themselves, according to the club’s statement.
In what could be the final deal of his career, Ronaldo, age 37, receives a substantial sum of money. According to media sources, the Portugal star may make up to $200 million each year from the arrangement.
While the signing is a huge boost for soccer in the Middle East, it will also fuel the argument about whether Saudi Arabia is engaging in so-called “sportswashing” to improve the country’s image abroad. The Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund owns English Premier League club Newcastle, and the kingdom is contemplating a bid to host the 2030 World Cup.
Ronaldo was a free agent when Manchester United cancelled his contract after an explosive television appearance in which he attacked manager Erik ten Hag and club owners. After a disastrous World Cup, in which he was benched in the knockout rounds and Portugal lost to Morocco in the quarterfinals, he is looking to rebound.
As the most recognisable player to play in the Saudi Arabian league, he will presumably spend the remainder of his career distant from the glare of top European soccer.
In its first group-stage match at the World Cup in Qatar last month, Saudi Arabia defeated eventual champion Argentina for its largest victory in international soccer history. However, it did not advance to the knockout rounds, and the domestic league has few other stars and is not watched by a significant worldwide audience.