By Isaac Kinene & Adam Bukenya
Cristiano Ronaldo is going to continue his professional career in Saudi Arabia.
Ronaldo’s long-rumored deal with Saudi Arabia side Al-Nassr is now official. Ronaldo has been a free agent since he parted ways with Machester United in the days before the World Cup. Ronaldo disparaged the club in a television interview where he said the he didn’t have any respect for current Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag. That interview made it clear that it was untenable for Ronaldo to stay at United, yet no other major European clubs raced to sign him after he became a free agent.
Ronaldo is, by far, the highest-profile player to play club soccer in the Middle East and that comes with a hefty payday, According to soccer news breaker Fabrizio Romano, Ronaldo will make in the neighborhood of $213 million a year including endorsement deals.
The 37-year-old started up front for Portugal at the start of the 2022 World Cup but was benched for the team’s Round of 16 game against Switzerland in favor of Goncalo Ramos. Portugal scored six goals in a rout of Switzerland — it scored six goals combined in its three group stage games — and Ronaldo was left on the bench for the quarterfinal against Morocco.
Ronaldo came on in the second half of that game but failed to score as Morocco won 1-0. The game might have been the final international game of Ronaldo’s career as he exited the field in tears. Ronaldo has long been Portugal’s captain and is the country’s all-time leading scorer. While it’s not out of the question that he could continue playing for Portugal, he’ll be 39 ahead of the 2024 Euros and will have spent the last two seasons playing soccer against lesser competition.
Ronaldo’s move to a league for financial reasons and not competitive ones also comes as the debate between him and Lionel Messi as the greatest modern soccer player seemed to end for good with Messi and Argentina’s World Cup victory. While Messi is two years younger than Ronaldo, he’s reportedly set to continue his stay at European giants PSG for another season and is widely anticipated to make a move stateside to Major League Soccer at some point.
After scoring 84 goals in 196 games in his first stint at Manchester United, Ronaldo made a huge move to Real Madrid in the summer of 2009. He was the best striker in the world in his time at Madrid and averaged over a goal a game with the club. He left Madrid for Juventus in 2018 and played with the Italian giants for three seasons before returning to Manchester United in the summer of 2021 as Juventus looked to lower its wage bill.
Ronaldo scored 19 goals in 40 games in his second stint at United and while he provided goals that United sorely needed over the 2021-22 season, his presence in the team was also a constant source of debate as United moved on from manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and his time with the club became tumultuous upon ten Hag’s arrival.
After starting on the bench against Tottenham in the fall, Ronaldo refused to come into the game as a sub and left the bench before the game was over. He made just four starts and scored one goal in EPL play this season.