RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Cristiano Ronaldo’s future is the topic of intense hypothesis following Manchester United’s determination to cancel the 37-year-old’s contract final month. It implies that the previous Real Madrid and Juventus ahead is now out there to signal for any membership as a free agent, however regardless of his unbelievable observe file and standing as a worldwide celebrity, sources have instructed ESPN that there’s a lack of curiosity within the Portugal captain from main golf equipment in Europe.
The Saudi Arabian group Al-Nassr FC has emerged as a suitor, ready to pay Ronaldo a reported £200 million a yr to maneuver to the Saudi Pro League. But how possible is it that Ronaldo will depart European membership soccer to play out his profession within the Middle East? And what would the expertise be like in Saudi Arabia?
ESPN went to Riyadh to seek out out.
Is there a Saudi Arabia league? How many groups? When do they play?
The Saudi Pro League is a 16-team competitors, generally known as the Roshn Saudi League (RSL) for sponsorship causes. It turned totally skilled in 2007, with league soccer initially starting in 1976 with eight groups. From the 2023-24 season, the RSL might be expanded to an 18-team league. The Saudi League additionally follows the identical match sample as European leagues, with midweek and weekend fixtures, and runs from August by means of to May.
The high 4 groups qualify for the Asian Champions League: Saudi champions Al Hilal are the reigning Asian champions and are the competitors’s most profitable membership, with 4 titles — one forward of South Korea’s Pohang Steelers. The high two groups within the RSL qualify for the Asian Champions League, with the third spot going to the King’s Cup (the oldest home cup competitors) winner and a playoff for the ultimate berth.
Is Al-Nassr FC, the membership linked to Ronaldo, the league’s largest group?
No. The largest and most profitable group in Saudi Arabia are Al Hilal, based mostly within the capital, Riyadh. Al Hilal has received 18 league titles and completed as runner-up on 15 events. They are additionally the reigning Asian champions. Al-Nassr, additionally based mostly in Riyadh, and Al-Ittihad (based mostly in Jeddah) are the 2 groups vying to be thought to be Al Hilal’s largest rivals.
Al-Nassr have received 9 league titles, final claiming one in 2018-19, whereas Al-Ittihad’s most up-to-date — their eighth general — got here in 2008-09. Yet no one can compete with Al Hilal proper now. They play on the 67,000-capacity King Fahd Stadium, whereas Al-Nassr’s Mrsool Park solely holds 25,000 spectators. But whereas Al Hilal do appeal to full attendances for some video games at King Fahd, their pleasant towards Saudi-owned Newcastle United on Thursday on the 22,000-capacity Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium was lower than half full, regardless of all tickets for the sport reported to have been offered.
Ronaldo might have to regulate to a distinct type of taking part in expertise, in entrance of some full stadiums and a few which have loads of empty seats. Or, maybe, he would be the large attraction that ensures capability crowds wherever he performs within the kingdom.
Earlier this yr it was introduced that Al Hilal and Al-Nassr will transfer to a brand new 40,000-capacity stadium. A brand new improvement on the outskirts of Riyadh referred to as the Qiddiya Project — a sporting “city” that can even contain the development of a Formula One race-track — consists of plans to construct the Qiddiya Clifftop Stadium, which the 2 groups will share.
The Qiddiya Project is a part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 initiative, which goals to rework Saudi society by the tip of this decade.
Who is the best paid participant within the league?
The salaries of sporting figures in Saudi Arabia should not made public, however sources have instructed ESPN that Al Hilal and Al-Nassr pay the best salaries, with former Manchester United ahead Odion Ighalo reportedly incomes £250,000 per week at Al Hilal. Ighalo, 33, earned £150,000 per week at United throughout a mortgage spell from Shanghai Shenhua — half his weekly wage on the Chinese group — however the Nigeria worldwide earned £30,000 per week between 2014 and 2017 with Watford, a wage way more reflective of his standing all through his profession.
Sources have stated that the rationale why the entire Saudi Arabia squad throughout the 2022 World Cup performs their membership soccer in Saudi is as a result of they aren’t solely extremely paid, they’re additionally given properties in unique housing compounds as a part of their contracts. According to the supply, the gamers are “treated like rock stars.”
Another supply instructed ESPN that Saudi gamers earn cash akin to the salaries paid by Premier League golf equipment, with no private revenue tax obligations within the nation. By distinction, within the United Kingdom, earnings above £125,000 per yr are taxed at a charge of 40%.
How do the golf equipment earn their income?
The RPL’s broadcasting cope with the Saudi Sports Company was agreed earlier this yr at a determine of 300 million Saudi Riyal a yr ($80m). The deal runs for 3 years, with the TV income cut up evenly between the 16 golf equipment. In August, Roshn, an actual property developer, agreed a five-year deal value 478 million Riyal (£105m / $127m) for naming rights to the Saudi Pro League. Clubs additionally earn cash from a streaming cope with the Dubai-based firm Shahid.
Saudi Telecom and Mobily, a Saudi Arabian telecommunications firm, have agreed profitable membership sponsorships in recent times. Al Hilal’s shirt sponsor is Kingdom Holding Company, a Saudi conglomerate value £10.5 billion ($12.9 billion), whereas Etihad Airways — the Abu Dhabi flag service — sponsor Al-Nassr. While Al Hilal, Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad are all centrally owned by the Saudi Ministry of Sport, they’re run independently and individually profit from rich donors, together with the Saudi royal household.
Gab Marcotti particulars why he thinks a proposed transfer to Al Nassr for Cristiano Ronaldo is full nonsense.
How aggressive is the league?
The Saudi Pro League is likely one of the best within the area and probably throughout Asia as effectively, because of the wealth of the competitors and depth of squads. Over the final 10 years, the league topped 5 totally different champions (Al Hilal, Al-Nassr, Al Fateh, Al-Shabab, Al-Ahli). Each group is allowed as much as eight worldwide gamers, taking the entire of foreigners this yr to 128 from 48 totally different nationalities internationally. And the league additionally attracts high-profile coaches, with former Porto and Wolves coach Nuno Espirito Santo appointed as coach of Al-Ittihad and Rudi Garcia, the previous Roma, Marseille and Lyon coach, taking cost of Al-Nassr. Ramon Diaz, the previous River Plate coach, is the supervisor at Al Hilal.
Who are essentially the most well-known gamers to compete in Saudi Arabia earlier than Ronaldo?
The Saudi Pro League is arguably nonetheless ready for its first real celebrity, but it surely has been capable of appeal to some revered names. Aside from former United striker Ighalo, who joined Al Hilal from Al-Shabab earlier this yr, gamers like former Argentina midfielder Ever Banega (Al-Shabab), Brazilian midfielder Paulinho (Al-Fayha), ex-Porto striker Moussa Marega (Al Hilal) and former Arsenal and Napoli goalkeeper David Ospina (Al-Nassr) all play in Saudi Arabia.
In brief, Ronaldo can be the largest title ever to play within the Saudi Pro League if he moved to Al-Nassr.
So why would Ronaldo go to Saudi Arabia?
It arguably would not be for the soccer problem on condition that Ronaldo has beforehand performed within the Premier League, Spanish LaLiga and Italy’s Serie A, although he could be motivated by the prospect serving to Al-Nassr halt Al Hilal’s dominance. If Ronaldo was to maneuver there, Al Hilal would appear to be the extra apparent vacation spot: He would get to play within the Asian Champions League with an opportunity of profitable it.
Money can be an apparent motivation, too, even for a participant of Ronaldo’s wealth and success, however there’s additionally the added aspect in Saudi Arabia’s want to host the 2030 World Cup. While the dominion has but to formally launch a bid, sources have instructed ESPN that’s prone to occur in early 2023; who higher to lift the profile of Saudi Arabian soccer than one of many two most recognisable footballers on the planet?
Saudi Arabia already has Lionel Messi fronting its tourism marketing campaign, so if Ronaldo could be lured to the Saudi Pro League, they’d have a really seen face to advertise their 2030 bid.