Al-Nassr Saudi club announced the announcement in the early hours December 31 Signing of Cristiano Ronaldo Free-transfer. Ronaldo is set to earn the highest ever salary for a professional footballer, with his two-and-a-half -year-long contract (till June 2025) worth around €200m (£177m) a year (approx. £ 3.4 million per week) after signing all commercial agreements, reported the Guardian.
The transfer is the result of weeks of speculation dating back to before World Cup. Piers Morgan released a shocking interview with Ronaldo in November. He criticized his former club, Manchester United, as well as its manager Erik ten Hag. United released Ronaldo shortly after the interview and made him a free agent.
Although it is definitely possible to a For him, please step down in terms of quality of football, Ronaldo’s transfer to an Asian club is a momentous occasion for the global game.
We take a look.
Ronaldo throws a fit of rage to be a free agent
The happenings of the past five months all played a part in today’s announcement. Ronaldo started the season at Manchester United. United were coming off a disastrous 2021-22 campaign where despite Ronaldo’s above average goal tally (24 goals in all competitions), the team failed to win any silverware or finish in the top four of the Premier League. For many observers, Ronaldo’s game was already on its way down, despite him managing to score the odd goal.
The goals were not as high and Ronaldo was suddenly a shell of his old self. The fact that Manchester United had brought Erik ten Hag (formerly of Ajax FC) as their coach at the start of the season was a major problem. He is a tactical savant and has made a name in Europe. Ten Hag is a “project manager” – he was brought in to execute a long term plan to take Manchester United back to the top of English football. Ronaldo was too tall for Ten Hag to include him in the plans. He was not only benched, but also for multiple other games.
The season was marked by a cold war between coach and player, with Ronaldo committing many poor decisions throughout the season. He refused to be substituted in against Tottenham during the fag of a game that United was leading to victory. He was seen walking into the tunnel during the game. Ronaldo played some of his worst football ever, even though he was given a few chances.
Many were surprised when Piers Morgan’s interview with Piers Morgan was published in November after the team had disbanded to attend the mid-season World Cup. Ronaldo did not hold back, taking pot shots at the club’s infrastructure, the owners, and most importantly, the coach. Although the interview was well-received by most United fans, it was also not well received by the club. Observations on ten Hag (“I do not respect him”) drawing particular criticism. The club quickly released him and made him a free agent.
Ronaldo is not what everyone wants
Ronaldo’s problem was not that he had masteredly negotiated a exit from Manchester United but that there wasn’t any club in Europe who wanted him. There were rumours that Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and Chelsea were “interested” in him but these were soon put to bed. Ronaldo was well past his prime, but he seemed to lack the self-awareness and awareness to realize this. He was therefore radioactive for any team that had a long-term plan.
Ronaldo is also a very expensive player to sign. Although his presence would be a huge commercial benefit to the club, his services are not cheap. Only a handful are able to sign Cristiano Ronaldo. And on Ronaldo’s end, there were no indications of him agreeing to a lower fee. Things were in a bind.
Saudi club Al-Nassr makes an inroad
The first reports of Ronaldo in talks with Al-Nassr came in late November, when Italian journalist Fabrizio Romano tweeted about an “imminent deal” between the two parties. At the time, however, Ronaldo quashed these rumours, saying that he was focussed on Portugal’s World Cup campaign (in which he got benched by the knockouts).
However, these rumours picked up once the World Cup was over, culminating in Al-Nassr announcing Cristiano Ronaldo’s signing earlier today. What then is Al-Nassr’s purpose? What is the reason they signed Ronaldo? Most importantly, How Could they sign Ronaldo
The making of history This signing will inspire our club to achieve greater success, as well as our nation, and future generations of boys and girls, to be the best versions of themselves. You are warmly invited @Cristiano To your new home @AlNassrFC pic.twitter.com/oan7nu8NWC
— AlNassr FC (@AlNassrFC_EN) December 30, 2022
Al-Nassr, which has won over 30 trophies at all competitions since 1955, is simply one of the most successful clubs Saudi Arabia. Al-Shabab is currently the second-ranked Saudi league club, with Riyadh as its base. Al-Nassr in Arabic means “victory” – clubs with the same name can be found across West Asia, including UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and even Libya. The name was first given to the Saudi club.
Today, it is one of the biggest clubs in Asia, home to top Saudi players along with a sprinkling of international talent such as Cameron’s Vincent Aboubakar (formerly in Besiktas and Porto) and Colombia’s David Ospina (formerly in Niece, Arsenal and Napoli). Cristiano Ronaldo will be the highest profile signing in the club’s history and arguably the biggest player to ever play professional football in Asia.
For Al-Nassr, Ronaldo’s name recognition itself is key. Such a player puts every club he joins on the radar of fans and brings in interest and revenue from many places. Al-Nassr had doubled its social media followers within hours of Ronaldo’s signing. Its website is currently down due to the huge traffic, something even they couldn’t anticipate. While Cristiano Ronaldo will still be more than a handful in the Saudi League, probably scoring lots of goals with some worldies sprinkled in, this is not purely a “footballing move.”
The Cristiano Ronaldo affect!!! Al-Nassr nearly doubled their social media followers as soon as Cristiano Ronaldo’s move was announced. pic.twitter.com/cMHECazimw
— Frank Khalid OBE (@FrankKhalidUK) December 31, 2022
Al-Nassr could afford Ronaldo. What about a larger political game?
Al-Nassr has a wealth club. It is one of Asia’s most prestigious clubs. This is not the first time they have signed European stars, famously signing Bulgarian legend Hristo Stoichkov on a two-match contract to help win the 1998 Asian Cup Winners’ Cup. In 2015, the club named 2006 World Cup champion and Ballon d’Or winner, Fabio Cannavaro as its manager, though his stint did not last long.
Al-Nassr’s individual ability to sign Ronaldo is only one aspect of the bigger workings of the Saudi League and Saudi politics. Saudi Arabia has long wanted to host the tournament since Qatar, its traditional rival, won the hosting rights. Numerous reports came out about Saudi Arabia’s bid to host the 2030 Fifa World Cup. Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman was seen in Saudi Arabia with Gianni Intino at various times during the 2022 tournament.
It is clear that Cristiano Ronaldo signing to the league would have a major impact on the status of Saudi football, and be crucial for its 2030 bid.
Notably, Al-Nassr chairman Musalli Almuammar is a former President of the Saudi Pro League. He’s known to be close with the ruling family. In 2020, he was appointed “Adviser to His Excellency Chairman of Entertainment Authority” according to his LinkedIn profile. The Entertainment Authority is a crucial cog of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.
Not every star is signed to increase the popularity of a country and league.
Ronaldo is the most prominent star in this category. However, he’s not the only one to have a huge deal that goes beyond the field. This is evident in the 2016-17 Chinese Super League. In this era, Chinese football was heavily supported by the state. Owners received all kinds of incentives and benefits to help them compete with the best in Asia, and eventually Europe. Signing marquees was a big boost to the public’s profile. These were some of the largest signings.
- Oscar (reported weekly salary £400,000) signed for Shanghai SIPG in 2017
- Hulk (reported weekly salary £320,000) signed for Shanghai SIPG in 2016
- Carlos Tevez (reported weekly salary £635,000) signed for Shanghai Shenhua in 2016
- Ezequiel Lavezzi (reported weekly salary £798,000) signed for Hebei FC in 2016
These players were not the only ones signed by the league. The league also signed many older talent from Europe, South America and elsewhere.