Cristiano Ronaldo told members of the media on Monday that the Saudi Professional League is superior to Major League Soccer. Here’s what you need to know:
- Ronaldo, who plays for Al Nassr of the Saudi Pro League, was asked about potentially joining Lionel Messi in MLS. “None,” He answered following his side’s 5-0 defeat in a friendly against La Liga club Celta Vigo. “I think Arabia is a much better league than the United States.”
- Ronaldo, the highest paid player in the world, earns £175 million ($217.4 million) a year. According to sources close to Al Nassr, who wish to remain anonymous to protect their positions, the club will pay a tenth of that salary, with the rest covered by the Saudi state.
- Messi signed a deal with Inter Miami until 2025 with an option to stay through the 2026 season. He will receive around $50-60 million annually, although that includes the value of his equity in the franchise.
- Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber said Sunday that he is “not threatened” by the growing influence of the Saudi Professional League in the global soccer landscape.
Athletics‘s instant analysis:
Makes sense with Ronaldo’s comments
What would the hand-picked forerunner of Saudi’s sports revolution have to say? That he would also back FC Cincinnati to win the Pro League?
Although these comments were spontaneous, it was also an inevitable question. Ronaldo and Messi have been inseparable in the conversation for more than two decades as the two dominated club football in Europe year after year. We may never see a stretch like 2008-2017, when the two shared complete custody of the famous Ballon d’Or trophy without allowing a third player to win the award. While Messi won two more trophies after Luka Modric’s streak-buster in 2018 to take his total to seven, Ronaldo won his fifth and almost certain to be the final Ballon d’Or in 2017. There is also a chance that Messi will earn an eighth of his World Cup-winning run back in December.
While the stories of their careers will almost certainly be largely told by their European and international exploits, the parallels have continued over the past seven months. Both have decided to add their legacies to two ambitious leagues outside the sport’s most lucrative continent. While Ronaldo was the first of several superstars to take up residence in Saudi Arabia, Messi has arrived in MLS in part to hopefully boost American interest in soccer as part of his legacy, like Pelé before him.
Given their unparalleled global fame, the quality of the players’ new leagues is bound to be a frequent topic of debate, even after they’ve inevitably hung up the boots. In a roundtable over the weekend, Garber said he doesn’t feel the league will be threatened by the Saudi Pro League’s newfound investment.
“I remember we were that league and everybody was like, ‘What’s going on in America with Major League Soccer?’ And then what an impact it had on the rest of the world,” Garber said. “The rest of the world said, ‘Well, it’s just the crazy Americans, right? We don’t have to worry about them.’ The World League Forum and the Saudi League have been part of the World League Forum which just met in London last week.They are a contributing member of the global professional football community and their league will continue to grow and develop and figure out how they can achieve what it is they want to achieve for their fans and whatever it is they’re looking to achieve with their league in general.
“I’ve seen it happen with China and I wasn’t worried about it any more than I’m worried about what’s happening in Saudi Arabia. It’s the exact opposite. The fact that we can spread the power and influence of professional football around the world, I think gives us all or in emerging markets an opportunity to think that it’s not just about Europe. Right?”
In January, sports intelligence service Twenty First Group ranked the SPL as the 59th best domestic league in the world; at the same time, MLS was rated 29th. The star-driven approach to growth (forgoing the more patient investment in domestic player development) has also led to comparisons with the recently emptied Chinese Super League. And it should be mentioned, Ronaldo faced a potential lawsuit for an alleged sexual assault in Las Vegas in 2009; while this proposal was rejected in June 2022, the years of speculation could influence his view on anything related to the United States.
At the end of the day, big players will almost never admit to playing in a perceived lesser competition. That goes double when their rival makes a similar headline-grabbing move. Nevertheless, their moves abroad have forever added a new wrinkle to Messi and Ronaldo’s story. — Routes
(Photo: Mohammed Saad / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)