RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Cristiano Ronaldo‘s future is the topic of intense hypothesis following Manchester United‘s choice to cancel the 37-year-old’s contract final month. It signifies that the previous Real Madrid and Juventus ahead is now obtainable to signal for any membership as a free agent, however regardless of his unbelievable observe report and standing as a worldwide celebrity, sources have advised ESPN that there’s a lack of curiosity within the Portugal captain from main golf equipment in Europe.
The Saudi Arabian crew Al-Nassr FC has emerged as a suitor, ready to pay Ronaldo a reported £200 million a yr to maneuver to the Saudi Professional League. However how possible is it that Ronaldo will depart European membership soccer to play out his profession within the Center 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? What number of groups? When do they play?
The Saudi Professional League is a 16-team competitors, referred to as the Roshn Saudi League (RSL) for sponsorship causes. It grew to become totally skilled in 2007, with league soccer initially starting in 1976 with eight groups. From the 2023-24 season, the RSL will probably 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 via to Might.
The highest 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 highest 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 crew?
No. The most important and most profitable crew in Saudi Arabia are Al Hilal, primarily based within the capital, Riyadh. Al Hilal has gained 18 league titles and completed as runner-up on 15 events. They’re additionally the reigning Asian champions. Al-Nassr, additionally primarily based in Riyadh, and Al-Ittihad (primarily based in Jeddah) are the 2 groups vying to be thought to be Al Hilal’s largest rivals.
Al-Nassr have gained 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. But no person 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. However 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 sort of enjoying 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 growth on the outskirts of Riyadh known as the Qiddiya Venture — a sporting “metropolis” that will even contain the development of a Method One race-track — consists of plans to construct the Qiddiya Clifftop Stadium, which the 2 groups will share.
The Qiddiya Venture is a part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Imaginative and prescient 2030 initiative, which goals to remodel Saudi society by the top of this decade.
Who’s the best paid participant within the league?
The salaries of sporting figures in Saudi Arabia usually are not made public, however sources have advised 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 language crew — however the Nigeria worldwide earned £30,000 per week between 2014 and 2017 with Watford, a wage rather more reflective of his standing all through his profession.
Sources have stated that the explanation why the entire Saudi Arabia squad through the 2022 World Cup performs their membership soccer in Saudi is as a result of they don’t seem to be solely extremely paid, they’re additionally given houses in unique housing compounds as a part of their contracts. In line with the supply, the gamers are “handled like rock stars.”
One other supply advised ESPN that Saudi gamers earn cash corresponding to the salaries paid by Premier League golf equipment, with no private revenue tax obligations within the nation. In contrast, in the UK, 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 activities Firm 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 Professional League. Golf equipment 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 lately. Al Hilal’s shirt sponsor is Kingdom Holding Firm, a Saudi conglomerate value £10.5 billion ($12.9 billion), whereas Etihad Airways — the Abu Dhabi flag provider — sponsor Al-Nassr. Whereas 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 Professional League is without doubt one of the best within the area and probably throughout Asia as nicely, because of the wealth of the competitors and depth of squads. Over the past 10 years, the league topped 5 completely different champions (Al Hilal, Al-Nassr, Al Fateh, Al-Shabab, Al-Ahli). Every crew is allowed as much as eight worldwide gamers, taking the full of foreigners this yr to 128 from 48 completely different nationalities the world over. 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’re essentially the most well-known gamers to compete in Saudi Arabia earlier than Ronaldo?
The Saudi Professional League is arguably nonetheless ready for its first real celebrity, but it surely has been in a position to appeal to some revered names. Other than 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 most important identify ever to play within the Saudi Professional League if he moved to Al-Nassr.
So why would Ronaldo go to Saudi Arabia?
It arguably would not be for the soccer problem provided 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 successful it.
Cash 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. Whereas the dominion has but to formally launch a bid, sources have advised 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 Professional League, they might have a really seen face to advertise their 2030 bid.