Saudi Arabia caused shockwaves on Thursday morning amid international media reports that an unnamed club in the country has offered around $300 million to sign Cristiano Ronaldo on a two-year deal.
The 37-year-old has made it clear that he wants to leave Manchester United, with talk of his next club dominating discussion during the summer transfer market.
There have already been some big signings this summer that make the next season of the Saudi Professional League (SPL) an exciting prospect. Al-Nassr, under new coach Rudi Garcia, have moved quickly to bring in David Ospina and Ghislain Konan and have been linked to Miralem Pjanic of Barcelona. Champions Al-Hilal boast a host of stars in their team, Al-Ittihad is looking to rebuild under new Portuguese coach Nuno Espirito Santo and Al-Shabab also has major ambitions.
Ronaldo may be aging and, in relative terms, not the all-round force he once was, but he is still a supreme professional as demonstrated by his 18 goals in the English Premier League in the season just completed.
The former Juventus man would easily be the biggest star to ever play in Asia.
He is the leading international goalscorer in history with 117 goals for Portugal. He scored over 300 goals for Real Madrid despite playing fewer than 300 games for the Spanish giants. He has won league titles in England, Spain and Italy and five UEFA Champions Leagues. He has also won FIFA’s Ballon d’Or award five times. It is an incredible record and shows why he is regarded as one of the best to ever play the game.
Off the pitch, his status is on a different level to any other player in Saudi Arabia, the continent and the rest of the world. His signing would take the SPL to a new worldwide audience. This is a man who has an incredible 466 million followers on Instagram. That makes him not only the most followed footballer on the platform but the social media platform’s biggest account.
The idea of the player turning out for one of the giants of Saudi Arabian football such as Al-Hilal, Al-Shabab, Al-Nassr or Al-Ittihad is an amazing prospect. It is not just about the big teams but also the idea of Ronaldo playing against the smaller teams. Every game would be a major event and would be watched by millions.
Fans can only imagine how Ronaldo would have fared in Saudi Arabia last season with the tense and dramatic title race coupled with an epic relegation battle. It would have been a massive advertisement for the SPL and would surely have won the competition new fans everywhere.
In terms of sponsors and corporate involvement, there would be massive deals and then his presence and the excitement it would bring would surely serve as an inspiration for youngsters to play football and more people to come to the stadiums.
That is all possible next season. There could also — depending on the club he might join — be the chance of Ronaldo taking part in the Asian Champions League knockout stages early next year, with the Portuguese legend possibly helping an Asian team win the Club World Cup for the first time.
The big question, apart from where the money would come from, is whether it is realistic to expect Ronaldo to come to Saudi Arabia, though the prospect of him playing in a region with fewer games and an upcoming World Cup may be attractive. He may not be willing to leave Europe and it is telling that his desire to leave United after just one season back at the club has come after the Red Devils missed out on a UEFA Champions League place.
Another barrier is that Manchester United have said that the player, who has not gone with the club on a tour of Thailand and Australia, is not for sale. Bookmakers in England have listed the most likely destination, if the player does leave Old Trafford, as Chelsea, though the Blues’ coach Thomas Tuchel has stayed tight-lipped on whether he is interested.
It may not be up to him. Even if United are prepared to let their star go, and that is still a big if, then an English Premier League competitor and probable rival for a Champions League place next season may not be an acceptable destination. Bayern Munich are second on the list and then there is a chance of an emotional return to Sporting Lisbon, the club where it all started.
This was before the bombshell of Saudi Arabian interest was dropped however and at the moment it is still early days. The huge sums mentioned mean that everyone is going to take notice, including the player and his agent Jorge Mendes. Whether Cristiano Ronaldo wants to play in Saudi Arabia remains to be seen but the stories generated just by the mere suggestion that he could show that it would be quite a ride.