Cristiano Ronaldo Is Right About Saudi Arabia And The State Of European Football

Ronaldo has spoken about the decline of Europe's top leagues
12:01, 18 Jul 2023

If you thought Cristiano Ronaldo’s move away from Europe would see him stay away from the headlines and sail off into the Saudi Arabian sunset with his pockets packed full of Riyals, you’d be wrong. 

The Saudi Pro League has disturbed the establishment of elite men’s football with the huge wages on offer, and so far the likes of Karim Benzema, Ruben Neves and N’Golo Kante have all made the move to the middle east. With all of this transfer activity, Ronaldo was being left out of the headlines. And our favourite egotist wouldn’t want that - so he spoke to Fabrizio Romano to get himself back in the headlines. 

“The Saudi league is better than MLS,” he began, with World Cup winner Lionel Messi still living permanently rent free in his head. Point one was a sly dig at the Argentine, who recently joined Inter Miami, but one that is true given the financial might of the division. 


“I'm 100 per cent sure I won't return to any European club,” he continued. “I opened the way to the Saudi league and now all the players are coming here. I won't return to European football, the door is completely closed.”

Ronaldo was indeed the first megastar to join the Saudi Pro League, but the other big names aren’t going there because of him. The tripling or quadrupling of their current wages is the main reason Saudi is now a popular destination for footballers from all over Europe, rather than Ronaldo’s new jaunt. 

“I'm 38 years old, also European football has lost a lot of quality. The only league that for me has a lot of quality and is at a higher level than all the others is the Premier League,” Ronaldo said in perhaps his most controversial point. “The Spanish league does not have that great quality. The Portuguese league is a good league, but it is not a top, top league. The German league I think has also lost a lot. I'm sure I won't play in Europe again. I want to play in Saudi Arabia.”

Here’s the point that will rile a lot of people up. But once again, Ronaldo is right. He’s unashamedly arrogant, but he’s spot on about both European football and the emergence of the Saudi Pro League. We saw a mini-migration of big name players to China around 2016, but the Saudi Arabian progression is on a different level, both on a financial level and on the calibre of players they have been able to attract. 

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Current Ballon d’or holder Benzema has joined one of the greatest players of all time. Riyad Mahrez looks likely to depart Manchester City for the same destination and Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly, Roberto Firmino and Ruben Neves have all joined from the Premier League.

It will take some time and more major investment across the entire league, but there is no doubt that this could be a top-five division in world football in five to 10 years' time. The history and prestige of the European leagues will remain, but in terms of quality, it won’t take too many transfer windows for the Saudis to overhaul some of the weaker divisions, simply by poaching some of the finest talent in Europe. 

They’ve also timed it to perfection. While the Chinese Super League had to compete with five, six or seven fantastic divisions spread all over Europe, the continent is experiencing a decline in quality. La Liga was the finest league on the planet 10 years ago, and its teams still compete in the latter stages of European competitions, but there is no doubt that the division is in regression. It’s why Barcelona and Real Madrid, both in financial difficulties, are clinging on to the fading hope that the European Super League would get off the ground. 

Italy is in a slightly healthier state especially in terms of competition at the top end, while the Bundesliga is as predictable as ever with Bayern Munich's stranglehold on the title continuing in dramatic circumstances last term. For Ronaldo, saying he won’t play in Europe again isn’t a shock. He’s run out of road in the Premier League, and every other division is seemingly on the slide. 

He’ll likely retire at Al-Nassr, but the Saudi Pro League will continue to grow after his retirement. The money isn’t going anywhere, and some of the best players in the world will be given offers they simply can’t refuse. And as the prestige rises, the stigma around moving there will disappear. Give it 10 years, and Uefa will be begging them to be a part of the Champions League. 

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