The New Focus On Saudi Football Puts Cristiano Ronaldo Back In The Spotlight

CR7 will go from social media video star to a weekly fixture on DAZN
08:01, 09 Aug 2023

Goalscorer. Trophy winner. Legend. GOAT. All words thrown copiously at Cristiano Ronaldo over the years. Last winter he added ‘Trailblazer’ to this list of superlatives when he became easily the biggest name ever to play in the Saudi Pro League. Some fans laughed when he signed for Al-Nassr, particularly those who favour a certain Argentina international in the eternal debate. His colleagues laughed too, but it was soon made clear they were doing that laughing on the way to the bank.

Ronaldo’s crossing of the breach showed players what was possible. Multitudes have followed Ronaldo to seek their own riches. Karim Benzema, the Ballon d’Or’s most recent recipient no less, now lines up for Al-Ittihad. He counts N’Golo Kante among his teammates. Roberto Firmino, Riyad Mahrez and Edouard Mendy are the jewels in Al-Ahli’s crown. Al-Hilal count Ruben Neves among their number. The Saudi Pro League has been the single biggest factor in this summer’s market. That is largely down to Ronaldo.


But what does this influx of talent mean for CR7’s standing in the league he now calls home? Ronaldo’s status at Al-Nassr during last season was almost that of a curiosity. Everyone saw his goals, splashed in hyperbolic fashion on social media. But few saw his games. The developing league did not yet have global broadcast reach and, even then, only the most hardened Ronaldo fans were seeking out Al-Nassr’s games. 

Ronaldo felt like something of a throwback, and not just because he’s 38 years of age. His Saudi adventure was a return to the days where the world’s best footballers were rarely glimpsed. They were mythic figures only seen during World Cups or drip-fed through the few British outlets that showed droplets of football from abroad. We marvelled at Roberto Baggio and Zinedine Zidane on Football Italia, but we did not live and die with them every week like we do with the modern greats.

Ronaldo’s game met with little scrutiny as he racked up 14 goals in 16 Saudi Pro League games. Just months before he was being picked apart weekly by pundits as his powers faded at Manchester United. But watching him conjure the old magic in 30 second clips on social media allowed us to play pretend that he was still as good as ever.


But now, with reports of the Saudi Pro League securing a broadcast deal with DAZN, suddenly we’ll be seeing a lot more of Ronaldo, his teammates and his new rivals. The scrutiny he had briefly evaded for the first time since he was a precocious teenager at Sporting CP is back. No longer to be judged simply by his goal tally and the occasional clip online, we will have the full picture of how Ronaldo is playing.

The man himself, never short of confidence, won’t mind the extra eyeballs. But it does put another side-issue into full focus. Ronaldo’s ongoing battle for the soul of football with Lionel Messi will now play out in front of the world. Messi is now an Inter Miami player. You can watch every Major League Soccer game on Apple TV. The comparisons which didn’t seem fair when Messi was at Paris Saint-Germain and still a Champions League factor will return now both are playing in leagues they are seen as being above. Expect weekly comparisons of the two GOAT candidates to resume ad nauseam.

It will be fascinating to see how Ronaldo stands up to the sharp focus of widely broadcast games again. Given the fact he will be surrounded by at least some better players, will his performances drop? Or will another season of free-scoring keep him at the forefront of football debate? It remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure, this is a big season for Ronaldo. The world is watching.

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