Now playing on Saudi Arabian pitches for up to $200 million a year as a member of Al-Nassr FC, after starring in Europe for Manchester United, Juventus and Real Madrid, Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo is taking shots at Major League Soccer with international megastar Lionel Messi set to make his American debut for Inter Miami CF later this week.
Ronaldo, who was relegated to the bench for Portugal during the World Cup and could do nothing but watch as his Argentine rival, Messi, captured his first tournament victory in the world’s largest soccer event, said the Saudi Pro League “is better” than MLS and that he has no plans to play in the United States or return to a team in Europe.
“The Saudi league is better than MLS,” he told reporters in Portuguese. “I’m 100% sure I won’t return to any European club. I’m 38 years old. And European football has lost a lot of quality. The only valid one and still doing good is the Premier League. They’re way ahead of all the other leagues. I really think the Spanish league does not have great quality, the Portuguese league is good, but not a superior league in my opinion. The German league also I believe has lost a lot. So I can say that I won’t be returning to Europe.”
Chants, Cheers and Beers With the Most Powerful Fans in SportsWe embedded with the Columbus Crew superfans known as The Nordecke for one wild weekend.
While the quality of play in the Saudi league is debatable, it certainly has plenty of star power as high-profile players including Karim Benzema, Marcelo Brozovic, N’Golo Kante and Roberto Firmino have followed Ronaldo’s lead and inked deals to play in the SPL.
According to Ronaldo, the arrow is pointing way up for his current league. “In one year, more and more top players will come to Saudi. In a year the Saudi league will overtake the Turkish league and Dutch league,” he said.
Ronaldo can say whatever he wants, but MLS is about to become a major player on the world soccer stage thanks to Messi taking his talents to South Beach. Messi’s star power is strong enough that the news of his signing caused Inter Miami CF’s social media following to explode, led to ticket prices for the club’s games to skyrocket to more than $1,000 and drove hordes of new subscribers to Apple TV’s MLS Season Pass streaming service. (For what it’s worth, a sports intel agency called the Twenty-First Group conducted a study of the world’s national soccer leagues and ranked the SPL about even with MLS…but that was in January, before the Messi signing.)
Messi, 36, will be with Inter Miami through the 2025 season and possibly beyond. He is set to make his debut Friday in a Leagues Cup match against Cruz Azul.