LONDON ( Associated Press) – Cristiano Ronaldo has completed a lucrative contract with Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr, a landmark signing for Middle Eastern soccer but taking one of Europe’s great stars away from the elite .
Al Nasr posted a picture on his social media holding the five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s team shirt. The club described the signing of the Portuguese star as “a historic occasion”.
“This is a signing that will inspire not only our team to greater success, but our league, our country and generations to come, girls and boys, to be the best versions of themselves,” the post wrote.
The signing represents a huge payout for the 37-year-old striker in what could be the last contract of his career. According to press reports, the deal could earn the player $200 million per year, making him the highest paid soccer player in history.
Cristiano said in a statement that he was “looking forward to experiencing a new football league in a different country.”
“I am fortunate to have won what I consider to be the best in European football and I think this is the ideal moment to share my experience in Asia,” he added.
While this huge contract represents a huge boost for Middle Eastern football, it also fuels debate about Saudi Arabia using so-called “sports washing” to improve the country’s image internationally. Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund owns English Premier League club Newcastle and the country is bidding to host the 2030 World Cup.
Cristiano was a free agent after his contract with Manchester United was terminated following a controversial television interview in which he criticized manager Erik ten Haag and the club’s owners. He is coming off a disappointing World Cup in which he was sent to the bench in the knockout stage. Portugal was eliminated after losing to Morocco in the quarter-finals.
After an illustrious career in which he won the Champions League with both United and Real Madrid, as well as other league titles and cups in England, Spain and Italy, he could be spending his last years away from the marquesse in Europe.
Although Saudi Arabia is coming off a World Cup in which it scored a memorable victory against eventual champions Argentina, it has few statistics in its domestic tournament and is not followed outside the country.