Leave it to Cristiano Ronaldo to bring the Inter Miami party down a notch.
The night after Lionel Messi was unveiled as Major League Soccer‘s marquee signing, Ronaldo publicly dismissed the quality of the league and reinforced his commitment to making the Saudi Pro League one of the world’s best competitions.
Despite influx of stars, Saudi Arabia has catching up to do
Saudi clubs have spent eye-watering sums this summer in a renewed push to attract star players to the Middle East. Beyond Ronaldo — who joined Al-Nassr in January — the league has been able to recruit reigning Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, who joined Al-Ittihad in June.
Ronaldo’s international teammate Ruben Neves signed for Al-Hilal despite links with FC Barcelona, while N’Golo Kante has joined Benzema at Al-Ittihad. In addition, Liverpool midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson are also close to sealing moves to the country.
However, Saudi Arabia has yet to entice many peak-age players to leave the comforts of Europe. And while Cristiano‘s presence has indeed brought increased interest to the league, Al-Nassr‘s 5-0 preseason loss to Celta Vigo‘s B team on Monday does not serve as a great advertisement for the quality of its football.
Players are going to Saudi Arabia…but not Messi
The icing on the cake for Saudi executives this summer would have been convincing Messi to join Ronaldo in elevating the league to new heights. But Messi — who serves as a tourism ambassador for the country — turned down an offer to join Al-Hilal, and the 36-year-old instead committed to growing soccer in North America.
Messi will debut with Inter Miami on Friday in a Leagues Cup match against Cruz Azul. Matchups like that one are more easily accessible for fans to watch than Ronaldo‘s games with Al-Nassr — whose quest to help the Saudis achieve soccer supremacy is still in its early stages.