Even after watching his old nemesis Lionel Messi lift the World Cup trophy in December, Cristiano Ronaldo remains one of the most talked-about stars in world football.
It appeared as if the Portuguese ace might be winding down towards retirement after agreeing a mega-money deal to join Saudi Arabian side Al-Nassr, but there is still a chance that Ronaldo could return to the Champions League – via the unlikeliest of sources.
In a contract clause that will have football fans increasingly concerned about the power of Middle Eastern club owners, CR7 will be allowed to join Newcastle United on loan if they qualify for next season’s Champions League.
The Magpies are owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), the sovereign capital group into which the Saudi Arabian aristocracy ploughs its bountiful finances – this ledger already has more than £40 billion in assets to its name.
Another of those is the local club Al-Nassr, whom PIF also have a controlling stake in via their shell company Qiddiya Investment Company. It goes without saying that it’s this fund, rather than the club itself, which has bankrolled Ronaldo’s eye-wateringly expensive move to the Middle East.
The 37-year-old, who severed ties with former club Manchester United after a fallout with boss Erik ten Hag, was revealed as an Al-Nassr player on December 30. He is expected to make his debut later this week.
Saudi State of Mind
Many have predicted that the move to Saudi Arabia will, effectively, end Ronaldo’s career as a player of any prominence on the world stage.
But you suspect he won’t mind too much, given that he has swapped the rain of Manchester (and a £26 million a year contract) for the sunshine of Saudi and a bumper pay packet of a cool £172 million per season – all underwritten by PIF, of course.
CR7 will bank around £3.3 million per week while turning out for Al-Nassr, and it’s thought that his contract will run through until 2025 – when Ronaldo will turn 40.
Despite his powers on the pitch waning, Ronaldo still has a remarkable pulling power from a commercial perspective, and his Al-Nassr contract will ensure he remains the highest paid footballer in the world – earning far more than Messi and even Kylian Mbappe, the PSG star who notched a hat-trick in the World Cup final.
It’s thought that Ronaldo will be asked to front Saudi Arabia’s plan to host the 2030 World Cup, with reports suggesting they are planning a bid for the tournament alongside unlikely bedfellows Greece and Egypt.
The former Real Madrid star could soon be joined by a pair of familiar faces at his new home in Al-Nassr. Reports suggest that the PIF purse string pullers want to reunite Ronaldo with his former Galacticos teammates Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric, with talks already opened with the ageing duo.
Both are out of contract with their club sides, PSG and Real Madrid respectively, this summer, and it’s believed that Ramos is open to the move.
Modric, a World Cup bronze medallist with Croatia, will need more convincing as he eyes a one-year contract extension in Madrid, but the trio – with a combined age of 110 – could herald a new dawn in global stars heading to Saudi Arabia for a final career swansong.