Cristiano Ronaldo Throws Shade On Lionel Messi, American Soccer and MLS

The era of Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Lionel Messi may be over in Europe after nearly a decade of competing at the highest level of the game, but that still doesn’t mean that the GOAT debate ends with it.

Eyebrows were certainly raised in January 2023 when Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the greatest footballers of all time, swapped the lofty heights of European football for the fledgling Saudi Pro League, ending an unsuccessful second stint at Manchester United to sign for Al-Nassr FC.

Fans thought his career was over and his move to the Arabian Peninsula was acknowledged by Ronaldo; At the age of 38, Ronaldo still leads club and country, scoring decisive goals for his team, and is eyeing more major trophies with Al-Nassr FC as interest in the Saudi Pro League grows with each passing game.

And now, after unveiling his professional rival Lionel Messi as the latest star player to join MLS in front of a sold-out stadium of 65,000 on Monday, Cristiano Ronaldo has boldly declared that the quality of the Saudi Pro League is far superior. “[The] Saudi league is better than MLS,” said the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.

“I am 100% sure that I will not return to any European club.” I opened the way to the Saudi league… and now all the players are coming here.”

Ronaldo’s claims are not entirely inaccurate. After deciding to swap Europe for Saudi Arabia earlier this year, Ronaldo has paved the way for more and more players to join Saudi Arabia’s top five clubs this transfer window. Kalidou Koulibaly, Ruben Neves and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic signed for Al-Hilal; N’Golo Kante, Karim Benzema and Jota have joined Saudi Pro League champions, Al-Ittihad; and Eduord Mendy and Roberto Firmino both swapped the Premier League for Al-Ahli.

“My decision to join the Saudi Arabian clubs was 100% essential to get new top players. That’s a fact,” Ronaldo said. “When I joined Juventus, Serie A was dead and after I signed… it was revived. Wherever Cristiano goes, he generates more interest.”

The Saudi Pro League will undoubtedly grow exponentially thanks to the so-called ‘Ronaldo Effect’; Such is the Portuguese striker’s unrivaled star power that more and more players will see the league as a legitimate step to bring fans of some of the world’s best players to Saudi Arabian football.

Al-Nassr’s Instagram following exploded overnight in January alone, jumping from around 860,000 followers before the legendary striker signed – their current total is 15.7 million followers. Not only that, but since Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer, interactions across social media have skyrocketed to 150 million per month, making the Saudi Arabian club the fourth “most popular” sports team in the world ahead of Manchester United, Manchester City and the Golden State Warriors.

Conversely, Lionel Messi’s move to MLS and David Beckham’s newly formed team at Inter Miami had similar results, with Miami’s Instagram growing from 1 million to its current nearly 10 million in just over a week.

The star power of these two soccer titans is undeniable, and while they may no longer compete in the famous El Clásico, the GOAT debate will never die. It remains to be seen which player will win the final battle of the leagues, but Cristiano Ronaldo and the Saudi Pro League look set to take a slim lead by half-time.

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