Following his sensational interview with Piers Morgan, which effectively ended his second stint at Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo took his talents to the Saudi Pro League, playing for Al-Nassr.
There was a possibility that Lionel Messi would follow Ronaldo to Saudi Arabia. However, he ultimately decided to go to the MLS for Inter Miami.
It is truly the end of an era, as two of the greatest football players ever have gone on different paths, and who knows if we’ll ever see these two share the field again?
However, the dream of elevating football in Saudi Arabia continues, as they’re still out there trying to convince stars to join them. And so far, Al-Ittihad have been the most successful at doing so, improving their SBOTOP Saudi Pro League 2023 odds of repeating next season.
Al-Ittihad loading up after successful campaign
Al-Ittihad are not resting on their laurels after winning their first Saudi Pro League crown in 14 years, as they’ve been quite busy in the early proceedings of this summer’s transfer window.
The Jeddah-based side went out to sign Karim Benzema on a lucrative three-year deal that will see him earn a tax-free salary worth €100 million annually. The Frenchman will also get bonuses if he publicly supports Saudi Arabia’s bid to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup.
Benzema had been with Real Madrid for 14 years, and he will leave the Bernabeu as one of their all-time greats. This season, the reigning Ballon d’Or winner is their top scorer with 24 goals, and he has also registered five assists.
The 35-year-old striker will significantly improve Al-Ittihad’s frontline, which has registered 60 league goals this season. More importantly, Benzema will feel at home with the team because he said that it has always been his goal to live in a Muslim country, being a Muslim himself.
N’Golo Kante is said to be following in Benzema’s footsteps after signing a binding agreement with Al-Ittihad. Nothing is final between these two sides for now since the Frenchman will have to pass his medical first.
Because of his injury history, Al-Ittihad will take a closer look at the Chelsea icon, which is understandable. But assuming he’s good to go, Kante will be a solid addition.
Ronaldo surprisingly does not make the cut
Cristiano Ronaldo had a lacklustre start to his Al-Nassr stint by his standards, as it took him three games to find the back of the net. But in the end, he registered 14 goals and two assists in 19 games across all competitions.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner is back to his dangerous form since signing for Al-Nassr in January, but for some reason, he didn’t earn a spot in the Saudi Pro League’s XI of the Season.
Instead, former Manchester United and now Al-Hilal striker Odion Ighalo took his place with his 19 goals in 27 games this season.
Two of Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr teammates made it, though, as Ghislain Konan was named as the league’s best left-back and Luiz Gustavo was named in the midfield.
Al-Nassr missed out on trophies this season after a poor run of Saudi Pro League 2023 results, eventually finishing second behind Al-Ittihad in the standings. They were also eliminated by Al-Wehda in the King Cup of Champions semi-finals.
Because they’re facing stiffer competition next season with the arrival of Karim Benzema at Al-Ittihad, Al-Nassr are another team that’s expected to be busy this summer.
A report from Sky Sports claims that Al-Nassr are looking to add Wilfried Zaha on a free transfer to partner Ronaldo up front.
Zaha, who registered 90 goals in 458 appearances in all competitions at Crystal Palace, has not made a decision on his future yet.
Al-Ahli aiming to make a huge splash
Al-Ahli are looking to make their return to the Saudi Pro League count by strengthening their roster next season, and they’re reportedly interested in bringing in a couple of Premier League stars like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Riyad Mahrez.
Aubameyang is expected to leave Chelsea after a poor campaign, and he wants to return to Barcelona. However, the Blaugrana aren’t keen on bringing him back, especially with their financial woes.
Mahrez is also on Al-Ahli’s wishlist, but they have yet to make an official bid for him. The Algerian international has two years left on his current deal at Manchester City, which expires in 2025. This season, Mahrez has played a key role in the Sky Blues’ push for a Treble, recording 15 goals and 13 assists across all competitions.
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