Superstars Making an Impact on and off the Pitch
By: Bartek Zarzecki
It has become quite common to see football stars that are past their prime move to leagues outside of Europe for one final major paycheck. Over the past decade, this has been most prominent in America’s Major League Soccer. However, famous players also move to other continents and leagues for one final challenge in their careers.
Within the last year, we saw Cristiano Ronaldo swap Manchester United for Saudi Arabia after he signed a 2.5-year $200 million deal with Al-Nassr FC, as reported by FirstSportz. It can be inferred that the 37-year-old was signed primarily for marketing reasons, rather than what he can contribute on the pitch. Ronaldo is one of, if not the, biggest social media influences, with over 583 million Instagram followers, he brings a great following wherever he goes.
After the Portuguese legend made the famous switch, viewership in the Saudi Pro League shot up over seven times, according to FirstSportz. Also, Al-Nassr’s Instagram page alone gained over 11 million followers upon Ronaldo’s arrival and announcement, going from a mere 800,000 to over 12 million. Al-Nassr’s President, Musalli Al-Muammar, admitted that football’s record goalscorer is viewed as an ambassador to football in Saudi Arabia and that Ronaldo’s signing is also seen as a brand positioning statement. “The agreement is not limited to football… it is commercially beneficial for us in terms of profitability,” he said. “Ronaldo will help achieve more success for the club, Saudi sports, and future generations.”
Ronaldo aside, another footballing great is also rumored to be heading to Saudi Arabia. With Lionel Messi’s current contract expiring at Paris Saint-Germain this summer and talks over an extension being essentially nonexistent at this stage, the Saudi Pro League is being tipped as one of his potential destinations for next season. Apart from the Middle East and a romantic homecoming to Barcelona, the 35-year-old is also rumored to join David Beckham’s MLS side Inter Miami, according to The Sporting News.
In 2007, English legend David Beckham transformed the MLS when he announced he would leave Real Madrid and join the Los Angeles Galaxy. In Beckham’s first season, he easily became the face of MLS. Average attendance in the league increased by 8.2%, and since then, the league has seen its average attendance go up over by over 40%, according to The Daily Mail.
His move encouraged many other big names to make the switch to the States. MLS fans saw Andrea Pirlo, David Villa, and Wayne Rooney, among other star players, also decide to give the new league a shot. The MLS had to change its structure and rules to make Beckham's, and later others’, move possible. It allowed each team a “Designated Player” spot and contract, whose salary would not affect the cap. Ultimately, soccer fans and league executives have David Beckham to thank for making the league and soccer more competitive among other sports and major leagues in the United States. Now a part owner in one of MLS’s newest franchises, Inter Miami, David Beckham is working hard to bring other famous stars to Florida with not only Messi but also Sergio Busquets being mentioned as potential additions to Phil Neville’s side.