THE NEXT CHAPTER of the Messi-Ronaldo rivalry looks set to be played between two mega-rich on two ends of the world.
Saudi Pro Leagues and Major League Soccer, the two non-European leagues with the financial capacity of competing with globally popular leagues like the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A etc, have secured the services of the two biggest players in world football and seem keen to leverage them to attract international fans as well as top players to their shores.
Cristiano Ronaldo joined Saudi club Al Nassr and he has been playing really well for them; scoring 14 goals in 16 matches, helping them finish second in the points table. Lionel Messi was also rumoured to be headed to the Gulf nation, but in the end, he decided to join Major League Soccer's bottom table club Inter Miami, which is owned by former England captain David Beckham.
Recently, Ronaldo caused a global stir, saying that the Saudi Pro League is much better than Major League Soccer.
Cristiano Ronaldo: "Saudi league is better than MLS".
"I'm 100% sure I won't return to any European club. I opened the way to Saudi league... and now all the players are coming here". pic.twitter.com/nvgESZnjeK
The statement is significant because it shows he is well aware of his role as something more than a player; an ambassador to SPL around the world. And in this statement he is signalling to other players that leaving European clubs for Saudi Arabia is a good idea.
Also both MLS and SPL have been on a war footing to prove they offer a high quality competition to fans, and Ronaldo openly proclaiming SPL's popularity adds an extra reason for players to make the move apart from the obvious financial incentives.
Ronaldo's comments also help counteract the debate about Saudi Arabian government's "sportswashing" that had risen during Messi's rumoured Saudi move, and the speculation that Messi decided not to go to the country due to its human rights violation controversies.
Saudi Arabia has been making major moves in the sports world recently. Apart from hosting major boxing, MMA and pro wrestling events, they also acquired the PGA Tour - the biggest name in the sport of golf - by merging it with their privately funded LIV Golf.
Had Ronaldo and Messi both joined the SPL, it would have made the league the undisputed leader in non-European football. But now that Messi has decided to join MLS, there is legitimate competition for SPL. And Ronaldo seems to be playing for his team here.
It remains to be seen if we get to hear something of a counter-statement from Lionel Messi on this MLS-SPL debate.
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