Ronaldo vs Messi: 7 reasons why the Saudi Pro League is better than the MLS

Ronaldo vs Messi: 7 reasons why the Saudi Pro League is better than the MLS

Ayoola Kelechi 23:30 - 18.07.2023

After Lionel Messi's move to Inter Miami, Cristiano Ronaldo has claimed that his Saudi Pro League is superior to the Argentine's MLS and these seven reasons prove that the former Real Madrid forward has a point

Al-Nassr forward Cristiano Ronaldo has been in the news recently after his statements about the Saudi Pro League being a superior league to the MLS, just a day after Lionel Messi was announced as a new signing for American club Inter Miami.

Ronaldo’s words have caused a stir in football circles, with many labelling the Portuguese superstar as delusional.

However, there seems to be some credibility to Ronaldo’s claims, and these seven reasons show that the former Real Madrid forward has a point.

No Salary cap

Messi’s bumper salary and franchise offer are anomalies in the MLS, as the Argentine forward was signed under the league’s designated player provision, nicknamed “the David Beckham rule” after Inter Miami owner David Beckham, who was the first player signed under the provision.

MLS clubs can only sign a maximum of three designated players per team, while other players are covered by the league’s salary cap, where players can only earn a maximum of $651.250 per year.

This is paltry in comparison to most leagues in the world, let alone the Saudi Professional League, which is known for its extravagant salary offers.

Clubs in the Saudi Pro League are not bound by a similar cap or even by Europe’s financial fair play laws, which ensure that teams cannot spend beyond their revenues’ capability.

Without the limits of other leagues, clubs in the Saudi Pro League have been able to convince players to sign with them with outrageous salaries, allowing them to attract a number of surprise signings this summer.

More relevant stars

Including the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo, the Saudi Pro League has continued to bring in star players, with the profile of footballers going to ply their trade in Saudi Arabia becoming increasingly interesting.

Champions League winners Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante have both chosen to join Al-Ittihad, while Al-Hilal’s midfield next season will contain recent Manchester United targets Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Reuben Neves, who are both current internationals with Serbia and Portugal.

Karim Benzema and N'Golo Kante joined Al-Ittihad this summer
Karim Benzema and N'Golo Kante joined Al-Ittihad this summer

Other star players like Paul Pogba and Manchester City’s treble winner Riyad Mahrez have also been linked with a move to Saudi Arabia, while Bayer Leverkusen winger Moussa Diaby has reportedly turned down a move to Aston Villa after a bid from a Saudi Pro League club turned the Frenchman’s head.

The MLS does not have such an extensive list of superstars, thanks particularly to the salary cap and designated player slots, as well as the fact that the American League is one of the least financially rewarding among top leagues.

Inter Miami have used their three designated player slots to bring in Messi, Sergio Busquets, and potentially Jordi Alba, but these players are a standard above the league’s current stars, including Carlos Vela, Christian Benteke, Xhedran Shaqiri, Thiago Almada, and Riqui Puig.

Potential for growth

The MLS has come a long way from the days of halfway-line penalty shootouts and funny gimmicks to become a “serious” league capable of attracting arguably the greatest player of all time, but it appears to have reached its Zenith, especially with salary caps that will struggle to attract top talent.

The Saudi Pro League, however, appears to be at its taking off point and is already making a splash in the world of football that rivals the MLS.

With more stars going to Saudi Arabia and the clubs in the Saudi Pro League not hampered by a spending cap or financial fair play, the Arabians have a chance to build something special.

Starting off on such a strong foot means that the Saudi Pro League can still grow a lot more and eclipse the standard set by the MLS.

Better timing for viewers

Fans of Lionel Messi who are set to become Inter Miami aficionados are set to find out just how difficult it is to follow MLS teams from outside American time zones.

With American cities being between four and seven hours ahead of GMT, the MLS is at a disadvantage in terms of followership of matches since games often kick off around 1am GMT, an uncomfortable hour for most of football’s watching populace.

Georgina Rodriguez with Cristiano Ronaldo at his Al-Nassr unveiling
Georgina Rodriguez with Cristiano Ronaldo at his Al-Nassr unveiling

Matches in the Saudi Pro League, on the other hand, kick off and end much earlier, as Saudi Arabia is 3 hours ahead of GMT.

Blockbuster matches will usually be played around the same time of day as UEFA Champions League matches, making the Saudi Pro League games much easier to follow.

No competition from other sports

America’s favourite sporting pastime regularly shifts between American football, baseball and basketball, leaving the MLS and “soccer” in general to fight for scraps alongside hockey, golf, and Tennis in the country’s hierarchy of sports.

Patrick Mahomes NFL MVP
Patrick Mahomes NFL MVP

Saudi Arabia has no such problems with football being one of the major sporting endeavours in the country, attracting huge followings and now huge investments.

Larger financial backing

Despite teams boasting reputable sponsors such as Herbalife, Target, Etihad Airways, and Bimbo Bakeries and individual teams being valued into the hundreds of millions, the MLS franchise cannot currently compete with the financial might of the Saudi Private Investment Fund, which has become a leading investor in four of the biggest teams in the Saudi Pro League.

Newcastle United Players Celebrating their equalizer against Southampton
Newcastle United will be playing in the UEFA Champions League for the first time in 20 years after being backed by the Saudi PIF

The Saudi PIF, which is backed by the oil-rich Saudi Arabian government with near-unlimited wealth, has made it obvious that it will spare no expense to improve the lot of the Saudi Pro League with the goal of making it one of the top leagues in the world by 2030.

More visible in media

Whether for good or for bad, the Saudi Pro League is currently more talked about than the MLS, an example being Ronaldo’s recent comments about the league overshadowing the unveiling of Messi and Busquets as players of Inter Miami.

With the league constantly targeting familiar faces from Europe’s top sides, they continue to remain relevant in news cycles and fan discussions.

Even the questionable antics of the Saudi Pro League in signing players from teams in Europe allegedly backed by funds from Saudi Arabia have led to increased visibility for the league as discussions fuelled by its major players remain at the top of football deliberations, giving the league more visibility.

Over the last five years, the Saudi Pro League has rivalled the MLS for Worldwide searches on Google, with the gulf league enjoying a spike in related searches when Ronaldo signed and at the end of the 2022/23 league season.

Both peaks have not been matched by the MLS’ biggest announcement in the signing of Messi showing that the level of interest in the American league still has some catching up to do.

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