By: Ben Pawlak
Jan. 30, 2023
Photo Credit: Associated Press
Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the greatest athletes of all time. Over the course of his 20 year career, he transcended the sport of soccer to become a global icon, breaking just as many records off the field as he has on the field.
In 2020, he became the first active team-sport athlete to surpass $1 billion in career earnings. In 2021, he became the first person in the entire world to surpass 500 million followers across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter combined. In 2022, Ronaldo brought in roughly $55 million from endorsements alone, primarily from his lifetime deal with Nike and his CR7 brand. In fact, his personal brand has recently expanded its business from clothing and accessories to running hotels and gyms as well.
On Aug. 27, 2021, Ronaldo shocked the world by returning to Manchester United, the club where he first captured the attention of soccer fans around the world with his dazzling skills. Ronaldo’s salary during this second stint in Manchester was a whopping $60 million per year, making him the third highest paid athlete in the world in 2021 and 2022 according to Forbes. He immediately became the Red Devils’ highest earner, and his presence represented a significant financial investment from the club’s American owners Avram and Joel Glazer, who also own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s impact at Manchester United was immense for the club in regard to their jersey sales, their popularity (particularly on social media), and for a short period of time, their stock price. Despite the club’s short-term financial success, Ronaldo grew disappointed and dissatisfied with the club very quickly. At the end of the 2021/22 Premier League season, Manchester United had finished in 6th place, meaning they hadn’t qualified for the Champions League, the illustrious European competition which Ronaldo has won five times. He was also concerned that the club’s owners and upper management were leading the club in the wrong direction.
After being denied a summer transfer to a top European club where he could play in the Champions League, he lost his place in the starting lineup. Finally, in mid November of 2022, Ronaldo felt he had no choice but to voice these concerns, and he chose to do so in an explosive interview with British broadcasting personality Piers Morgan. In this interview, he stated that he felt “betrayed” by Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag and senior executives, accused the club of attacking his character, claimed that the club “doesn’t show respect for [him],” and claimed that the Glazers do not care about the club’s performance on the field and rather view Manchester United as a “marketing club.”
On Nov. 22, Manchester United terminated Ronaldo's lucrative contract by mutual consent with immediate effect. At this time, Ronaldo was in Qatar with Portugal playing in the World Cup, but throughout the month to follow, his agent Jorge Mendes worked hard to find his superstar client a new club. Finally, on Dec. 30, Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr FC reached an agreement with Ronaldo to join the club effective Jan. 1, 2023.
To many, this transfer came as a complete shock, since there has never been a player of Ronaldo’s stature and caliber competing in the Saudi Pro League. This league is the top tier of Saudi Arabian soccer, but it is still a completely obscure league compared to the likes of the Premier League, the Champions League, and the other elite European competitions which Ronaldo has dominated over the course of his incredible career.
At his new club in Saudi Arabia, Ronaldo will earn a salary of roughly $218 million per year for two-and-a-half years. This contract is on top of his signing bonus, which was worth approximately $110 million on its own.
Naturally, Ronaldo has broken yet another record by receiving the highest annual salary by any athlete ever. Al Nassr FC is owned and operated by members and associates of the Saudi Arabian royal family, so it’s clear that the country’s top officials see this mind boggling cost as a worthwhile investment.