Cristiano Ronaldo says the Saudi Pro League is better than France’s Ligue 1, while he joked on Friday that he might continue playing for another decade.
The Al Nassr captain, 38, was the star attraction at the Dubai Globe Soccer Awards at Atlantis, The Palm, where he scooped three prizes.
Ronaldo, who concluded 2023 as the leading goalscorer in men’s football for the calendar year, picked up honours for Best Middle East Player, the Globe Soccer Maradona Award for most goals of the past 12 months, and Fans’ Favourite Player of the Year.
Speaking during a panel discussion before the awards ceremony, as part of the Dubai International Sports Conference, Ronaldo was asked about the level the revamped Saudi Pro League has reached.
“To be honest, I think the Saudi league is not worse than the French league, in my opinion,” the five-time Ballon d’Or winner said. “In the French league I think you have two, three teams at a good level. In Saudi, now I think it’s more competitive.
“People can say whatever they want, it’s just my opinion. And I’ve played there one year so I know what I’m talking about.
“But I think right now we are better than the French league; we can still improve.”
Ronaldo has been credited with helping spark the influx of high-profile players to the kingdom. He signed for Nassr in late December 2022, and has been followed to the top-flight by the likes of Karim Benzema, Neymar, Sadio Mane, Riyadh Mahrez and N’Golo Kante.
Ronaldo has yet to win a major trophy with Nassr, but with the Riyadh side fighting on three fronts still this season – they sit second in the league, seven points back, after 19 rounds – he is well placed to change that.
The Portuguese forward has been in sparkling form this campaign, and went into the league's 2023 Asian Cup break sitting top of both the scoring (20) and assist charts (nine).
In 2023, Ronaldo netted 54 times in all, including adding to his international men’s record with Portugal – two more than Harry Kane and Kylian Mbappe, and four more than Erling Haaland. He turns 39 on February 5.
“I was the best goalscorer this season,” Ronaldo said. “Imagine beating young animals like Erling Haaland. I’m proud, and I’ll be 39 soon. I like when people doubt me and then I’m successful. I don’t get affected by the criticism.” On how long he can continue playing – his contract with Nassr has another 17 months to run - Ronaldo replied: “At the moment when I finish I don’t know, to be honest. Of course, it will be soon.
“By soon, I mean 10 years more. I’m just joking. I don’t know; let’s see.”
He added: “I feel so happy at Al Nassr, it’s great move. Saudi is in a process; it will take long… but step by step they will go to the top level.
“I think Saudi Pro League will be among top three leagues in the world. People in Saudi will be proud.”