Cristiano Ronaldo is still mulling over a multi-million Euro offer to play for Al Nassr, if reports are to be believed, but if he chooses against Champions League football in favour of life in the Saudi Pro League, it will be a game changer for football in the region, according to his friend and former team-mate Michel Salgado.
Since his contract with Manchester United was cancelled last month, the future of the Portuguese superstar has been subject to fervent speculation.
Chelsea were interested last summer, Sporting would love him back in Lisbon, and there was even talk that Paris St Germain might somehow try to crowbar him into their array of superstar talent that is close to bursting at the seams.
The one firm offer, which must be tempting, is from Al Nassr, one of the richest clubs in the Saudi Pro League, whose are prepared to pay almost €200m per season.
And if he does take it up, he will be the spark to ignite Arabic football around the world, says Salgado.
The former Spain defender played with Ronaldo at Real Madrid and has since gone on to coach clubs in Egypt and Dubai, and was speaking in Doha during the World Cup.
He said: “For the Arab world and for Muslim fans around the world, having Cristiano Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia will be a big, big thing.
“He’s going to bring a lot to Arab football, a lot of hope, a lot of knowledge as well, a lot of great things. I think he’s a spark for the Arab world.
“I know some people are criticising him because he’s just after the money, but I don’t care about what he’s chasing. I just see the positive things that Cristiano Ronaldo is going to bring into that world and I’m part of that world right now.”
And Salgado understands the passionate nature of Arabic football, having coached the Egyptian national team. “Al Nassr is a big team in Saudi, and I can tell you, Saudi Arabia will go crazy for Ronaldo as soon as he lands in Riyadh. The country’s going to be crazy, the Arab world is going to be crazy.
“I’m nobody to judge him, he’s my friend and I played with him. I know how strong he is. And to be honest, life is going to be very good for him, very calm, peaceful, very good for the family as well. “And in the end, he’s going to still enjoy the Al-Hilal v Al Nassr, which is like Real Madrid v Barcelona, a very big derby. So I think he’s going to enjoy his football with Al Nassr especially with the passion that I can see in Saudi.”
As a right-back who played against some of the best players in the world, including Lionel Messi and Neymar, Salgado is well-placed to discuss what defenders must do in order to shackle these marquee players, which now includes Kylian Mbappe, who is currently causing sleepless nights for England’s defence ahead of their quarter-final with France on Saturday.
The key thing, according to Salgado, is not let it become a personal duel, but to defend as a unit.
“It’s very complicated with these kind of players if you end up one against one. Mbappe is very quick and powerful on the run, so it’s going to be difficult to stop him if you give him space.
“Messi’s abilities are outstanding, out of this world. Neymar is very skilful and has imagination, doing different things all the time. So for me, the most important thing as a defender is having the right system and the right support to make you strong, it means that there is always a cover, there is always a place where you can send them and somebody can stop him most of the time.”
And with Gareth Southgate said to be considering a change of personnel or formation in order to stifle Mbappe’s threat, Salgado reckons the speedy and combative Kyle Walker is England’s best bet on Saturday night, rather than Trent Alexander Arnold of Liverpool.
“Walker is a better defender than Alexander-Arnold, who is more offensive,” said Salgado, who spent two seasons in the Premier League with Blackburn Rovers.
“But I’m sure that England will try to stop Mbappe with a way of playing and a defensive system where he is not going to receive the ball with space to run. For England it is very important that they can control Mbappe, they can control what happens in between the back four and the goalkeeper.”
“But I think England have their strengths as well. It’s going to be one of the best games at this World Cup. England have a lot of speed up front, as well, and Jude Bellingham is another beautiful player.
“We talk about Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar who have been superstars for a long time. But of the players that I have loved in this World Cup with bright futures, one is Bellingham for sure, and another one is Jamal Musiala. Those two have been fantastic.”