Neymar says Ronaldo blazed trail to Saudi league


Neymar said he has moved to a “very competitive” league by joining Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia and praised Cristiano Ronaldo for igniting the growth of the Saudi Pro League despite being called “crazy” when he moved to the Middle East last December.

Brazil forward Neymar, 31, quit French champions Paris Saint-Germain to join Riyadh-based Al Hilal, the reigning champions of Asia, in a transfer worth $98.6 million (€90 million).

The former Barcelona star had been linked with moves to Manchester United, Chelsea and a return to Camp Nou this summer, but speaking for the first time since the move he said that Ronaldo’s decision to join Al-Nassr following his release from United during the 2022 World Cup helped make Saudi Arabia an appealing destination for himself and some of the game’s top players.

“I believe Cristiano Ronaldo started all of this and everybody called him ‘crazy,’ and this and that,” Neymar said. “Today you see the league grow more and more.

“The league will be very competitive, especially after the signings made in the summer transfer window. I believe competitiveness is important. That’s why I am joining this league. I am driven by challenges. I am there to help the league grow.

“I am very excited to write a new story chasing all the objectives with the club and my teammates — winning more and more titles and fulfilling the club’s ambition. I am very excited in that regard.”

Neymar, who will reportedly earn an annual salary of $100m (€91.7m) at Al Hilal, brings the number of transfers to Saudi Arabia from Europe’s major leagues (England, France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Portugal) to more than 30.

And he said that the presence of Karim Benzema, Roberto Firmino and others will make the Saudi league exciting and competitive.

“It is exciting, meeting top-quality players on the other teams thrills you, and motivates you to play even better,” Neymar said. “And it is a given when you face Ronaldo, Benzema, Firmino, that the excitement is even greater.

“So I am happy to join this league, facing them will be wonderful, it will be fantastic. Of course a lot of Brazil will be watching the league. Obviously I will be there and I expect all Brazilians and everybody following the league to support Al Hilal.

“The message I have for them is I will do my best to make them enjoy football, our goal is winning all titles.”

The Saudi Pro League has invested over €600 million to lure a host of top players and coaches from European clubs, with other notable arrivals including Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson and Riyad Mahrez from Manchester City.

Neymar’s new team, Al Hilal, hosts Al-Feiha in the next round of league matches on Saturday.

Information from Reuters was used in this story.



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