Cristiano Ronaldo will join Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia this month, marking one of the most significant transfers out of Europe in recent years. The move comes after the Portuguese superstar burnt his bridges with Old Trafford last year, making him one of the few free agents in the history of the game to compete at a FIFA World Cup.
The transfer to Al-Nassr makes Cristiano Ronaldo the highest-paid footballer in the sport’s history, surpassing Kylian Mbappe’s contract with Paris Saint-Germain.
However, Cristiano Ronaldo is not the first footballer to make a shock transfer out of Europe with many players in the recent past opting to move out of the continent at the tail-end of their careers. Lucrative contracts and an opportunity to make an impact in weaker leagues were attractive propositions for many of these players.
While the competitive nature of European football shows no mercy towards ageing players, many Asian clubs accept these players with open arms to boost their brand image globally.
Let’s take a look at five players who have made shock transfers out of Europe in the past.
#5: Roberto Carlos
The inaugural season of the Indian Super League saw plenty of senior foreign players participating in the country for the first time.
Franchises were keen to attract big names from around the world to gain recognition in the first edition, with the likes of Del Piero, Nicolas Anelka, Robert Pires, and David Trezeguet entering the fray in the 2014-15 season.
Following the footsteps of these senior players, Roberto Carlos joined the Delhi Dynamos as player/manager for the 2015-16 season.
Considered one of the most offencive-minded left-backs in the history of the game, Roberto Carlos was a veteran of Real Madrid, with whom he won four La Liga titles. He was also a regular starter for Brazil, ending his career as the third-most capped player for the national team.
Roberto Carlos played just three games as a player/manager of the Delhi Dynamos, ending his professional career after the end of the season. Under his tenure, the club finished fourth in the Indian Super League, faltering in the semi-finals.
#4: Daniele De Rossi
A veteran of the Italian club Roma, Danielle De Rossi won numerous accolades during his time with the Italian club. A defencive midfielder who is known for his complete command of the game, De Rossi was the go-to man for the Italian club between 2006 and 2011.
With 616 caps for Roma in all competitions, he is the second-most capped player in the club’s history. Daniele De Rossi also won the FIFA World Cup with Italy in 2006, scoring in the penalty shootout against France in the final.
Daniele De Rossi’s move to Boca Juniors in 2019 was widely predicted as the star expressed his admiration for the club numerous times in the past.
He made five appearances for the team, scoring one goal in Copa Argentina against Club Almagro. He retired shortly after his debut for Boca Juniors, citing family reasons for the move.
#3: Andres Iniesta
One of the greatest midfielders of all time, Andres Iniesta had a 22-year association with Barcelona before making his move out of Europe.
The most-decorated Spanish player of all time, Andres Iniesta was a core member of the Catalan club along with Xavi and Lionel Messi for more than 15 years.
Andres Iniesta joined the Japanese club Vissel Kobe soon after he retired from Barcelona where he continues to play. Along with Lukas Podolski and David Villa, Andres Iniesta continues to impress on the field even at the age of 38, scoring 21 goals from 110 fixtures for the J1 League club so far.
His contract with the club expires at the end of the current season, and it remains to be seen if the Spanish star would play professional football for a bit longer.
Barcelona’s current manager Xavi is one of the first high-profile signings made by the middle-eastern clubs, with “El Maestro” joining Qatari club Al Sadd in 2015.
The champion boy of Barcelona’s golden days, Xavi won every possible trophy in his 17 years at the Catalan club. Xavi was also a key part of Spain’s success in the FIFA World Cup in 2010 and contributed to the Spanish national team’s golden period between 2008 and 2012.
Xavi had a successful career with Al Sadd, acting as the ambassador for football in Qatar in preparation for their role as hosts of the FIFA World Cup 2022. He scored 21 goals in 82 fixtures with the Qatari club.
After his retirement in 2019, Xavi has been appointed the manager of Al Sadd by the club’s management, coaching the team to seven trophies in two years. Xavi’s move back to Barcelona as the revered club’s part-time manager has raised eyebrows given his lack of experience but has since brought back glory to the faltering club.
#1: David Beckham
David Beckham’s transfer to the United States at the age of 31 made him a global superstar, with the English midfielder raising the popularity of the game in the country.
After spending most of his 20s with Manchester United and Real Madrid, David Beckham moved to LA Galaxy in 2007, elevating the profile of Major League Soccer.
In five seasons with the club, David Beckham scored 18 goals in 98 appearances, but his intermittent moves to Milan gave him the title of a part-time player of the club. With two successive title victories in 2011 and 2012 with LA Galaxy, David Beckham became the first English player to win titles in four different countries.
One of the highest-paid athletes of his time, David Beckham reopened the transatlantic pathway in football, with the likes of Thierry Henry, Didier Drogba, and Wayne Rooney following him soon to make their fortunes in America.
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