Ronaldo the latest star to end career in soccer outpost


Cristiano Ronaldo attends a press conference to officially unveil himself as a new member of Al Nasr Football Club in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday 3 January 2023. As the best footballer he has won 5 Ballon d’Or awards Ronaldo world champions 5 champions his league his title he will play outside Europe for the first time in his illustrious career . (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)


Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t the first soccer superstar to head to one of the world’s supposed minor leagues later in his career.

The huge payday at the end, the temptation to become a trailblazer in a country trying to rise in sporting status, or simply to try something different is often too great to resist. will not bow out at the top like Zinedine Zidane — even if the French great was sent off in the final game of his career, the 2006 World Cup final.

Other players like Pele, Johan Cruyff, Zico, Xavi Hernandez and Ronaldo, 37, now of Saudi club Al Nasr, usually make huge sums in unlikely football outposts. I find myself extending my career in

Here we focus on some of them across five different countries.


It was a move that changed the history of American sports. A Brazilian great and owner of his three unprecedented World Cup winners’ medals, Pele was courted by the team for four years before joining New York in 1975. He signed with Cosmos. According to Clive Toye, Cosmos’ then-general manager, Pele’s two-and-a-half seasons put U.S. football on the path to hosting the World Cup in 1994 and starting Major League Soccer two years later. Cosmos’ average attendance nearly tripled in Pele’s first year and continued to grow thereafter. He scored his 37 goals in his 64 games in North American football in his league and did all his PR work needed for his mission to mainstream football and support a surge in youth participation. . “We wouldn’t be where we are today if Pele didn’t decide to come to the United States,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. Many top players, including George Best, David Beckham and Thierry Henry, have finished their careers and moved to the United States for lifestyle reasons.


Zico is as fondly remembered in Japan as he is in his native Brazil. After his two highly successful years at Flamengo and his two years at Udinese in Italy, the playmaker retired from his playing career at the age of 38, turning Japanese football into a professionalism. I was guided. He played for the Kashima Antlers, his four seasons from 1991 to 1994. This period was before the start of the J League in 1993. Zico he remained in Japan until 2006, when he stayed at Kashima as a technical director and coach before becoming the national team coach. Until the 2006 World Cup he coached the cycle for four years. Since then, he has been inducted into the Japan Football Hall of Fame and is known as the ‘Soccer God’ in Japan. Along with England great Gary Lineker, who also played in Japan at the start of the league, Zico is seen as a key figure in the development and growing popularity of Japanese football. Spain’s Andrés Iniesta, who won the 2018 World Cup and has been playing for Vissel Kobe since 2018, is another key player who has played in Japan.

Xavi Hernandez

Xavi wasn’t the first star player to land in Qatar’s top league, but he joined in mid-2015 at the age of 35 after being captain of Barcelona, ​​who lifted the Champions League trophy a few weeks earlier. He may have been the one who got the most attention, given what he did. The league had been running for more than 40 years for him by that point, and since the turn of the 20th century he had Marcel Desailly in 2003 and Pep He Guardiola, Gabriel Batistuta in 2012, Raul González in 2012 and others. has attracted famous players from even in Brazil. The great Romario was sent to Qatar’s biggest club, Al He Sadd, at a cost of $1.5 million for him in 2003. We came to play. That was before Qatar won the hosting of his 2022 World Cup in 2010. In those 12 years, Xavi, one of Spain’s greatest players, was one of Spain’s most famous footballers, stayed in the country for six years, earned his coaching qualification and won his World Cup. was following a plan to become an ambassador for He was an Al Sadd player from 2015-19 and the team’s coach from 2019-21 before returning to Barcelona as coach.

Alessandro Del Piero

The majestic Italian World Cup-winning forward Del Piero is the biggest name to have played in Australian football after two seasons (2012-14) with Sydney FC. Australian History” – reportedly earning him $2 million in one season. Del Piero scored 24 goals in 48 appearances, but as one of the rare superstars to play football in Australia, his greatest satisfaction came at Down Under as television viewership and Sydney attendance skyrocketed. A record 35,000 spectators watched the 38-year-old Del Piero’s debut, while Sydney’s membership topped 10,000 and the club’s president Scott Barlow said they have “raised the A-League onto the world stage”. Former Liverpool and England striker Robbie Fowler spent a brief stint at his two clubs in Australia before the arrival of the Italian. Dwight Yorke had spent the previous season in Sydney. —so in a way, it was a missed opportunity in a country where rugby league and cricket are king. It showed a timely excitement.

Didier Drogba

In 2012, Chinese clubs came together to attract top stars to the premier league, the Chinese Super League, after surviving the aftermath of a corruption scandal that tarnished their reputation. But it wasn’t enough to dissuade Didier Drogba from signing for Shanghai Shenhua. This was probably the biggest draw for this first major player that also included Nikola Anelka. Drogba, who was 34 at the time, was a big deal at the time. The Ivory Coast striker had just scored a late equalizer in regulation time and scored his penalty in the clinch in the 2012 shootout to lead Chelsea to their maiden Champions League title. Last. Drogba called it a “leap into the unknown”. Drogba lasted six months before returning to Europe, Galatasaray being a turbulent schism and China unable to compete with Europe. However, Guangzhou Evergrande became the first Chinese team to win the Asian Champions League in his 2013 and won it again in 2015. 2017 saw another wave of top players, including Carlos Tevez, Alexandre Pato and Oscar.


New York-based AP sports writer Ronald Blum contributed to this article.


Steve Douglas is at


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