Cristiano Ronaldo completes Saudi Pro League XI filled with familiar faces

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Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo's journey with Al-Nassr is about to begin (Image: Al Nassr Football Club / handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Cristiano Ronaldo may have walked away from the limelight of European football, but that doesn't meant to say we won't recognise some of his teammates and opponents at new club Al-Nassr.

Due to be unveiled at 4pm GMT on Tuesday, the 37-year-old superstar has signed a lucrative two-and-a-half-year deal with the Saudi Arabian Professional League outfit which will see him earn an eye-watering £173million in the Middle East. Although the move is widely regarded as one which signals the end of Ronaldo's top-level career, he'll still be competing with some well-known players.

As Saudi Arabia prepares its bid for the 2030 World Cup - which they hope both the former Manchester United striker and Lionel Messi will be part of - the nation's top flight is attracting more and more stars, with Ronaldo's arrival set to increase the league's pull.

With that in mind, here's an XI of the best players currently playing in the Saudi Pro League.

David Ospina

Starting off in goal, former Arsenal goalkeeper Ospina will be Ronaldo's new teammate at Al-Nassr. The Colombian shot-stopper, 34, joined the club in July on a free transfer from Napoli, where he spent a total of four years. He's since played 12 games and kept seven clean sheets, helping Rudi Garcia's side to sit top of the table, although having played one game more than rivals Al-Shabab.

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Yasser Al-Shahrani

A left-back by trade but blessed with hardly a weaker right foot, Saudi Arabia international Al-Shahrani is one of his nation's best players. Unfortunately, the rapid 30-year-old didn't have much chance to showcase his talents at the World Cup, as he was on the end of a horrific collision with his own goalkeeper's knee during Saudi's famous 2-0 victory over Argentina in their opening game. Al-Shahrani plays for Al-Hilal but hasn't featured since the incident on November 22.

Alvaro Gonzalez

Another of Ronaldo's new pals, ex-Villarreal defender Gonzalez is also relatively fresh to the Middle East. Having arrived in August, the Spanish centre-back has played a total of 11 games, the most recent of which was a 1-0 win away to Al-Khaleej on New Year's Eve.

Gonzalez, 32, may be best remembered by European fans for his feud with Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar. While playing for Marseille, his most recent club before Al-Nassr, Neymar accused the centre-back of racism during an "ugly" clash in 2020. The pair again exchanged blows over Twitter four months later after another encounter between the French sides.

Ahmed Hegazi

In our second centre-back spot is Al-Ittihad ace Hegazi, who swapped the English Midlands for the Middle East in October 2020. The former West Bromwich Albion star, who made 82 appearances for the Baggies after leaving native Egyptian side Al-Ahly three years prior, is hoping to help his current team challenge Al-Nassr in the title race. 31-year-old Hegazi - who boldly sports the No.11 for his country - even has two league goals to his name this season.

Cristiano Ronaldo completes Saudi Pro League XI filled with familiar facesAhmed Hegazy is Al-Ittihad's star defender (James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images)

Ghislain Konan

In our left-back slot is another 2022 arrival from Ligue 1 and Al-Nassr starter, Konan. The Ivory Coast international, 27, came from Reims over the summer and has made an impact at Mrsool Park with three assists as part of a tight-knit back line.

Luiz Gustavo

Into midfield and it's where we started getting very experienced. Ex-Brazil regular and Bayern Munich linchpin Gustavo also lines up for Al-Nassr, holding it down in the middle of the park for Garcia's side. Now 35, the veteran is enjoying himself working under Garcia for the second time in his career, having been with him at Marseille. Gustavo, despite being known for his defensive acumen, has an impressive four goals and two assists in 11 league appearances this term.

Grzegorz Krychowiak

Cristiano Ronaldo completes Saudi Pro League XI filled with familiar facesGrzegorz Krychowiak faced off against Saudi Arabia's national team at the World Cup (GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)

Remember him, West Brom fans? We forgive you if you don't want to, just like PSG supporters. The Polish stalwart, 32, continued his nomadic career path in July to link up with Al-Shabab, who're on course to be Al-Nassr's most prominent rivals for the title come May. Krychowiak, who you may've seen score two spectacular long-range goals in one of his first games earlier this season, is still on loan from Krasnodar and set to return to Russia once the campaign in Saudi Arabia ends.

Ever Banega

Nearly as well-known for his elegance on the ball as his mishaps with cars, Argentine ace Banega also stars in Al-Shabab's midfield. Having named his name over a six-season spell with Valencia between 2007 and 2014, the 34-year-old creative midfielder is now strutting his stuff in Saudi Arabia and hoping to avoid more ordeals with motors.

Cristiano Ronaldo completes Saudi Pro League XI filled with familiar facesEver Banega is Al-Shabab's chief playmaker (FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

In 2012, Banega was involved in two freak Ferrari incidents; the first of which was when he suffered a broken ankle that kept him out for six months after his car rolled backwards while he was filling up at a fuel station because he forgot to put the handbrake on. Later that year, his new Ferrari burst into flames because of a short circuit - fortunately he was uninjured.

Wonder if he takes the bus in Riyadh.

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Anderson Talisca

Now this is where it gets tasty. As part of our ageing but interchangeable front three, Al-Nassr fulcrum Talisca is shining in his third year outside of Europe. The ex-Guangzhou Evergrande ace boasts an incredible record of 31 goals in 43 games in the Middle East, having once been tipped for a big-money to the Premier League move before he left Benfica for Besiktas in 2018.

Talisca, 28, should provide Ronaldo will plenty of scoring opportunities, although he's yet to register an assist in league play this season. Nine goals in as many games, the division's best heading into the New Year, certainly makes up for it.

Vincent Aboubakar

He doesn't just have one of the coolest names in football, but former Porto marksman Aboubakar is deadly in front of goal. Even linked with a surprise transfer to Man United in January, the Cameroon talisman has four goals in his last five games for club and country, one of which was a header to shock Brazil at the World Cup - followed by a celebration which hilariously saw him sent off. 30-year-old Aboubakar still has lots to offer but could find himself playing second fiddle to Ronaldo soon enough.

Cristiano Ronaldo completes Saudi Pro League XI filled with familiar facesVincent Aboubakar usually leads the line for Al-Nassr (Getty Images)

Have your say! Where would this XI finish in the Premier League? Join the debate in the comments section.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Ah, Ronaldo. How did it get to this? Sadly for the five-time Ballon d'Or and Champions League winner, it seems that Saudi Arabia was his only option given his extravagant wage demands. Sporting Kansas City in America are said to have stumped up a late offer, but Ronaldo's mind was already made up.

There's not much else to be said about him, so let's go through some honourable mentions. Another ex-Porto striker in Moussa Marega plays for Al-Hilal, as does former West Brom playmaker Matheus Pereira, ex-Man United cult hero Odion Ighalo and Fulham flop Luciano Vietto. They're joined by another homegrown sensation, winger Salem Al Dawsari, and we expect a flock of foreigners to set sail for Saudi very soon.

Nathan Ridley

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