Saudi Arabia have announced that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are set to meet again in a friendly match between Inter Miami and Al Nassr in February.
The game, which the announcement says will take place as part of the Riyadh Season Cup, could be the last time the pair face each other in their playing careers. It is set to happen in the first week of February next year at the Kingdom Arena.
A statement from Turki Alalshikh, chairman of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority, said: “We look forward to welcoming everyone from Inter Miami in February for the Riyadh Season Cup, which will bring together a number of the biggest international stars from across all three clubs competing.
“The excitement and global interest that we expect this tournament to generate expands upon one of our main aspirations for Riyadh Season – to create international events that visitors to Riyadh and fans around the world can all enjoy.”
Messi, 36, played the majority of his career at Barcelona while Ronaldo, 38, competed against the Argentina international during his successful spell at Real Madrid after moving from Manchester United in 2009.
Between 2008 and 2017, it was only Messi or Ronaldo who lifted the men’s Ballon d’Or — the award given to the player who is considered the best in Europe.
Messi last played against Ronaldo when his former side, Paris Saint-Germain, played against the Saudi All-Stars in January this year. Both players scored in the game.
Inter Miami signed Messi in July on a two-and-a-half year deal. He had attracted interest from former side Barcelona and clubs in Saudi Arabia. Ronaldo, meanwhile, joined Al Nassr in January after his contract was mutually terminated by United.
How has Messi done in MLS?
Messi moved to Major League Soccer following his exit from PSG before making his debut with David Beckham’s Miami franchise – and scoring with an 89th-minute free-kick – in July.
Messi went on to help the club to the 2023 Leagues Cup title in a fairytale start, but missed several games in September and October with what was initially described as fatigue being later confirmed as a muscle injury.
Miami would ultimately miss out on the postseason and finished 14th in the Eastern Conference.
He returned to action with Argentina during last month’s international break and collected a record-extending eighth Ballon d’Or prize in Paris earlier this month.
Why Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi won the Ballon d’Or and what it means for MLS
Why is Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia?
Following a dramatic exit from Manchester United and an explosive interview with Piers Morgan, Ronaldo signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with Saudi Pro League club Al Nassr on December 30.
In doing so he became the highest-paid player in football history with the deal earning him in the region of £173million ($210m) a year.
He helped guide Al Nassr to a second-place finish in his first season, scoring 14 goals in 16 games.
Rejection, revenge and soft power: Inside Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr
Ronaldo’s move was followed later in June of this year with the announcement that the country’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) would take control of four teams in the SPL.
PIF — which owns an 80 per cent stake in Premier League side Newcastle United — control 75 per cent of the four SPL teams (Al Ahli, Al Ittihad, Al Hilal and Al Nassr), with the other 25 per cent controlled by a non-profit organisation.
A number of global superstars followed Ronaldo in the summer transfer window including Karim Benzema, Neymar, Roberto Firmino and N’golo Kante and it remains to be seen if any more follow when the winter window opens in January.
How does this game benefit Inter Miami?
Analysis by Paul Tenorio
It’s no surprise to see Inter Miami leveraging the opportunities that come when Lionel Messi plays for your team. Just as the LA Galaxy went on multiple Asian tours when David Beckham played in MLS, Inter Miami is clearly looking to boost the brand globally around Messi.
An expected tour to China was canceled, but this game will certainly generate plenty of headlines and exposure for Inter Miami and MLS. The game seems set to be played in the first week of February, and while Inter Miami qualified for the CONCACAF Champions Cup, which starts February 6, they received a bye to the Round of 16, which will not be played until March.
Inter Miami is set to start preseason on January 10 and sporting director Chris Henderson said the club was looking to schedule friendlies both at home and internationally.
‘He sold himself to the devil’ – Messi, 2030 and a very uncomfortable deal with Saudi Arabia
(BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)