How Pele, Eto’o and others fared after the surprise moves

As well as ending a long-running transfer saga, Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Al Nassr likely brings the curtain down on one of the greatest careers in the history of elite European football.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner will undoubtedly become the highest-profile player to feature in the Saudi Pro League when he makes his debut, but he’s by no means the first to make such a move.

A tradition of elite players spending the twilight of their careers in an unfamiliar league, whether for a last payday or to raise the profile of the competition, is long-standing.

Here, Stats Perform examines how a host of other superstars have fared after making similar moves, including all-time greats Pele and Johan Cruyff, and a legendary duo of Spanish midfielders.

Pele (New York Cosmos)

By the time Pelé joined the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League (NASL) in 1975, the Brazilian had already solidified his place among the greatest players by winning three World Cups: the first as a teenager and the last as part of one of the great Selecao of all time.

Despite his advancing years, Pele’s class remained on display in the United States, where he scored 37 goals and recorded 30 assists in three years with the Cosmos, who won the NASL’s Soccer Bowl in 1977.


Franz Beckenbauer (New York Cosmos)

After signing a World Cup legend in Pele, Cosmos repeated the trick in 1977 with the acquisition of Beckenbauer, who played four seasons for the club before a brief return to Germany with Hamburg.

The Bayern Munich great can certainly count his time in the NASL as success, winning three Soccer Bowls – the last two without Pelé.

Johan Cruyff (Aztecs from Los Angeles and diplomats from Washington)

As another highly decorated player to move to the NASL in the late 1970s, Cruyff represented both the Los Angeles Aztecs and Washington Diplomats following his brief retirement in 1978.

The Dutch innovator complained playing on artificial surfaces in the US before bucking the tide for most players on this list: Cruyff returned to Europe at the twilight of his career, leading Ajax to two more Eredivisie titles and winning the division with their rivals Feyenoord.

Samuel Eto’o (Anzhi Makhachkala)

While every transfer on this list has been left on the field, few have created as much shock as Samuel Eto’o’s move from Inter Milan in 2011 to Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala.

Eto’o reportedly became the world’s highest-paid player with his move to Anzhi, for whom he scored 25 league goals before billionaire owner Suleyman Kerimov scaled back the now defunct club’s ambitions, taking l striker at Chelsea.

Samuel Eto'o

Samuel Eto’o

David Beckham (LA Galaxy)

The NASL established the tradition of soccer luminaries arriving in the United States, but Beckham’s 2007 move to the LA Galaxy helped Major League Soccer break new ground.

Beckham won two MLS Cups and two Supporters’ Shields with the Galaxy, but the wider impact of his move – which has inspired many other big names to head to the US and led the former England captain to found the ‘Inter Miami – it was huge.

Xavier (Al Sadd)

Xavi ended his playing career with Barcelona as Champions League winners in 2015, opting to spend four years representing Qatar Stars League side Al Sadd before cutting his managerial teeth at the same club.

The 2010 World Cup winner won Qatar’s top flight once as a player and once as a manager before returning to Camp Nou last year, having played and managed over 100 games under Al Sadd.

Andres Iniesta (Vissel Kobe)

The second of Barca’s passing masters left the European game in 2018, as Iniesta joined J1 League side Vissel Kobe in a shock move.

Considering he’s still team captain at the age of 38, Iniesta must have enjoyed himself in Japan, where he’s since been joined by compatriots Bojan Krkic and Sergi Samper.

James Rodriguez (Al Rayyan)

Every time the World Cup takes place, the idea of ​​rising stars is being discussed. Few players deserved that title more than Colombian Rodriguez, who achieved the highest score in the 2014 edition.

After winning titles with European heavyweights Real Madrid and Bayern Munich and enjoying a – rather less successful – spell at Everton, Rodriguez is now plying his trade with Al Rayyan, who languishes in eighth place in the Qatar Stars League .

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy)

Most of the players named on this list have had some form of success, both on and off the pitch, after making their surprise moves, but few can match Ibrahimovic’s feats.

Ibrahimovic was, like Ronaldo, 37 when he left Manchester United in 2018, scoring 53 MLS goals for the Galaxy in two highly successful seasons before returning to Europe to help Milan win the Scudetto earlier this season. year.

While it now seems unlikely that Ronaldo will return to the top of European football, if Ibrahimovic can pull it off, few would bet Portugal greats do likewise.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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