The Riyadh Season Cup was announced in late 2023 to great fanfare as this tournament was slated to pit Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr and Neymar’s Al-Hilal against each other. The competition proved to be a major disappointment, however.
Neymar did not feature at all, having torn his ACL while away with the Brazilian national team in 2023 and the showpiece event, Al-Nassr versus Miami, Ronaldo versus Messi, also did not live up to the hype given the conspicuous absence of the two megastars.
Both Messi and Ronaldo were injured for this game and the former only featured for ten minutes, with Miami boss Tata Martino not wanting to risk his talisman too much in an ultimately meaningless fixture, while the latter watched on from his VIP lounge. The game itself too wasn’t a ‘Last Dance,’ it was really a ‘Last Farce.’
For much of the game, Miami, in the midst of pre-season, looked hopeless against a mid-season Al-Nassr who are ready to return from their winter break. Even without the injured Ronaldo and Sadio Mane, who is not yet back from AFCON, the Saudi side completely dominated and stormed into a 3-0 half-time lead, with the final goal being a ridiculous direct free kick from his own half by ex-Man City defender Aymeric Laporte.
The match ended up being entirely one-sided and Al-Nassr ran out deserved 6-0 winners, making it two losses from two for Miami in Riyadh following their 4-3 loss to Al-Hilal a few days earlier.
A dead rivalry
The ‘Last Dance’ was a fitting ‘end’ to a rivalry that hasn’t been much of a rivalry in recent years. While Ronaldo – still a brilliant player, it must be said – has seen his career peter out at Man Utd and now in Saudi Arabia, Messi has continued to dominate football, though he has now also retired from the European spotlight to see out his final years in the US.
While Messi has won Ballon d’Ors, FIFA Best Awards and a World Cup, Ronaldo has slowly seen his relevance and standing in the game diminish, especially since getting booted out of Man Utd after an explosive interview with Piers Morgan.
The ‘Last Dance’ was also, in some ways, symbolic of the Saudi footballing project as a whole. Overhyped and with a plastic, artificial flavour, the ‘Last Dance,’ much like the nouveau riche Pro League, fell flat on its face in its attempt to become relevant by luring ageing stars to the Kingdom.