As 2023 comes to a close, Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo is the year’s top goal scorer. His 54 goals for Al-Nassr and Portugal top Harry Kane and Kylian Mbappe on that list, and scoring against Al-Taawoun on Saturday, Ronaldo cemented his lead on the duo with his 18th Saudi Pro League goal of the season. Ronaldo has also ended the year scoring in four consecutive league games and eight of his last 10 contests. But when looking at the quality of goals, what does it mean?

Kane plays for Bayern Munich, while Mbappe plays for Paris Saint-Germain, both clubs in the top five European leagues that are also contending for the Champions League crown. While domestically, both teams are dominant forces in their leagues, does that make their goals more impactful than Ronaldo’s scored for Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia?

Even with the goals, Al-Nassr is seven points off the pace of league leaders Al-Hilal, although that is more down to their defense allowing 23 goals this season as the two teams have similar goal-scoring numbers. Al-Nassr is also involved in the AFC Champions League, but that isn’t near the same quality as the UEFA continental competition. Sometimes it can be easy to dismiss numbers in smaller leagues, which leads to overlooking players who can help a team, but in the case of Saudi Arabia, the domestic league is somewhat similar to America with Major League Soccer.

Only founded in 1976, the Saudi Pro League initially was created with eight teams and has now grown to 18, but the disparity between the top teams and those down the table couldn’t be larger. With the Saudi Public Investment Fund taking control of four of the founding members of the league-Al-Ahli, Al-Ittihad, Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr, they’ve been provided with the ability to spend almost limitless amounts of money to attract players like Sadio Mane and Karim Benzema. Ronaldo’s addition to the league from Manchester United nearly a year ago helped make this happen, but it also means that there are essentially four super teams in the league that dominate play.

All occupying top-six places in the league, the top three scoring teams are all PIF-owned, while two teams have conceded almost 50 goals in 18 games played. It’s a gap that says that domestic Saudi Arabian soccer has a long way to go, but if other teams can acquire even half the strength of the PIF-operated sides, that’s when the league as a whole will explode around the world.

As long as the gap exists, numbers like Ronaldo’s will also come with an asterisk. Four of the five top scorers in the league are from PIF-operated clubs, and the top two, Ronaldo and Aleksandar Mitrovic, were marquee signings for the league to push forward. Georges-Kevin N’Koudou has broken into the PIF monopoly with 14 goals for Damac, but more parity will need to exist for scoring in this league to be similar to the Bundesliga or Ligue 1. With Ronaldo’s impact, that may come in the not-too-distant future.

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