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Lion Links: 12/31/22

Getting to know Pride midfielder Mikayla Cluff, Ronaldo signs with Al-Nassr, January transfer window nears, EPL roundup, and more.

NWSL: Orlando Pride at Racing Louisville FC Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Happy New Year’s Eve, Mane Landers! We are officially waving goodbye to 2022 and saying “Hello, 2023!” When the ball drops at midnight, I’ll be spending some time on the couch, watching the festivities tonight with family this year. Hopefully, I can still get around to visit those today who I still have not seen yet this holiday season before heading back to work and normal day-to-day life.

As we wrap up this year’s Lion Links, I want to say on behalf of myself and all of The Mane Land staff — it has been an honor and a privilege to collect and report club- and soccer-related news for you all this year. We wish you all a happy and healthy 2023. Now, check out the final links of 2022!

Get to Know Orlando Pride’s Mikayla Cluff

The Orlando Pride went “Outside the Lines” with midfielder Mikayla Cluff. The Utah native and BYU product talked about her hobbies, some of which fans might find surprising, how competitive she and her husband are when it comes to...well, everything, and how a general lack of belief in the Pride helped fuel the team in 2022. Orlando ultimately didn’t make the postseason but the Pride gave the playoffs a much better run than most expected, climbing into the thick of the race until the final six games. Give the video a watch and get to know the Pride midfielder better.

Cristiano Ronaldo Reportedly Joins Al-Nassr

It appears to be the end of an era as Cristiano Ronaldo has signed a contract with Saudi Arabian side Al-Nassr for $75 million per year through the summer of 2025.

With the deal, Ronaldo appears to be giving up his top-level playing career but it will ensure he is extremely well remunerated in his compensation package.

“I am excited to experience a new football league in a different country,” Ronaldo said in Al-Nassr’s statement announcing the deal. The vision of what Al Nassr are doing and developing in Saudi Arabia both in terms of men’s and women’s football is very inspiring. We can see from Saudi Arabia’s recent performance at the World Cup that this is a country with big football ambitions and a lot of potential. I am fortunate that I have won everything I set out to win in European football and feel now that this is the right moment to share my experience in Asia. I am looking forward to joining my new teammates and together with them help the Club to achieve success.”

The logistics behind Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabia have been agreed upon with the club. The deal includes a home for the striker and his family in an affluent area close to the training ground, along with his salary worth well in excess of $1 million per week. Ronaldo could see his earnings more than double through the sale of his image rights. He is also expected to have a role in the Saudi bid for the 2030 World Cup.

In addition to Ronaldo, Al-Nassr is eyeing his former teammate Sergio Ramos. Ramos and Ronaldo played alongside each other at Real Madrid from 2009 to 2018, winning four Champions League titles and two La Liga championships. Ramos would be able to sign as a free agent with the 36-year-old’s contract at Paris Saint-Germain expiring at the end of this season.

Top Targets for January Transfer Window

Despite inflation and other financial instability around the globe, the English Premier League still broke its spending record in the summer transfer window, dishing out $2.2 billion. That was more money than Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A, and the German Bundesliga combined. With the World Cup over and finances set to be stretched further, free transfers will become even more important, and there are plenty of star players available as free agents at the end of the season if they don’t put pen to paper soon.

Real Madrid has a host of players out of contract in the summer such as Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos, Marco Asensio, Luka Modric, and Dani Ceballos. French World Cup star Adrien Rabiot’s future at Juventus is up in the air, as the club deals with a host of financial and legal issues. N’Golo Kante, Chelsea’s 31-year-old midfielder, has become less of a key player for the Blues in recent seasons and has suffered more injuries.

The World Cup thorn in the USMNT’s side, Memphis Depay, has had no hope that he will be given a chance at Barcelona with only two appearances in La Liga this season. He is Xavi’s sixth-choice forward and the club is looking to get him off the wage bill.

These are just a handful of top players in a very long list that scouts are soon to be calling about. One thing is for certain, it is sure to be a very busy January.

English Premier League Friday Recap

We were blessed with two EPL matches Friday. Brentford defeated West Ham, 2-0. Star striker Ivan Toney left the field on the back of a cart after suffering what appeared to be a serious injury to his right knee. The 26-year-old, who scored his 11th goal of the EPL season, now sits third in the league scoring rankings but was in considerable pain as he received treatment for nearly five minutes before he was carted off at the end of the match.

Also across the league at Anfield, Liverpool came out on top 2-1 winners in a hard fought contest against Leicester City. It was the visitors who took the lead in the fourth minute as Patson Daka found Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, who scored for Leicester. Liverpool found the equalizer in the 38th minute when a Trent Alexander-Arnold cross was deflected into his own net by Wout Faes. This was just the first for Faes, however, as seven minutes later he deflected Darwin Nunez’s effort in to make it 2-1 after the Uruguayan’s chipped effort had come back off the post.

Free Kicks

Well, that puts a stamp on the final 2022 edition of Lion Links. The year as a whole had ups and downs for the club on both the men’s and women’s side and even for the Young Lions. But on the positive side of things, it was a year that saw Orlando City lift its first major MLS-era trophy. As we step forward into 2023, let’s all say it together — vamos Orlando!