Why was Premier League referee Michael Oliver booking Cristiano Ronaldo in the Saudi Pro League this week?

Cristiano Ronaldo
(Image credit: Getty)

News that Cristiano Ronaldo had been booked on Tuesday night for apparently "putting an opponent in a headlock" was always going to make headlines. 

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner is currently winding down his career in Saudi Arabia, on one of the most-lucrative playing contracts in sports history. Yet even in the shadow of Europe's top five leagues, the Portugal captain continues to demand attention. 

Ronaldo did kind of put an opponent in a headlock, as he leapt over his rival to try and win a header, and indeed he was booked. But, for many eagle-eyed Premier League fans, seeing the former Manchester United and Real Madrid juggernaut acting like a clumsy oaf wasn't even the most interesting thing about the incident. Rather, it was the man who brandished the card when Ronaldo hopped back up to his feet: Michael Oliver, of Premier League officiating fame. 

Oliver is arguably the English top-flight's best and most-recognisable match official these days, evidenced by the fact that the Northumberland native will be taking charge of the biggest game of the season next week: Manchester City vs Arsenal, in a game that could decide the title race. 

So what in the black-shirted blazes is Oliver doing prancing around a pitch in the Middle East? 

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Well, it seems that Saudi Arabia aren't only interested in tempting the biggest footballers out to the dunes with barrels of cash – they also want the world's greatest referees to come and officiate matches. 

Oliver was flown out to oversee Ronaldo's Al-Nassr lose 2-0 at Al-Hilal in a crunch game. Other big-name referees to have officiated matches in Suadi Arabia recently include Spanish referee Mateu Lahoz, who was drafted in to referee the top-of-the-league clash between Al-Nassr and Al-Ittihad.

So don't adjust your TV sets or clean your glasses next time you see a Premier League, Serie A or La Liga ref plying his trade in the sweltering Arabian sun. It looks set to become a growing trend. 

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Ed McCambridge
Staff Writer

Ed is a staff writer at FourFourTwo, working across the magazine and website. A German speaker, he’s been working as a football reporter in Berlin since 2015, predominantly covering the Bundesliga and Germany's national team. Favourite FFT features include an exclusive interview with Jude Bellingham following the youngster’s move to Borussia Dortmund in 2020, a history of the Berlin Derby since the fall of the Wall and a celebration of Kevin Keegan’s playing career.