Dubai: In recent months there have been several huge stories in Saudi Arabian football. The 2-1 FIFA World Cup win against Argentina was massive. It was the biggest shock in the history of the tournament and the country’s greatest moment in football. But, it has been eclipsed with the arrival of Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo to Saudi club Al Nassr.
He had become a free agent after his contract was canceled by Manchester United following an explosive TV interview and was wanted by many clubs all around the world but he chose the Yellows as he yearned for a new challenge.
Ronaldo to be unveiled at Al Nassr club tomorrow
One of the world’s greatest-ever footballers of all time, he will be watched closely in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam and elsewhere over the course of his two and a half year contract by hundreds of millions of football fans in every corner of the planet. And he will do great things there, of that there is no doubt. Remember, it was only last season that he was posting 18 goals in the English Premier League for the Red Devils.
Asia has never seen anything like this. In the past the Chinese Super League spent millions on huge stars such as Carlos Tevez, Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba. But the arrival of Ronaldo is on another level. This is not just the biggest story in Saudi Arabian football, it might be the biggest story in football, full stop.
Following a decent World Cup the international stock of the Saudi Pro League was relatively high but Ronaldo’s presence will shine a massive spotlight on it. There are some talented domestic-based players in the country such as Salem Al-Dawsari, Saleh Al-Shehri and Mohamed Kanno and now with Ronaldo playing in the same league as them, they will have the perfect opportunity to learn from the ultimate professional.
Nobody thought it would happen but it has and it is bound to be an incredible adventure. At the stroke of a pen and the signing of a contract, Al Nassr have become the most talked about team in the world and it is all thanks to one man.
His move will earn him a whopping $241 million. That’s $41 million more than what Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain had to pay for Brazilian Neymar in 2017. The 37-year-old will have his pockets well and truly lined, but what can the former Real Madrid and Juventus attacker do for his new club and country?
Well first of all when it comes to marketing, nobody comes close to the five-time Ballon d’Or winner as Al Nasr will soon find out. Merchandise and shirt sales will be through the roof while the stadiums in the Kingdom will be full to the brim. Fans will be desperate for tickets to catch a glimpse of CR7. The press areas will have an international flavour as the world’s media will be keen to monitor his every move. Social media will go crazy. With over 500 million followers he is the most popular person on Instagram. Wherever he goes, he is guaranteed attention and if just 10 percent of his followers take an interest in his latest move the Saudi Pro League will become one of the most watched in world football.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has introduced significant social reforms and the Kingdom has been diversifying its economy and catering to the aspirations of its young population. Ronaldo’s arrival will contribute to this. Football is the most popular sport in Saudi and he will give it a huge boost, even if he is nearing the end of his glittering career.
His move to Al Nassr is the first major step in an effort to position the country at the core of Middle Eastern sports. The five-time Champions League winner will not only be a huge benefit to the Saudi Pro League but the sports eco-system in the country as a whole. He will inspire the youth for the future and we could soon be seeing Saudi-born players in the ranks of major European clubs.
The UAE is already well on the map when it comes to sports what with so many international events held here. Ronaldo, who led Portugal to the 2016 European Championships, can enhance Saudi’s effort to replicate this and he will likely be used in an ambassadorial role for the country’s bid to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup.
Without a doubt, he has a chance to not just leave a legacy but also to change Saudi Arabian football forever.
Ronaldo could make Al Nassr debut on Thursday
For several weeks the main talking point in football was which club would Ronaldo join after he had his contract terminated by United. That was answered as the Portugal captain joined Al Nassr on a £175 million-a-year deal. Now, the next big question is when will he make his debut for his new team?
Excited Al Nassr fans chanted his name and performed his trademark ‘Siiiu’ celebration in the stands as they watched their team beat Al Khaleej 1-0 in the Saudi Pro League at the weekend.
Portuguese flags were visible in the Prince Mohamed bin Fahd Stadium as Vincent Aboubakar got the only goal of the game. It kept Al Nassr one point clear of Al Shabab at the top of the table.
The 37-year-old was not at the match but it is understood that a grand unveiling at a home game at the 25,000-capacity Mrsool Park is being planned. And that could be on Thursday January 5 when Al Nassr take on Al Ta’ee. But, the superstar forward could also wait for the massive top of the table clash against Al Shabab on January 14 with the two teams jockeying for first place.
Ronaldo has been resting after his exploits at the FIFA World Cup and will be fresh and ready to make his debut with the world watching.
But since the former Real Madrid and Juventus ace has moved to a league outside of Europe, he will no longer be playing in the UEFA Champions League. Saudi Arabia is a member of the Asian confederation whose continental club competition is the AFC Champions League however Al Nassr did not qualify for this year’s competition.
Fans queue for Ronaldo shirt
Still, it won’t be long before he is up against the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe when Al Nassr play in a massive friendly game against Paris Saint-Germain in the Riyadh Season Cup. The match was originally scheduled to be played in January 2022 but was postponed due to COVID-19. It is expected to be rescheduled for early this year.
More about his new club Al Nassr
Formed in 1955, Al Nassr is based in the Saudi capital of Riyadh and the club plays in the country’s top division - the Saudi Professional League (SPL), which has 18 teams.
It finished third last season, six points behind champions Al Hilal.
Al Nassr are the second-most successful team in the league with nine titles. Their last win was in the 2018-19 season. Only Al Hilal, also based in Riyadh, have won more titles (18).
They have also won the country’s knockout cup, the King’s Cup, six times, most recently in 1990.The league’s all-time top scorer Majed Abdullah played for Al Nassr. The former Saudi striker scored 189 goals and averaged nearly a goal a game.
Al Nassr’s home ground is Mrsool Park, which has a capacity of 25,000.
Al Nassr’s best performance in Asia’s premier club competition, the AFC Champions League, came in 1995 when they finished runners-up.
Saudi teams have won the AFC Champions League six times, with Al Hilal claiming a record four titles while Al Ittihad won the continental competition twice.
Al Nassr are coached by Rudi Garcia, who previously managed Lille, AS Roma, Olympique Marseille and Olympique Lyonnais. The Frenchman has been in charge since June.
SPL clubs can register eight foreign players but only seven can be named in a matchday squad.
Other notable foreign players in the squad include Cameroon’s World Cup hero Vincent Aboubakar - who changed the game against Serbia and scored the winner to stun Brazil in their last group game in Qatar.
Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina, who previously played for Arsenal and Napoli, as well as former Brazil international and midfielder Luiz Gustavo are also in the squad.
Ronaldo has scored over 700 goals in club football and over 100 in international football to sit top of the all-time scoring charts with 819 strikes.
Despite United’s struggles last season, an ageing Ronaldo showed he still had some gas left in the tank when he finished top scorer with 24 goals, including 18 in the Premier League.
But he struggled this season at United, scoring only three times in all competitions before his exit.
In Qatar, he became the first player to score in five World Cups but he soon lost his place in the starting lineup after Portugal reached the knockout stages.
Scoring goals has not been a problem for Al Nassr this season, however, with the team netting a joint league-high 24 goals after 10 games - the same as leaders Al Shabab.
PLACE OF BIRTH: Funchal, Madeira
Sporting Lisbon (POR/2002-2003)
Manchester United (ENG/2003-2009)
Real Madrid (ESP/2009-2018)
Manchester United (ENG/2021-2022)
Al-Nassr (KSA/starting 2022)
INTERNATIONAL CAPS: 196
INTERNATIONAL GOALS: 118
INTERNATIONAL DEBUT: August 20, 2003 v Kazakhstan (1-0)
European championship 2016;
Nations League 2019
Five Champions Leagues (2008, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018)
Four Club World Cups (2008, 2014, 2016, 2017)
Three European Super Cups (2014, 2016, 2017)
Two Italian championships (2019, 2020)
Two Spanish championships (2012, 2017)
Three English championships (2007, 2008, 2009)
One FA Cup (2004)
Two English League Cups (2006, 2009)
Two Spanish Cups (2011, 2014)
One Italian Cup (2021)
Two English Community Shields (2007, 2008)
Two Spanish Super Cups (2012, 2017)
Two Italian Super Cups (2018, 2020)
Five Ballons d'Or (2008, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017)
Three FIFA Best Player awards (2008, 2016, 2017)
Top goalscorer in Champions League history - 140 (not including preliminary rounds)