Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Saudi club a new highpoint for football in Middle East

Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Saudi club a new highpoint for football in Middle East
In this file photo taken on November 28, 2022, Portugal's forward #07 Cristiano Ronaldo takes a free kick during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group H football match between Portugal and Uruguay at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha. (Photo courtesy: AFP)
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Updated 31 December 2022

Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Saudi club a new highpoint for football in Middle East

Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Saudi club a new highpoint for football in Middle East
  • The Portugal star is expected to play for Al-Nassr for two years before taking over its ambassadorial role
  • Ronaldo’s presence will be an ideal opportunity for domestic players to learn from the ultimate professional

RIYADH: There have been some big stories in Saudi Arabian football in recent months and years but there has been nothing like Cristiano Ronaldo signing for Al-Nassr.

The World Cup win over Argentina was huge and will never be forgotten, providing arguably the nation’s greatest moment in football.

But when it comes to domestic club football, nothing has come close to the Portuguese legend’s arrival in the Roshn Saudi League.

The presence of one of the world’s greatest-ever players in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam and elsewhere will be watched over the next few weeks, months, and, maybe even, years, by hundreds of millions in every corner of the planet.

Forget just Saudi Arabian football, this is one of the biggest stories in football — period. Few thought it would happen but here we are. It is sure to be an unforgettable adventure.

Ronaldo is set to play for the Riyadh giants for two years. After that, it has been reported he will be in line to take on an ambassadorial role at the club until the end of the decade.

During the World Cup, when rumors of Ronaldo’s move to Saudi peaked, Al-Nassr’s coach Rudi Garcia revealed his excitement at the prospect of working with one of the best players in the history of the sport.

He said: “I think that any coach would be delighted to train a great star like Cristiano.

“I have always thought that the great players are the easiest to manage because they are very intelligent.”

This handout picture, released by Saudi Arabia's Al Nassr football club, shows Portugal's forward Cristiano Ronaldo posing with the club's number seven jersey in Madrid on December 30, 2022 upon signing for the Saudi club. (Photo courtesy: Twitter/AlNassrFC)

Wherever the Portuguese star goes, attention follows. He is the most popular person — not footballer or athlete, but person — on instagram with in excess of 500 million followers on the social media platform.

Even if just 10 percent of those take an interest in what he does with Al-Nassr, the Saudi Professional League will be one of the most watched in the world.

At the stroke of a pen and the signing of a contract, Al-Nassr have become one of the most talked about teams in the world.

In terms of marketing, there is no one like the former Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus megastar, as the Yellows and the rest of the league are going to find out.

Everywhere he plays, stadiums are going to be full. Press boxes will have an international flavor, while social media will go crazy in dozens of different languages.

There have been some great players who have come to Saudi Arabia over the years, and some great stars active in the league right now, but there has never been a signing like this in this part of the world.

Asia has never seen anything like it. In the previous decade, the Chinese Super League spent hundreds of millions, billions even, on huge stars. The likes of Carlos Tevez, Nicolas Anelka, Didier Drogba, Oscar and others were major stars, but the arrival of Ronaldo is on a different level.

He is so famous that his achievements don’t really need repeating, but there are so many that it is easy to forget a few.

This is a player who has won the Ballon d’Or five times, the Champions League five times and the league title seven times during stays in England, Spain and Italy.

He also led Portugal to the 2016 European Championships. There are all kinds of other cups and trophies; his trophy cabinet is full to bursting.

His presence will shine the biggest possible spotlight on the league, this at a time when the international stock of the SPL is relatively high, following a decent set of performances at the World Cup.

The famous win over Argentina made headlines everywhere. Then came an unfortunate 2-0 loss against Poland and a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Mexico. It was an up and down group, but fans everywhere saw that there is talent in Saudi Arabia. The team were competitive from start to finish and in with a chance of progression.

It is now generally recognized that there are talented players in the country, such as Salem Al-Dawsari, Saleh Al-Shehri and Mohamed Kanno.

Not just that, but there are a whole host of top-class imports. At Al-Nassr Ronaldo will be linking up with Vincent Aboubakar, last seen scoring the winner for Cameroon against Brazil at the World Cup; 2018 South American Player of the Year Pity Martinez; Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina; Anderson Talisca of Brazil; and six of the Saudi World Cup squad. This is a team that would stand against many in Europe.

If Lionel Messi is expected to head to the US before long to play MLS, there is no reason for surprise at Ronaldo’s move to the SPL, one that can lay claim to being the best league in Asia, a continent that had three national teams make the last 16 of the World Cup.

Ronaldo became a free agent after his contract was canceled by Manchester United following an explosive TV interview. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, the fact that the interview became a worldwide sensation shows the player’s global reach.

At the age of 37, the fact that there are 30 games in the season as opposed to 38 in England should be welcome news for the forward.

He is not able to cover the same ground as in his heyday, but is still incredibly fit and scored 18 English Premier League goals last season.

And while his presence will make waves off the pitch, he has responsibilities on it.

Here is an ideal opportunity for domestic-based players to learn from the ultimate professional.

Cristiano Ronaldo has a chance to not just leave a legacy but to change Saudi Arabian football forever and, just as much as his undoubted skills, that is what makes this move exciting. Whatever happens, the world will be watching.