RIYADH: Cristiano Ronaldo has shared his thoughts on playing and living in Saudi Arabia in his first full interview since joining Al-Nassr Football Club.
The interview, which was published on the Saudi Pro League’s social media channels, comes at the end of a campaign in which Ronaldo’s Riyadh club claimed second place following a closely fought battle for the title with new champions Al-Ittihad.
The Portuguese superstar stressed the positives and building toward next season despite his disappointment at missing out on the title.
He said: “Well, my expectation (at the start) was a little bit different. To be honest I expected to win something this year, but it is not always the way we think or the way we want; sometimes we need passion, consistency, and persistence to achieve the best things.
“So, I still believe that next year we will improve a lot. Let us say in the last five or six months the team has improved a lot. In the league, all the teams improved.
“It takes time sometimes, but if you believe and you think it is your goal, I think everything is possible.
“I expected to win something this year, but we didn’t, but next year I am really positive and confident that things will change, and we will go in a better way. So, let us believe that and work on that.”
Ronaldo joined the club in January and has featured extensively in the SPL, making a significant contribution to the club’s performances with 14 goals in 16 matches.
He added: “The league is very good but I think we have many, many opportunities to still grow. The league is competitive, we have very good teams, very good Arab players.
“But they need to improve the infrastructure a little bit more, even the referees. The VAR system should be a little quicker. I think other small things need to improve.
“But I am happy here, I want to continue here, I will continue here. And in my opinion if they continue to do the work that they want to do here, for the next five years, I think the Saudi league can be a top five league in the world.”
Regarding the biggest change following his move, the former Real Madrid and Manchester United star said: “One example is that in Europe we train more in the morning, but here we train in the afternoon or evening and in Ramadan we train at 10 at night. So, this is strange, but as I tell you these situations are part of an experience, memories.
“I like to live these moments because you learn with these things. It is difficult, but it is nothing I have not seen before. My experience so far is that Saudi fans really love football and like to live the life and it is good and I am so happy now.”
Saad Allazeez, Saudi Pro League’s vice chairman, recently said of the player: “The arrival of Cristiano always had the potential to be one of the most impactful and transformational in football history. And that has proved to be the case.
“He is a special footballer and a special person whose impact goes far beyond football. The ‘Cristiano Effect’ has definitely been felt. This season has been our biggest yet, with more spectators on match days, more followers and global viewing than ever before.
“The Saudi Pro League is now aired by 48 platforms and TV broadcasters in over 170 countries worldwide, and attendances at Al-Nassr matches have doubled year on year since Cristiano signed.
“Saudi Arabia is already a football-obsessed nation with over 80 percent of Saudi Arabia’s men and women either playing, attending or following football. Recent developments include the establishment of a professional women’s premier league and women’s national team and school girls league with 50,000 playing each week.
“And thanks to the new growth in the league’s popularity I’m sure other big names will look to follow in Cristiano’s footsteps and join the brilliant young homegrown talent who play in our league.”
Asked about players joining the league, Ronaldo said: “If they are coming, big players and big names, young players, old players, they are very welcome because if that happens, the league will improve a little bit.”
He added: “Living in Saudi is very good if you want to come here to have fun, to see the culture, to eat well.
“The Saudis live more at night which I think is quite fun and interesting. If you see the city during the night, it’s very beautiful. And if you like food, come to Riyadh — the city probably has some of the best quality restaurants I have come across.
“The most beautiful experiences I’ve had here were when I was in Boulevard World. It was something I really enjoyed. I took all my family there. So far it has been a very good experience.
“The family are happy, the schools are very good, and things that the country is building for the future.
“I like to see different things, try different things and this is why I am here as well. The next place that I want to see is AlUla. I want to go as I know it’s very beautiful. And as we travel around the country, you see many good places.”
He added: “Thank you very much for supporting me here every day, not only in the games or in the stadium, but outside in the streets and the places that I go.
“I will be part of your world, your culture. I will be here and I hope I make the people enjoy it through my games, my performance, and winning things.
“Again, thank you for welcoming me, and I will try to give my best during the time that I am here.”