LONDON: The “passion” of Saudi Arabia’s football-obsessed fans during this month’s FIFA Club World Cup in the Kingdom will set it up to host even bigger events in the future, two legends of the game said on Monday.
Former CWC champions Paolo Maldini and David Villa are in Jeddah this week as the Red Sea coastal city counts down to hosting the competition.
Both men have enjoyed glittering careers, including winning the tournament in 2007 (Maldini with AC Milan) and 2011 (Villa with Barcelona) respectively.
Now regular visitors to Saudi Arabia, the two shared their thoughts on the Kingdom’s growing stature and influence within global football.
“Hosting a tournament like the FIFA Club World Cup is a big challenge,” Maldini said. “FIFA is very strict when it comes to the terms of organizing a tournament, but with the passion here (in Saudi Arabia), I think they will find what they are looking for,” he said.
“I’ve been to Saudi Arabia several times. The first time was 30 years ago, and there are lots of changes since then. Saudis love football — this has been known for years, and I’ve experienced it personally. We have a goal to make this tournament one of the most important tournaments in the world, and this is achievable due to the passionate fans here.”
Villa echoed the sentiment: “I’ve visited Saudi Arabia four times in the last year — the passion for football is real here. Saudis have such a strong passion for football, not only locally but globally, too.
“To host a tournament like the FIFA Club World Cup is very important to Saudi Arabia, the Saudi League is developing rapidly, and Saudi football is progressing very well. There is also a huge affection for football here.
“Football should always be for the fans, those who are passionate and want to watch the games. That’s why it’s crucial and important for Saudi Arabia to host a tournament like the FIFA Club World Cup,” he said.
The tournament, which kicks off in Jeddah on Dec. 12, will see the champions of the six continental federations clash for the right to be called club champion of the world.
Manchester City, Fluminense of Brazil, Egyptian giants Al-Ahly, Asian champions Urawa Red Diamonds, Mexican side Club Leon and Auckland City will be joined by Jeddah’s own Al-Ittihad, who qualify as domestic champions of the host nation.