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Cristiano Ronaldo, the face of Saudi Arabia’s new sporting ambitions

RIYADH: The arrival of soccer famous person Cristiano Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday as the most recent member of the state-owned membership Al Nassr marks an unlimited step ahead within the desert nation’s foray into top-level sport.

Ronaldo, 37, was met with rapturous applause by the packed, 25,000-capacity Mrsool Park stadium within the capital Riyadh.

The five-time winner of the Ballon d’Or and five-time winner of the European Champions League signed with the Saudi membership till June 2025 for an estimated 200 million euros, following an acrimonious exit from his former membership Manchester United after he harshly criticised the group’s house owners and coach, Erik ten Hag, in a TV interview.

“I’m a singular participant. It’s good to come back right here, I broke all of the information there (in Europe) and I need to break a couple of extra right here,” he advised reporters at Mrsool Park stadium.

Certainly, his new group’s formidable house owners hope to arrange a repeat of Actual Madrid’s storied “Galactics” of the 2000s, which was stacked with such world stars as England’s David Beckham and France’s Zinedine Zidane.

Ronaldo’s presence may properly encourage different massive names to play in Saudi Arabia.

Based on a membership official who wished to stay nameless, Al Nassr additionally has its sights on Croatian playmaker Luka Modric in addition to Chelsea’s French midfielder N’Golo Kanté.

At Al Nassr, led by Frenchman Rudi Garcia, Ronaldo shall be rubbing shoulders with former Ligue 1 gamers corresponding to Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina, Brazilian midfielder Luiz Gustavo and Cameroonian striker Vincent Aboubakar.

However greater than breaking native soccer information, a star of Ronaldo’s stature additionally represents a spectacular coup within the Gulf kingdom’s sporting and diplomatic offensives.

The facility of soccer

Like current World Cup host Qatar, which additionally owns Paris Saint-Germain, Saudi Arabia has already invested closely in soccer. Notably, in October 2021, a Saudi consortium snapped up the English Premier League membership Newcastle United, regardless of an initially hostile reception from its followers.

Ronaldo’s signing, nevertheless, represents “a brand new and unprecedented technique”, says Karim Sader, a political scientist and specialist of the Gulf international locations.

“It’s not about shopping for a membership that can shine in a overseas league, however about shopping for a star participant whose brilliance will make your individual league shine. It’s about turning into a soccer powerhouse in a single’s personal proper fairly than asserting one’s energy by means of soccer,” Sader stated.

Whereas the Portuguese striker shouldn’t be the primary getting old soccer star to finish his profession in a Gulf nation, a participant of his calibre has by no means earlier than signed within the area. Off the pitch, he’s additionally a style icon, an influencer and a social media celeb, with some 570 million followers on Instagram. His mere presence within the modest Saudi league attracts a worldwide highlight to each the league and the nation.

“Asia has by no means seen something like this,” reported the Dubai-based English-language each day Gulf Information. “Wherever he goes, he’ll seize consideration and if solely 10% of his followers are occupied with his new membership, the Saudi League will change into one of the watched on the planet.”

World Cup 2030?

With Ronaldo’s identify recognition, Saudi Arabia can also be securing a luxurious ambassador in its bid to host the 2030 World Cup. FIFA will designate that yr’s host nation or international locations by 2024.

“That is the start of the operation to seduce the world soccer authorities, because the presence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had already proven on the opening match of the World Cup in Qatar. They arrive to hunt a sacred anointing with Ronaldo,” Raphael Le Magoariec, a specialist on the geopolitics of sport on the College of Excursions, advised AFP.

Saudi Arabia’s nationwide group created a sensation of their opening match on the Qatari World Cup by beating Lionel Messi’s Argentina. Now, Riyadh is contemplating a joint Asia-Africa-Europe bid to host soccer’s largest match with Egypt and Greece.

The awarding of World Cups has lengthy been topic to the sacrosanct precept of rotating continents and confederations, however observers say there isn’t any cause why Saudi Arabia couldn’t win over soccer’s governing physique so quickly after Qatar, the primary Center Jap nation to host the occasion.

“There was a number of criticism of Qatar, however in the long run it was an ideal success and it mirrored properly when it comes to picture. The world of soccer shouldn’t be restricted to Western eyes,” Sader stated, declaring the Arab world’s enthusiastic help for the historic semi-final journey of the Moroccan group or, certainly, Saudi Arabia’s opening win over the eventual cup winners, Argentina.

“All this was felt as a victory for the Center East,” he stated.

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