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

© AFP

The arrival of football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday as the newest member of the state-owned club Al Nassr marks an enormous step forward in the desert country’s foray into top-level sport.

Ronaldo, 37, was met with rapturous applause by the packed, 25,000-capacity Mrsool Park stadium in 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 club until June 2025 for an estimated 200 million euros, following an acrimonious exit from his former club Manchester United after he harshly criticised the team’s owners and coach, Erik ten Hag, in a TV interview.

“I’m a unique player. It’s good to come here, I broke all the records there (in Europe) and I want to break a few more here,” he told reporters at Mrsool Park stadium. Indeed, his new team’s ambitious owners hope to set up a repeat of Real Madrid’s storied “Galactics” of the 2000s, which was stacked with such global stars as England’s David Beckham and France’s Zinedine Zidane.

Ronaldo’s presence could well encourage other big names to play in Saudi Arabia.

According to a club official who wished to remain anonymous, Al Nassr also has its sights on Croatian playmaker Luka Modric as well as Chelsea’s French midfielder N'Golo Kanté.

At Al Nassr, led by Frenchman Rudi Garcia, Ronaldo will be rubbing shoulders with former Ligue 1 players such as Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina, Brazilian midfielder Luiz Gustavo and Cameroonian striker Vincent Aboubakar.


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