Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — cristiano ronaldo Wanted a Champions League swan song in the football cathedrals of Madrid, Milan or Munich, playing on the biggest stage with and against the game’s most famous players. Instead, the floodlights will dim on his glittering career at Al-Nasr’s compact stadium, Misool Park, on the grounds of King Saud University, a mile away from Saudi Arabia’s investment ministry building.
It’s an incongruous setting, but when you consider the financial package Ronaldo has been offered to join Al-Nasr, the investment ministry is perhaps the perfect neighbor for his new club. Ronaldo has signed a $75 million-a-year (£62m) deal with Saudi Arabia’s second-biggest club — Riyadh rivals Al-Hilal, the reigning Asian Champions League winners. Real Madrid in this part of the world — will certainly soften the blow of the 37-year-old’s declining status that inevitably comes with his move to the Saudi Pro League, but it certainly wasn’t intended to be here.
When he made it clear that he wanted to leave Manchester United In the summer, Ronaldo’s desire to transfer was driven by his determination to play in the Champions League. But then there were no major European takers for his talents and United canceled his contract during the World Cup, and there haven’t been any since. The lucrative contract offer from Al-Nasr, which has been on the table for almost two months, has turned out to be the best and only option for one of the greatest footballers to ever play the game.
Former Dr. among his new teammates Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina, Cameroon forward Vincent Abubakar and Talisca, the Brazilian striker who tops the scoring charts in the Saudi Pro League with nine goals so far this season. Odeon Izhalo, the former Manchester United forward, is one of three players to finish second with six goals. Yet life in Saudi Arabia will be a completely new experience for Ronaldo, whose career has so far been based in the historic football cities of Lisbon, Manchester, Madrid and Turin.
Ronaldo would cause a stir in Saudi Arabia, a country with a well-resourced domestic league and national team, but he also risked being out of sight and out of mind by pursuing the switch.
Social life in Riyadh seems to revolve around shopping malls. Although Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy and an authoritarian state Alcohol consumption is strictly prohibited And Appoints religious police The growing power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, espousing a strict interpretation of Islam, has seen the country temporarily open to Western influence in recent years.
It’s in those malls that the new Saudi Arabia shows itself — a world Ronaldo will soon be immersed in. Those expecting Ronaldo to live in a country that operates differently from Europe and North America will be in for a surprise. It’s the same, but a little different.
The View Mall in Central Riyadh could be anywhere in London, New York or Los Angeles. The multiscreen cinema is showing “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” “Puss in Boots” and “Bed Rest,” and there’s a bowling alley next to a gaming arcade. The family is having dinner at Nando’s, buying a cake at Magnolia Bakery or watching football on the big screen while waiting to bowl at Bob’s Famous Eat, Bowl and Chill.
The same is true next to the Four Seasons Hotel at the Kingdom Tower Mall across town, which could be built for Ronaldo and his family. It targets the rich (and famous) Dior, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Victoria’s Secret with stores in the four-story shopping center.
There is a Nike store across the street. A footballer dominates the window with his giant image wrapped around the glass. He’s wearing a Manchester United shirt, but it’s not Ronaldo: it Marcus Rashford.
Talk to Uber drivers, hotel staff or baristas at coffee shops and they all know and love football. The majority claim to be supporters of Jeddah-based side Al Ittihad and all speak excitedly of the recent World Cup in Saudi Arabia where they defeated the eventual champions. Argentina 2-1. In terms of their favorite players, two are mentioned more than others: Paul Pogba And Mohamed Salah. No one even tells Ronaldo Lionel Messiwho in May agreed a £25 million-a-year deal to become the face of the Saudi Arabia Tourist Board.
“Pogba and Salah are very popular, primarily because they are great players, but also because they are Muslim,” a source in the Saudi Arabian sports ministry told ESPN. “They also support Pepsi, which is a big deal in Saudi because Pepsi dominated the market before Coca-Cola. Both players are huge names in the country, but the leading Saudi players are also very popular.”
Mark Ogden believes Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabian club Al-Nasr was a sad end to his football career.
Life as one of Saudi Arabia’s leading footballers is one of privilege, though Ronaldo isn’t the only star to be treated to.
As part of their contracts with pro league teams, top players receive salaries comparable to major European leagues. While their bottom line incomes won’t be on par with the highest earners in the Premier League or La Liga, the overall packages are so comprehensive that it’s a rarity for a Saudi Arabian player to move to Europe. A source told ESPN that leading Saudi players are “treated like rock stars” and “given huge houses in the best compounds”. [gated, security-patrolled luxury accommodations] And the cars they love.”
There is also no income tax for Saudi citizens, a flat rate of 20% on tax-adjusted profits for non-Saudis. In short, Ronaldo — and all foreign players in pro leagues — will lose far less than he earns in any European league.
Ronaldo can expect all the benefits reserved for the best players in Saudi Arabia. A luxury villa in the prestigious Al Muhammadiya compound, the best school for his children and the best fleet of cars. But he still has to negotiate the less pleasant aspects of Riyadh city life — like traffic jams and smog — just like everyone else.
Mrsool Park (Mrsool is an app-based delivery platform) holds only 25,000 visitors when full. It’s clean and tidy, with yellow and blue seats to match Al-Nasr’s colours, but is smaller than Ronaldo’s previous home stadiums at Old Trafford or the Santiago Bernabeu.
There is also no club shop at the stadium. If you want to buy an Al-Nasr Ronaldo shirt with his trademark No. 7 on the back, you have to take an Uber ride to the club’s small outlet 30 minutes away.
The size of the stadium and the lack of a club shop at the ground certainly underlines the impression that Al-Nasr are not quite ready for the whirlwind of attention that Ronaldo will bring. Al-Ittihad are the best supported team in Saudi Arabia, with an average attendance of 31,309 at their 62,000-capacity King Abdullah Sports City Stadium during the 2021–22 season. Reigning champions Al-Hilal averaged 13,192 fans per-game at their 67,000-capacity King Fahd Stadium, while Al-Nasr could only muster an average of 8,121 at Mosul Park.
It’s been a while since Cristiano Ronaldo last played a club game in a half-empty stadium, but he may have to get used to it in Saudi Arabia. His global fame will ensure increased interest in the Games, but it would be optimistic to expect full houses wherever he goes.
But with the Saudi Pro League well-funded and backed by passionate fans — Al-Hilal’s ultras created plenty of noise during their recent friendly against Newcastle in Riyadh — it will be a different challenge for Ronaldo. In the end, though, this is football and Ronaldo can’t expect an easy ride.
“Football is real in Saudi Arabia,” Al Ittihad assistant manager Ian Cathro told ESPN. “When I came here to work with Nuno Espirito Santo, after being with his staff at Wolves and Tottenham, one of the things that struck me very quickly was how real it is in terms of being as competitive and emotional as anywhere else. I’ve worked. Opportunity- The facilities are great, there is a real intensity and the players are top quality, as we all saw with Saudi Arabia during the World Cup.
“It is also a matter of real pride that the best players in Saudi Arabia still play in the domestic league. I am sure that having Cristiano Ronaldo in the league will make things bigger and put Saudi Arabian football firmly on the map.”
Al-Nasr described Ronaldo’s signing as “history-making” when announcing the deal on Friday, adding that it would “inspire our nation and future generations of boys and girls to be the best version of themselves.” That’s the legacy Ronaldo will want to leave after his Saudi Arabian sojourn, but when Al-Nasr face Al-Ta’i at Misul Park on January 5, it will become all too real for the five-time Ballon d’Or winner. .
Ronaldo will end his career away from the spotlight and for a player who has commanded every second of attention for the past two decades, it will be a sad way to bring down the curtain.