Soccer: Saudi Arabia discovers Cristiano Ronaldo, symbol of his ambition


RYAD, Saudi Arabia – Three days after a friendly match against Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé’s Paris SG, Cristiano Ronaldo makes his debut in the Saudi Arabian Championship on Sunday, a new step in the oil monarchy’s international recognition strategy. sport.

Accustomed to playing in front of 80,000 spectators at Old Trafford and in an even bigger stadium with Real Madrid, Ronaldo will discover his fifth championship in a much smaller setting: Mrsool Park in Ryad, a 25,000-seat stadium, where his Al-Nassr’s new team faces Al-Ettifaq.

The atmosphere of the enclosure, more confidential than in Europe, contrasts with the ambition of Saudi Arabia, which sees big with the signing of the old Portuguese glory (soon to be 38 years old), fivefold Ballon d’Or.

She showed it Thursday, with great fanfare, with the « shock » between PSG and a selection of players playing in the country including Cristiano Ronaldo, won 5-4 by the champions of France, in front of more than 60,000 spectators.

Podium, medals, trophy, and even a huge fireworks display: the organizers did everything to make people forget the friendly and sportingly anecdotal dimension of this meeting.

« Ultimate goal » of the Olympics

« It’s a great game but it’s nothing compared to what will happen with the ‘Vision 2030′ », welcomed Turki al-Sheikh, head of the General Entertainment Authority, in reference to the Saudi Arabia’s ambitious development plan.

“My leader will surprise the Saudis with many more things,” he added to AFP, referring to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, de facto in charge of the country. “We are ready to meet his requests at any time. But what’s to come is even bigger. »

Because the first exporter of crude oil in the world does not want to stop there. The country, where the Dakar rally-raid has just ended, is aiming to organize a football World Cup like its Qatari neighbor, but also the Summer Olympics, or even the Winter Olympics despite the climatic aberration .

Saudi Arabia is already discussing a joint bid to host the 2030 World Cup with Egypt and Greece, while last year its sports minister told AFP that hosting the Olympics was  » the ultimate goal”.

The unlikely arrival of 21st century football star Cristiano Ronaldo, who has signed a contract with Al-Nassr worth 200 million euros for two and a half years according to a source close to the club, totally fits in to this crazy ambition.

The Portuguese star has also signed another contract of 200 million euros also to promote the Saudi candidacy for the organization of the 2030 World Cup, according to the same source.

In the meantime, CR7 is launching this new chapter of his career, in the anonymity of this Saudi championship without a big name or a very publicized club, with a formation of Al-Nassr currently second in the standings at the heart of the season.

“Soft power”

Will the Portuguese be able to single-handedly shed light on local football, and this, in the long term? In France, this first meeting will in any case be broadcast on RMC Sport 1 and the platform The Team.

« Ronaldo’s transfer is just the beginning, » said Danyel Reiche, a professor at Georgetown University in Qatar, when asked about speculation about a hypothetical Lionel Messi coming later. « Whether Messi goes to Saudi Arabia or not, we will see more superstars settling there, » the sports diplomacy specialist told AFP.

According to him, the « international spotlight » will now intensify, as for Qatar, on various issues in Saudi Arabia such as the rights of women, migrant workers or LGBT + (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer).

In this context, Thursday’s meeting between Messi and Ronaldo, which he describes as « a very strong message », is « also a way of saying: ‘look at how we are changing' », advances Danyel Reiche.

« They understand that they cannot rely on military and political power, but that they must have soft power », in this case through the athlete, he adds.


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