Portugal’s footballing superstar Cristiano Ronaldo has arrived in Riyadh ahead of his grand unveiling before thousands of fans at Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr club.
After sealing a deal estimated at more than 200 million euros ($213m), the 37-year-old touched down in the Saudi Arabian capital late on Monday, according to Al Ekhbariya state-run TV. The five-time winner of the Ballon d’Or is staying at a luxury hotel in the city with a large entourage.
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“He brought a big team of assistants and even a private security firm,” an official told the AFP news agency.
Ronaldo, who left Manchester United under a cloud after slamming the club in a TV interview, will appear at Al Nassr’s 25,000-capacity Mrsool Park stadium in Riyadh at 7pm local time (16:00 GMT) on Tuesday, officials said.
The latest and possibly final chapter in Ronaldo’s illustrious career comes weeks after Portugal’s quarterfinal exit from the World Cup in neighbouring Qatar, where his great rival Lionel Messi lifted the trophy with Argentina.
Al Nassr is expecting a packed stadium for the unveiling, according to one official who did not want to be named because he was not authorised to speak to media.
Ronaldo is by far the biggest star to play in Saudi Arabia, although other heavyweights, including George Weah, Pep Guardiola and Xavi, also had stints in the wealthy Gulf in the twilight of their careers.
Ronaldo has won five Champions League titles as well as league titles in Italy with Juventus, in Spain with Real Madrid and in England with United. He is also the top scorer in the Champions League and with the Portuguese national team, with whom he won Euro 2016. At the recent World Cup 2022 in Qatar, he became the first man to score at five World Cups with his penalty in the group-stage win over Ghana.
He is also one of the highest-paid. The Portuguese forward earned a reported salary of 31 million euros ($33m) at Juventus before taking a pay cut to rejoin Manchester United.
Ronaldo’s signing with Al Nassr until June 2025 is just the latest foray into top-level sports by oil-rich Saudi Arabia, which has moved into Formula One, boxing and golf, and snapped up English club Newcastle United.
Al Nassr, the nine-time Saudi league champions, have called Ronaldo’s signing “more than history in the making”, claiming he will inspire the rest of the league and even the country. In a tweet, Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal pledged to “support the rest of our clubs for quality deals with international stars soon”.
— AlNassr FC (@AlNassrFC_EN) January 2, 2023
Ronaldo’s unveiling by Al Nassr on Tuesday is expected to kick off a new era for the country’s footballing profile internationally.
Other big names at the club include Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina, formerly of Arsenal and Napoli, and 2018 South American player of the year Pity Martinez. Brazilian Anderson Talisca leads the goal-scoring chart.
Despite such talent, the Saudi league does not have a wide audience internationally; that may change thanks to Ronaldo.
“The whole world knows Ronaldo very well and his achievements as a player speak for themselves,” former Saudi Arabia international Hamad al-Montashari said.
“He is an exceptional player and could score a hat trick in every game.”
Al Nassr’s coach, Rudi Garcia, also welcomed Ronaldo’s arrival.
“The signing of a player the size of Cristiano Ronaldo is extraordinary, and contributes to the development of Saudi football,” said the Frenchman, who has coached Lyon and Roma.
“We are happy with his arrival. The first goal is to work so he can adapt to our team, to enjoy playing for Al Nassr, and to entertain the fans.”
Al Nassr, a nine-time Saudi Arabian champion, is already going well near the halfway stage of the Saudi Professional League. The team moved into the lead on Saturday thanks to Cameroonian striker Vincent Aboubaker, and coach Garcia took to Twitter to congratulate his side.
Congrats to the guys tonight for the return to the 1 st place in the ranking and Happy New Year !@AlNassrFC_EN pic.twitter.com/D6qo9x11rR
— Rudi Garcia (@RudiGarcia) January 1, 2023