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‘The world will take note’: Saudi fans on Ronaldo’s link to local club

The Portuguese superstar has reportedly received a tempting offer from Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr.

Doha, Qatar – Cristiano Ronaldo may have spent most of Portugal’s round of 16 match against Switzerland on the bench, but his late introduction was greeted with deafening cheers from thousands of fans at the Lusail Stadium on Tuesday night.

Many of them were not even Portuguese fans. Ronaldo is a huge crowd draw all over the world, in leagues, exhibition matches and now in the World Cup. But while the 37-year-old is likely to play in his last World Cup, fans in the Middle East could soon see him play locally again.

After being sacked by Manchester United last month, Ronaldo has been linked to Al Nassr, a Saudi Pro League (SPL) club. While confirmation of a move is still pending, and likely not to be announced until after the World Cup, Saudi soccer fans say they can’t wait to have the Portuguese legend in their midst.

“Who doesn’t want to see Ronaldo play live? I don’t support Al Nassr, but I want him to come to Saudi Arabia,” Ibrahim Al Hassun, a Saudi soccer fan, told Al Jazeera in Doha.

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Ronaldo holds the record for most international goals (118) and is the most capped international player for Portugal with 195 appearances. However, there is a cloud over his future in the Portugal national team.

He has scored one goal in the tournament so far and was knocked out of the starting lineup in Portugal’s last game. His replacement, Goncalo Ramos, scored a hat-trick and he is likely to start in the quarter-final against Morocco on Saturday.

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Al Nassr is the second most successful club in the SPL, with nine titles to its name, and reportedly offered Ronaldo a $225 million a year three-year contract.

Saudi fans are relishing the prospect of having one of soccer’s biggest names plying their trade in their country.

Cristiano Ronaldo #7 |  Portugal v Switzerland, FIFA World Cup 2022, December 6, Lusail Stadium
Cristiano Ronaldo in action during Portugal’s round of 16 match against Switzerland at the 2022 World Cup on December 6 at Lusail Stadium [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Al Hassun said the biggest impact of Ronaldo’s reported move will be in terms of the attention it will bring to Saudi football. “The whole world will take note of Saudi football, from the media to fans around the world and on social media. It will be phenomenal.”

If it’s attention that Saudi fans are looking for, they’ve received it in abundance with their team’s performance at the World Cup. According to figures released by the World Cup host broadcasters, beIN, Saudi Arabia’s famous victory over Argentina in their opening game of the World Cup drew 99.3 million viewers, of whom more than 80 million were international viewers.

Muhammad, a Saudi fan from Riyadh, said the national team has improved by leaps and bounds since the last World Cup, but the world only took notice when they beat Argentina led by Lionel Messi. According to Muhammad, Ronaldo’s presence will help local players grow and deal with the pressure of big matches. “Ronaldo will earn a lot of money (playing for) our country, so we have to make sure that our players also make the most of his presence,” he said.

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While most of the names on the SPL team roster are local, international footballers have been playing in the country. Brazilian striker Anderson Talisca signed for Al Nassr last year, while Argentine midfielder Ever Banega has played for Riyadh’s Al Shabab club since 2020.

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Hassan Ali, a fan of Al-Ittehad FC in Jeddah, said that while the SPL has a strong following within the country and region, it largely goes unnoticed in other parts of the world due to a lack of international stars.

That could now change. “No matter what people say about his age and goal-scoring ability, Ronaldo will help put Saudi football on the world map,” Ali said.

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