Sports, Football

No swag, but Ronaldo puts swagger in Saudi football

Published : 01 Jun 2023 07:45 PM

Cristiano Ronaldo's first season in Saudi Arabia ended with a whimper, but with hundreds of millions in wages and unprecedented attention on Saudi football he may not be the last megastar to grace the oil-rich kingdom.

The fireworks and euphoria that greeted Ronaldo's gala unveiling in January were in sharp contrast to the close of Al Nassr's season, when the Portuguese sat out a 3-0 win against Al Fateh late on Wednesday.

Despite signing the five-time Ballon d'Or-winner in a two-and-a-half-year deal said to total 400 million euros ($428 million), Al Nassr finished second in the Saudi Pro League without any silverware, although they qualified for the Asian Champions League as a consolation.

Ronaldo scored 14 goals including five penalties but it was a "disappointing season" for the Riyadh club, said Moqbel Al-Zabni, editor-in-chief of the Saudi capital's Al Riyadiah newspaper. "They needed at least one championship." Fan frustrations aside, however, the 38-year-old remains a marketing coup for Saudi football and the wider country, which is attempting to reinvent itself as a magnet for tourism and foreign investment. According to a source close to the negotiations, the major oil exporter is also about to land a "huge" deal for Ronaldo's ex-La Liga sparring partner Lionel Messi, the World Cup-winning Argentine icon.

Reports have linked a string of other big names to the Saudi Pro League thanks to the riches of the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth vehicle behind LIV Golf and the purchase of Premier League club Newcastle United, as well as Ronaldo's signing.

Saudi Arabia is also considering bidding for the World Cup, following in the footsteps of its neighbour Qatar, and has already explored joining forces with Egypt and Greece to present a tri-continental option.