RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo’s last coach expressed his surprise as he watched a room full of reporters on Tuesday.
“Normally, after the match, there are three or four journalists. Today I don’t know why…” Al Nassr head coach Rudi Garcia said during a press conference to present the signing of the Saudi club’s superstar.
He was joking and it caused laughter in the room.
“It’s a new era! said host and newsreader Weam Al Dakheel, who posed all the questions to Ronaldo, Garcia and Al Nassr chairman Musalli Almuammar, despite the presence of around 100 journalists.
Ronaldo’s arrival on a two-and-a-half-year deal, which would earn him up to $200 million a year, is set to bring unprecedented attention to Al Nassr and the Saudi Pro League.
However, at his first press conference, no questions were allowed from the floor – and the only interaction provoked from those present was applause at the right time.
There were also shouts of “I love you Ronaldo” and imitations of his “Siuuu” celebration.
It was a very organized introduction with a team of PR people making sure everything went smoothly.
Not that they could have prevented his slip when he mistakenly said: “For me, it’s not the end of my career to come to South Africa.”
It will be fascinating to see if Ronaldo’s fame will see interest in Saudi football continue beyond his first few weeks in the country.
He has 528 million Instagram followers, more than any other individual in the world.
And that has already had an effect on Al Nassr’s account, which has grown from 1.2 million followers to 8.9 million since his signing announcement last week. This number is likely to grow even more.
Almuammar is confident the deal will be worth it.
“So many people have talked about funding and financing. Once we have that biggest star as Ronaldo at Al Nassr, we don’t need such funding and funding anymore,” he said. “We have so many sponsors who will work closely with us in the coming years and they are the sponsors of this big deal and we will have more revenue and commercial and economic income and that is important for the Saudi league and the clubs of Saudi soccer.”
Almuammar did not confirm the value of Ronaldo’s contract but, tellingly, added that “it is normal that it is the highest in terms of cost or salary”.
One of the most surprising moves in football history has raised questions about Ronaldo’s motives as well as those of Saudi Arabia, amid accusations of so-called ‘sportswashing’ to improve his reputation in the world.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund led the takeover of Premier League club Newcastle United in 2021 and on Tuesday club manager Eddie Howe said there was ‘no truth’ to the reports that he had the option of signing Ronaldo on loan if he qualified for the Champions League next season. .
There is also speculation that Saudi Arabia could submit a bid to host the 2030 World Cup.
Now, the signing of a player widely regarded as one of the greatest of all time is another important step in increasing the country’s influence in football.
Ronaldo said he was motivated by the challenge of a new league, but also by changing the impression of Saudi football around the world.
“I know the league is very competitive. People don’t know it, but I know it because I’ve seen many games,” he said.
It is, however, a milestone for a man who has won five Champions Leagues and five Ballon d’Or awards for the best player in the world.
He hopes to add to his trophy tally with Al Nassr currently top of the league.
Ronaldo’s 701 club goals are also expected to increase significantly during his time in Arabia, although he has struggled for form so far this season.
For the thousands of people who showed up at Al Nassr’s Mrsool Park stadium on Tuesday, they just wanted a first glimpse of their hero.
Even on a cool, rainy night in Riyadh, the roads around the stadium were congested with traffic. Fans lined up at the gates, patiently waiting to make their way inside as if it were game day.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, was greeted as if showing up for a film premiere, stepping out of a white Range Rover with blacked out windows as cameras flashed all around.
His image was projected outside the stadium, while strobe lights added to the effect.
Dressed in a gray three-piece suit and blue tie, he confidently walked into the press conference to loud applause before taking his seat.
“I am so proud to make this big decision in my life. In Europe, my work is done. I won everything and played for the biggest clubs in Europe. It’s a new challenge,” he said.
Later, he donned his new club’s yellow and blue kit and met his teammates before heading out onto the pitch to chant his name, fireworks and smoke machines.
A player who has lived in the spotlight for most of his career was center stage with the eyes of the world on him again.
How long that will last remains to be seen.
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