Tue, 31 Jan 2023

The Portuguese star has signed the biggest contract in football history as he moves to the Middle East

Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the most prolific forwards in the history of football, has signed a two-and-a-half-year deal to play for Saudi Arabian team Al Nassr.

Ronaldo will be rewarded with an eye-watering sum reported to be in the region of €200 million per season ($214 million), signaling the beginning of the end of a career which enthralled and, for the latter period of his Manchester United tenure at least, infuriated some of his legion of fans.

One would suspect that Ronaldo's exit from European football was very much a 'Plan B' given that he turned down a similar offer from another Saudi club, Al Hilal, last summer.

But with his options apparently exhausted after a series of poor performances for Manchester United this season, as well as a subpar World Cup in the colors of Portugal, it would seem that football's most famous name became an unaffordable luxury for most of Europe's elite clubs.

Typical of the man, Ronaldo's excommunication from European football comes with one very prominent silver lining - he can refer to himself as football's best paid player, even on the eve of his 38th birthday.

But who exactly are Al Nassr, and what type of challenge will be waiting for Ronaldo when he pulls on their yellow jersey next month?

We take a look at the Portuguese icon's new club, his teammates, and what he can expect in his two-and-a-half years in the Middle East.

Who are Al Nassr?

Formed in 1955, Al Nassr play in the Saudi capital of Riyadh and are one of 18 teams who compete in the Saudi Pro League (SPL).

The club finished third in the league last season and have won the SPL nine teams, with their most recent championship coming in the 2018-19 campaign. City rivals Al Hilal, though, are the most historically dominant team in Saudi Arabia having won the SPL 18 times.

Al Nassr have also won the country's most prestigious cup competition, the King's Cup, six times - but the most recent of those came all the way back in 1990.

They have chalked up one second place finish in Asia's continental competition, the AFC Champions League, in 1995. Al Hilal, by comparison, have won the trophy four times.

Where do they play?

King Saud University Stadium, also known as Mrsool Park, hosts Al Nassr's home games. The 25,000-capacity stadium was opened in 2015, with Al Nassr playing their home fixtures there since 2020.

Prior to that, Al Nassr's SPL rivals Al Hilal called the stadium their home before moving to the 69,000-capacity King Fahd International Stadium.

Both Al Nassr and Al Hilal are ultimately expected to ground-share at the new state of the art, 40,000+ capacity Qiddiya, which remains under construction since 2019.

Who is Al Nassr's manager?

Frenchman Rudi Garcia, 58, took charge of Al Nassr in June 2022 after previously helming various clubs in France such as Lille, Marseille and Lyon. He also had a three-year spell in charge of Roma in Italy's Serie A.

In terms of his accolades, Garcia has a single Ligue 1 title to his name which he won with Lille in 2010, while also claiming France's national cup competition, the Coupe de France, in the same season. He was named the Ligue 1 Manager of Year in the 2010-11 season owing to the domestic dominance he enjoyed with Lille.

Garcia's Marseille was a runner-up to Atletico Madrid in the 2017-18 UEFA Europa League, as well as a silver medalist in the 2019-20 French Coupe de la Ligue with Lyon.

Since taking charge at Al Nassr he has won eight of his eleven games, and lost just once.

Who will Ronaldo be lining up alongside?

Ronaldo will be, by a very wide margin, the most high-profile player ever to have lined out for Al Nassr - but he certainly isn't the only player in the squad to have top-level experience in European football.

Brazilian defensive midfielder Luiz Gustavo is a Champions League winner from his time with Bayern Munich, while former Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina is as experienced as they come having won 127 caps for the Colombian national team.

Alvaro Gonzalez is a well-known name to Spanish football fans after several seasons in La Liga with Zaragoza, Espanyol and Villarreal. Creative midfielder Pity Martinez also has three international caps for his native Argentina.

Cameroon international Vincent Aboubakar, capped 95 times by his country, currently leads the line for Al Nassr and is expected to be Ronaldo's strike partner when the Portuguese star makes his debut for the club.

He was most recently seen in the FIFA World Cup in Qatar scoring his country's winning goal against Brazil in their group stage clash.

What has been the reaction to Ronaldo's signing?

In the hours after Ronaldo's signing was confirmed, Al Nassr's Instagram following increased by 400% by gaining over 2.5 million new followers - with the club now boasting a following on the social media platform of 4.1 million.

However, they still have a long way to go before the even come close to Ronaldo's personal Instagram following of 526 million.

On Twitter, meanwhile, Al Nassr's following has swelled from 834,000 to an impressive 3.4 million.

It is also expected that a massive increase in Ronaldo shirt sales will be a significant financial boon for the club.

"This is more than history in the making," Al Nassr wrote online to their increased fanbase.

"This is a signing that will not only inspire our club to achieve even greater success but inspire our league, our nation and future generations, boys and girls to be the best version of themselves."


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