Cristiano Ronaldo to arrive at al-Nassr soccer club in Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabian soccer powerhouse Al-Nassr formally welcomed superstar Cristiano Ronaldo to the club during a Tuesday ceremony at its home stadium in Riyadh, punctuating a transition that began when Ronaldo sent shock waves across the sporting world last month by announcing he was leaving storied English club Manchester United for the little-known Al-Nassr team.

“In Europe, my work, it’s done,” Ronaldo said during his introductory news conference. “I won everything, I played the most important clubs in Europe, and for me now it’s a new challenge.”

The news conference preceded Ronaldo’s arrival onto the pitch at Mrsool Park, where roaring fans packed the stadium before he walked onto the field in the team’s blue and gold uniform, accompanied by plumes of smoke, flames and sparklers. He followed brief comments by kicking soccer balls up into the crowd.

“Many clubs try to sign me,” he said during the news conference, citing apparent suitors in Australia, Brazil, Portugal and the United States. “But I give the word to this club for the opportunity to develop not only the football, but the other part of this amazing country, and for me it’s a good challenge.”

Posting on his Instagram account late Monday, the Portuguese star shared a short video of himself on a private jet telling his fans: “Hi, guys, see you soon!”

Images later showed him and his family arriving at a Riyadh airport and being greeted with flowers from fans.

Cristiano Ronaldo signs with Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr

In November, the Saudi national team notched a historic upset victory in group play over eventual World Cup winner Argentina in neighboring Qatar. Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund owns the English Premier League team Newcastle United, as foreign nations continue to pour money into European clubs. Human rights advocates have criticized what they deem “sportswashing” by the oil-rich state, and the United Nations has long urged the country to improve its human rights record.

“History in the making,” the Al-Nassr club said in a tweet announcing Ronaldo’s signing last week. “Welcome Cristiano to your new home.”

Ronaldo said in a statement that he was “excited to experience a new football league in a different country.” He added: “I am fortunate that I have won everything I set out to win in European football and feel now that this is the right moment to share my experience in Asia.”

Now 37 and nearing the end of his career, Ronaldo will play for the Saudi club until 2025, Al-Nassr said. It did not disclose financial details, but media reports said his contract would pay him about $75 million per year, making him one of the highest-paid soccer players in history.

The world’s top soccer players often spend their twilight years in the game outside Europe, usually opting for the United States or China. The Saudi club is coached by Rudi Garcia of France, and Ronaldo will join other notable players from Brazil, Colombia and Cameroon on the team.

During his storied career, Ronaldo has won the Ballon d’Or award five times as the men’s soccer player of the year, and, in Qatar, he cemented his legacy by becoming the first man to score in five World Cup tournaments.

He has played in Europe’s top leagues, for Spain’s Real Madrid and Italy’s Juventus, as well as two stints at Manchester United. However, the mercurial player left the northern England club acrimoniously in November, becoming a free agent, shortly after blasting its American owners and its manager in an interview with British journalist Piers Morgan.

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Ronaldo, already the most followed individual on Instagram, has lent some of his star power to the Saudi club. Its online following shot from about 860,000 to over 7.4 million Tuesday, days after it announced his signing.

It is unclear when Ronaldo will play his first match for Al-Nassr, but the team has games scheduled for Thursday and Jan. 14.

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