Ronaldo's Saudi move tipped to increase eyes on Asian soccer

When Cristiano Ronaldo is presented by Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr on Tuesday in Riyadh, it will kick off a new era in Asian soccer.

Al-Nassr announced the signing of one of the world’s biggest sports stars on social media on Friday. Within 24 hours, the post was viewed more than 20 million times and the club gained about 2.5 million more followers.

There was a similar surge on Instagram, where the Portuguese star has more than 520 million followers, the most in the world. There, the announcement received more than 30 million likes.

“This agreement is more than writing a new historical chapter,” Al-Nassr president Musalli Al-Muammar said. He will present Ronaldo at the club stadium on Tuesday.

Ronaldo has won five European Champions Leagues with Real Madrid and Manchester United, but his controversial second tenure at the English club ended after 15 months with him as a bench regular without trophies and out of contract after it was prematurely terminated.

New coach Rudy Garcia has welcomed the free agent who has Al-Nassr dreaming of a first Asian title.

"The signing of a player the size of Cristiano Ronaldo is extraordinary, and contributes to the development of Saudi football,” said the Frenchman who has coached Lyon and Roma. "We are happy with his arrival. The first goal is to work so he can adapt to our team, to enjoy playing for Al-Nassr, and to entertain the fans.”

Al-Nassr, a nine-time Saudi Arabian champion, is already going well near the halfway stage of the Saudi Professional League. It moved into the lead on Saturday after winning at Al-Khaleej 1-0 thanks to Cameroonian striker Vincent Aboubaker.

Other names at the club include Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina, formerly of Arsenal and Napoli, and 2018 South American player of the year Pity Martinez. Brazilian Anderson Talisca leads the goal-scoring chart.

Despite such talent, the league does not have a wide audience internationally. That may change thanks to Ronaldo, who will reportedly earn up to $200 million a year.

“The whole world knows Ronaldo very well and his achievements as a player speak for themselves,” former Saudi Arabia international Hamad Al-Montashari said. "He is an exceptional player and could score a hat trick in every game.”

Had the soon-to-be-38-year-old superstar left Europe five years ago, then China would have been a realistic destination. The massive wave of spending there in the previous decade has ended, however. With real estate companies financing much of the transfer activity, the massive slowdown in China’s property market has seen the majority of clubs struggling to make ends meet.

Guangzhou won eight Chinese and two Asian titles in the previous decade, but with owner Evergrande facing reported debts of $300 billion in June 2022, the club was reduced to fielding a team made up of youngsters. Relegation was the result in December.

On Friday, the same day the Ronaldo deal was announced in Riyadh, Wuhan Three Towns was given the Chinese Super League title a round early as opponent Tianjin Tigers was unable to field a team of 11 players due to COVID-19. In terms of Asian soccer news, it was overshadowed.

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