Cristiano Ronaldo’s life in Saudi Arabia: private shopping, luxury hotels, Messi making fun

Anyone assume Cristiano Ronaldo He will have everything his own way in Saudi Arabia he may think again after what happened in the Super Cup semi-final on Thursday.

Ronaldo taunted the crowd as they chanted “Messi! Messi! Messi!” As Al-Nassr lost 3-1 to Al-Ittihad at King Fahd International Stadium. It was his second complete game with the team – and his second game without a goal.

But in victory he will be seen as just an obstacle in the way. Ronaldo’s new club heralds his arrival as transformative. They see it as a signing that transcends the boundaries of football in the country, one that puts them on the map that draws the global game.

Financial investment is definitely important. Ronaldo’s salary is around £175 million ($217.4 million) per year, making him the highest-paid player on the planet. According to sources close to Al-Nasr, who wish to remain anonymous in order to protect their positions, the club will pay a tenth of this wage, and the rest is covered by the Saudi state.

“It is a chance to beat one of the best players in football history. It is a historic moment for our club, for Saudi Arabia and for the entire region,” says a separate club source, for the same reasons, who would remain anonymous. The Saudi Football Association declined to comment on the matter.

Since he was officially signed on December 30, no one at Al Nassr has had any complaints about Ronaldo, 37, who is seen as integrating well and trying to impress everyone at his new club. They point to his professional attitude and positive influence in the dressing room.

But what can Ronaldo expect from his new football home? Will more famous players follow him soon?

the athlete Talk to several characters within the Saudi game to find out.

Training and life off the field

former Espanyol Coach Vicente Moreno has been in charge of the Saudi youth team in the first division since joining in July. With his team third in the standings, the Spaniard reflects on his memories of arriving in a new footballing environment. What shocked him first may not surprise you. The heat was.

“I’m curious to see how Ronaldo adapts,” says Moreno. “He will have to train in the afternoons. In August it is 50 degrees, so it is impossible to train in the morning.

“It may not seem like a significant change, but if you’ve had a certain training routine your whole life, it can be difficult to adjust.”

Because of the high temperatures, Saudi clubs generally do not conduct more than one training session per day. This means that coaching teams have less control over their players as a result, according to Sergio Pernas, who was assistant coach for Saudi Arabia’s under-23 national team in 2021.

“Training is in the afternoon, around 3pm or even later in the warmer months – around 6pm or 7pm,” Bernas says.

“It affects the dynamic of training, and there are fewer options for supplemental training, too.

“The clubs have improved their infrastructure and important decisions have been taken in terms of competitions, which are better organized. But the players lack a culture of effort, development, the realization that it is not only a case of training, and that’s it, that there is active rest, silent work and complementary exercises , and diet.

“And there are communication barriers – the players don’t speak English, which means a translator is very important, although that could be improved.”

Ronaldo’s signing aims to put Saudi football on the map (Photo: Fayez Noureddine/AFP) (Photo by Fayez Noureddine/AFP via Getty Images)

In terms of facilities, Real Madrid Al-Nasr training ground was used during the Spanish Super Cup that was held in Saudi Arabia, and they are at a high level. Ronaldo was present at some of the Madrid sessions there and took advantage of the opportunity to catch up with his former teammates.


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Off the field, Moreno says Ronaldo is more likely to live in one of Riyadh’s closed communities, which are populated by many foreigners.

“There are some areas like small towns that are closed off with barriers and security,” Moreno explains. This is where many foreigners live and lead a more western lifestyle.

“Riyadh is very big. Here the concept of the city differs from what we see in Europe in terms of streets, distances and area. It is a city about three times the size of Madrid.”

Before the matches, Al-Nasr players met in a five-star hotel in the city’s diplomatic quarter. In the first weeks since his arrival, Ronaldo has stayed in a luxury hotel, but the club plans to provide him with a large new home. On his latest trip, a shopping mall in Riyadh is closed so he can visit it exclusively.

And Pernas adds: “Here, with the influence that Cristiano has made, he will have to live in a bubble.”

What about matches? “It’s better than we think”

Al-Nassr often use Ronaldo as their sole central striker. His new team is the league leader with 33 points from 14 matches, one point ahead of its rivals, Al-Hilal, with a postponed match. The goal of the season is to win the title.

like the athlete Reported earlier this month, one sports intelligence agency ranked Al-Nassr is on a similar level to Luton Town and Sunderland In the championship, while the Saudi Professional League is ranked as the 58th highest quality in the world – with an average level of between The first league And The second league in England.

But Moreno says: “The level is better than we often think. Cristiano spoke about this in his presentation at world Cup You can see it Saudi Arabia It was the only team that ultimately beat the winners Argentina.

“They didn’t go out in the group stage, but I think they competed very well in all the matches and showed what they can do. The level is good.”

The two biggest clubs in Saudi Arabia are Al-Nasr and Al-Hilal, which are “like Real Madrid and Barcelona“, says Pernas. Between the two teams, the two teams accounted for 18 of the 26 players in the Saudi national team in the World Cup.

He adds, “Both clubs are in Riyadh, and Al-Hilal had a little more prestige because they contributed more to the national team and won the last AFC Champions League, so they are also going to the Club World Cup. Al-Nassr is their main competitor.”

Victory’s home ground holds around 25,000, with recent attendances reaching nearly capacity. Tickets usually cost between £15 and £40. Far fewer female fans attend matches in Europe – in fact, they were banned from doing so until 2018.


Go deeper

Rejection, Revenge, and Soft Power: Inside Cristiano Ronaldo’s Transition to Al-Nassr Saudi Arabia

Does victory sign more senior players? “They have money, but they’re no fools”

In recent weeks, there have been many players linked to Ronaldo’s new squad. That long list includes the Real Madrid striker Eden HazardWho received the victory shirt from the team’s coach, Rudi Garcia, when he was in Riyadh to participate in the Spanish Super Cup.

This gesture was interpreted as a way to approach the 32-year-old, but in reality, there is a different interpretation. Garcia has known Hazard since his early days at Lille, where they worked together for four years. There are no plans to sign him, and Hazard is not looking for a transfer either.

Some fans were quick to conclude that Al Nasr will look to build a “super team” around Ronaldo. According to club sources, who asked not to be identified to protect their positions, this is unlikely.

One such source said: “Cristiano was phenomenal, but they’re not going to start the Harlem Globetrotters now. His mission is to develop the club. They have money, but they’re no idiots.”

Bernas believes that the country’s rulers “supported the signing of Ronaldo” as part of their “very strong relationship” with football, which they want to develop in order to “have greater visibility in the world”. In Saudi Arabia, he says, such support is seen as “normal”.

Ronaldo’s debut came with victory against an old, familiar opponent (Photo by Aurelien Meunier – PSG/PSG via Getty Images)

Critics of Saudi Arabia might say that Ronaldo’s signing is just another example of the kingdom’s sports laundering – using major sporting stars and events to shift focus away from their poor human rights record.

Amnesty International released a statement via its Middle East researcher when Ronaldo’s move to Al Nasr was announced earlier this month. She noted that Saudi Arabia executed 81 people in one day last year and drew attention to the country’s crackdown on freedom of expression, while urging Ronaldo to denounce the country’s human rights problems.

Sure enough, the signing of Ronaldo has already attracted a lot of attention.

His first appearance in the league came in a 1-0 victory over his guest Al-Ettifaq on January 22, but on January 19 he made his debut in the colors of his new club, as he played in a friendly match with Paris Saint-Germain in which he faced Al-Ittihad. Lionel Messi.

The interest in this match was great. Al-Nassr also saw a significant increase in its social media profile: 12m followers on Instagram, 4.5m on Twitter and 600k on TikTok, according to data provided by the club.

And – in official matches at least – he hasn’t found the net yet.

(Photo from above: Mohamed Saad/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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