RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP)Cristiano Ronaldo’s new team Al Nassr is nicknamed Al Alami, meaning ”The Global Club.”
However, the Saudi Arabian club was hardly prepared to handle the sudden attention of the world that came its way following one of the most sensational signings in soccer history.
Al Nassr still doesn’t have an English language website, which was a problem for many fans when trying to learn the details of Ronaldo’s contract after the deal was announced last Friday.
Posted on the club’s Twitter account were two simple photos, taken in Madrid following the conclusion of negotiations. It took a further 10 minutes for the English language feed to be updated with the news.
Approaching a week since the signing, Al Nassr’s social media accounts have become more user friendly for a western audience, but its website remains in Arabic only.
Its Instagram account has jumped from 1.2 million followers to 9.6 million and counting.
Ronaldo has given Al Nassr instant fame beyond the confines of Asia and it is having to quickly catch up with its newfound status.
An outside public relations firm has been enlisted to help deal with the sudden influx of media requests, while Ronaldo also has his own publicist to call on.
His presentation at the club’s 25,000-capacity Mrsool Park on Tuesday included a stage-managed news conference in which no questions were invited from the media in attendance.
Al Nassr’s nickname came as a result of it becoming the first Asian team to play in a global competition at the inaugural Club World Cup in Brazil in 2000.
Yet, it will have been little known to many fans around the world before the links to Ronaldo emerged in November.
Arguably, it is not even the most famous club in Riyadh.
Neighbor Al Hilal is the most successful team in Saudi soccer, having won 18 titles and four Asian Champions Leagues.
Al Nassr plays at the former stadium of Al Hilal, which was also linked with a move for Ronaldo.
That is just another reason for Al Nassr fans to celebrate his arrival.
They queued in the rain to get a first glimpse of the 37-year-old forward ahead of his presentation, and chanted his name raucously when he stepped onto the field in the club colors of yellow and blue and his No. 7 on the back of his shirt.
Al Nassr president Musalli Almuammar said the signing was about more than winning trophies and rather about changing the face of the club and Saudi soccer.
”To have the greatest football player is an indication we have a vision to bring Saudi football to a better position,” he said.
Ronaldo, however, has come here to win in what is likely the last move of his storied career.
Leading Al Nassr to a 10th league title at the expense of defending champion Al Hilal would be a good start to life at his new club.
Inspiring it to its first Asian Champions League crown next season would be an historic achievement and, for Ronaldo, the closest he will get to replicating the heights of his career when winning five Champions Leagues with Manchester United and Real Madrid.
Al Nassr, like all teams in the Saudi league, is owned by the government, but run independently.
Almuammar was a former president of the Saudi Pro League and is an adviser to the General Entertainment Authority, which was established to improve the ”quality of life” in the country.
He is also known for his work as a sports news analyst and columnist.
He once held an internship at Manchester United where he was a marketing researcher.
Almuammar’s education includes time at Harvard and Manchester Metropolitan University.
It was notable that Almuammar did not deny Ronaldo’s deal made him the highest paid player in soccer history this week, even if he refused to confirm reports that the contract was worth up to $200 million a year.
Given that the questions at the presentation came from the arranged host, Saudi newsreader Weam Al Dakheel, rather than journalists on the floor, it was evidently a subject he was happy to address.
Full details, such as bonuses and incentives, have not been disclosed. Also, it is not known how the deal was funded, although Almuammar spoke of the commercial agreements Ronaldo’s arrival would generate, with announcements set to come.
Almuammar made a point of thanking Muhammad Al Khuraiji, a prominent businessman, who he described as his ”optimistic brother” in a Twitter post. Al Khuraiji owns Saudi Media Company (SMC), which owns Mrsool Park.
He and SMC were linked with a bid for Chelsea last year after the English Premier League club was put up for sale and then-owner Roman Abramovich was sanctioned by the U.K. government.
It is not known what involvement he had in the signing of Ronaldo, but it was significant enough for Almuammar to thank him ”foremost” among those who worked on what he described as ”the most important deal in the history of Saudi sports.”
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson
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