It is a spectacular sporting and diplomatic offensive on the part of Saudi Arabia: Cristiano Ronaldo, 37, five-time Golden Ball and sports legend, was presented on Tuesday, January 3, to supporters of the Al- Nasr.

On the decline in recent months, breaking with his club Manchester United and dismissed from the eleven Portuguese holder during the World Cup, the star has signed up until June 2025 for a staggering amount of 200 million euros.

"I'm a unique player. It's good to come here, I broke all the records there [in Europe] and I want to break a few more here," he said during his presentation to the supporters of the club whose wealthy owners aim to create a team of "Galactics" from the Gulf, in reference to the Real Madrid of Beckham and Zidane of the 2000s. 

The presence of Ronaldo could indeed encourage other big names to tread the lawns of Saudi Arabia.

According to a club official who wishes to remain anonymous, Croatian playmaker Luka Modric is in the sights of leaders, as is Chelsea's French midfielder N'Golo Kanté.

Within the yellow and blue club, the Portuguese will now be under the orders of Frenchman Rudi Garcia and will rub shoulders with former Ligue 1 residents such as Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina, Brazilian midfielder Luiz Gustavo and Cameroonian striker Vincent Aboubakar.

"Becoming a footballing powerhouse"

Like Qatar, owner of Paris Saint-Germain, Saudi Arabia has already invested heavily in football.

In October 2021, a Saudi consortium notably ended up taking control, despite initial opposition from supporters of the English club, Newcastle United.

But the arrival of CR7 represents "a new and unprecedented strategy", according to consultant Karim Sader, specialist in the Gulf countries.

"It's not about buying a club to shine in a foreign league, but buying a huge aura player to shine in his own league: to become a footballing powerhouse rather than to assert itself as a power through football", summarizes the consultant.

If Ronaldo is not the first aging football star to finish his career in a Gulf country, never before has a player of his caliber signed in the region.

Football star, fashion muse, influencer and unrivaled celebrity on social networks with more than 570 million subscribers on Instagram, he thus offers the modest Saudi championship and the country as a whole a fabulous spotlight.

"Asia has never seen anything like it, reports the English-language daily Gulf News based in Dubai. Wherever he goes, he will capture attention and, if only 10% of his followers are interested in his new club, the Saudi League will become one of the most watched in the world."

With CR7, 2030 World Cup goal

With the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo, Saudi Arabia, which has already created a sensation in its first match of the Qatari World Cup by beating Argentina's Lionel Messi (2 to 1), is also securing the services of an ambassador luxury with a view to obtaining the organization of the 2030 World Cup, the host country or countries of which will be designated in 2024 by Fifa.

"This is the beginning of the operation to seduce the world football authorities, as the presence of Prince Mohammed bin Salman had already shown at the opening match of the World Cup. They come to seek a sacred anointing with Ronaldo", assures with AFP Raphaël Le Magoariec, specialist in the geopolitics of sport in the Gulf countries at the University of Tours.  

Just eight years after Qatar, which in November became the first Arab country to host the most prestigious football tournament on the planet, Saudi Arabia is considering a joint bid with Egypt and Greece. 

The awarding of the World Cups has long been subject to the sacrosanct principle of the rotation of continents and confederations, but according to observers, nothing prevents a candidacy led by the ultra-conservative wealthy kingdom from seducing the authorities. world so quickly after Qatar.

>> To read on Back to the tops and flops of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar

"There was a lot of criticism against Qatar, but in the end it was a great achievement and it reflected well in terms of image. The world of football is not only seen through a Western eye" , affirms Karim Sader who recalls the enthusiasm of the entire Arab world for the historic course of the Moroccans or for the victory of Saudi Arabia against Argentina.

"All of this was experienced as a victory for the Middle East," said the consultant.

To forget the dark side of the kingdom

And Saudi Arabia's ambitions go far beyond football.

The desert country of 35 million inhabitants now counts on the world level with the Dakar rally-raid and Formula 1, golf or even horse racing with the Saudi Cup, the most richly endowed race in the world with its 20 million dollars.

Without forgetting of course the controversial allocation, in October 2022, of the Asian Winter Games 2029 in the "city of the future", Neom.

Pointed out for the catastrophic human rights situation in the country, Saudi Arabia also intends to use sport as an instrument of influence to change its image as an ultra-conservative oil monarchy in the West. 

>> To read also on At the first Formula 1 GP in Saudi Arabia, the delicate dispute over human rights

Pariah on the international scene since the assassination of the journalist in October 2018, "Crown Prince Mohamed Ben Salmane must restore his image. He has just been rehabilitated by the outstretched hand of the United States for energy issues", recalls consultant Karim Sader.

According to the specialist in the Gulf countries, the transfer of CR7 is also a good operation on the internal level: "There is a lot of talk about 'soft power' on a geopolitical scale but from an internal point of view, by offering a championship worthy of the name, it is also a good way to consolidate its power".

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