At the end of his career, Cristiano Ronaldo has chosen the path of the Middle East. It was a jackpot for him.
Ronaldo’s contract with Saudi Arabian football club An Nasser is worth €20 million per year. The deal makes him the highest paid player in football history.
The value of professional football players usually begins to decline at the age of 37. But Cristiano Ronaldo is well aware of his brand value. He also knows how to take the right decision at the right time.
It goes without saying that he played brilliantly for his team in the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. But he has succeeded in getting a very high value contract.
Ronaldo’s contract with Saudi Arabia’s football club should be seen in a broader perspective. Middle East sports analysts feel that the deal has opened the way for Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar to join the world’s leading soccer players.
There is no shortage of money in these countries. And their strategy of pouring money into these big players can also be seen.
No one would have thought that Ronaldo, who played in clubs like Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus, would move to Saudi Arabia before saying goodbye to football.
In the 1970s Saudi Arabia similarly attracted oil engineers and laborers from around the world.
At that time, football was in its infancy in the Gulf countries. But at that time Al Hilal Club of Saudi Arabia surprised the world football lovers.
1970 World Champion Rivelino started
In 1970, the Brazilian team became world champions for the third time. Rivelino, who played alongside Pele at this World Cup, joined Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal after a 16-year career in football.
The Brazil team that won the World Cup in Mexico was called the Dream Team. Rivalino, the team’s star player, signed a three-year contract with Al Hilal in 1978.
Playing as an attacking midfielder for Brazil, Rivelino was difficult to stop when he created angles with his left foot and played shots. He got huge success in the Gulf countries as well.
He also won the Slaughterhouse Professional League title for his team. He scored a total of 39 goals. So the fact that this enticing offer has lured Ronaldo has attracted many players before him.
When I moved to Qatar from India in 2012, Al Sadd, the most popular club in Qatar at the time, signed Raul Gonzalez. Raul is one of the most famous players in Spanish football history.
Football suddenly gained prominence where Raul came to play. A decade later, Qatar hosted the World Cup.
Gulf countries do such deals to attract public attention. Countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia are not only improving sports facilities but also signing world class players to their clubs. Also, critics say, the fact that international sports competitions are also held.
When oil reserves were discovered in Saudi Arabia, this country in the Middle East was considered rich. But when Qatar discovered natural gas reserves in its northeastern region, its wealth began to increase rapidly.
After this, Qatar joined the world economic powers by selling LNG gas to European countries and India. The current ruler of Qatar, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, is a football lover.
This is the reason why Qatar also acquired the rights of the French club ‘Paris Saint Germain’ (PSG) where the legends of modern football Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe play.
What is the benefit?
On the other hand, five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo has prioritized money over quality. He turned down offers from top clubs in Europe for huge sums.
He has joined as the brightest star in the history of Saudi Arabian football. However, this connection of his cannot be said to be of great benefit to the football of the country or the football of the region.
Before him, 1994 world champion Romario and Brazil’s Pepeto also reached Saudi Arabia for big money. But they did not stay here for long. But of course some benefits do occur.
The game of branding and advertising gets bigger as big players join the club. Clubs from Middle Eastern countries are trying to increase business networks with the West by signing big players.
As a brand, Cristiano Ronaldo is a much bigger brand than Al Nasser Club. It was only after he joined the club that the club became widely known.
European football market
Neymar’s move from Barcelona to PSG in 2017 and Messi’s move to the Ligue 1 club last season strengthened Qatar’s branding, while Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabia will strengthen Saudi Arabia’s branding.
In fact, the interest of the Gulf countries is now shifting from petroleum wells to other things. And they see the European football market as an investment-friendly one.
Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have invested heavily in European football over the past 14 years. Abu Dhabi’s royal family bought Manchester City in 2008.
Three years later in 2011, Qatar bought French club PSG. In 2021 the Saudi-led consortium bought Premier League club Newcastle United for over £30m.
Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah bin Mosad bin Abdulaziz Al Salat bought English Football League Championship club Sheffield United in 2013.
Gulf countries’ perspective on football
As electric vehicles are gaining momentum around the world, the Gulf states have realized that a purely petroleum-based economy is not sustainable.
Recently Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have attracted much international attention due to their heavy investment in football.
Money from these countries helped clubs like PSG, Manchester City and Newcastle United out of financial trouble and improve their position in the European football circuit.
United Arab Emirates-owned Manchester City and Qatar-owned PSG have won a dozen titles between them in the past decade.
One of the main reasons for the Gulf countries to invest in European football is the rapid growth of this market. Europe’s top 32 clubs were growing at a rate of nine percent in 2019 before Covid.
The revenue of these clubs has increased by 65 percent in eight years. Apart from this, the Gulf countries have other advantages socially and economically. The acquisition of European football clubs has benefited the Gulf countries’ aviation and tourism industries.
Football stars who have played in Gulf countries
In 1998, Al Nasser signed Bulgaria’s greatest player, Harsito Stoichkov. Although he did not stay there long, Stoichkov led Saudi Arabia to the Asian Champions League that season.
A member of the 1994 World Champion squad, Pepeto played only five matches. He scored only one goal in these matches before retiring in 2002.
Romario, who led Brazil to the World Cup alongside Pepeto, signed a 100-day contract with Qatar’s leading club Al Sadd in 2003 for $1.5 million.
However, he did not play well. Failed to score a single goal in three matches. Argentine striker Gabriel Batistuda also played two seasons for Qatar’s Al Arabi club.
In 2007, Brazilian star Danielson also arrived at Al Nasser. He was considered the most expensive player at the time. But he only stayed at the club for two months.
George Weha, the 1995 Ballon d’Or winner and current President of Liberia, joined Abu Dhabi’s Al Jazeera club for two seasons between 2001 and 2003. Whereas Fabio Convaro, who was part of the 2006 World Champion Italy team, joined Dubai’s Al Ahli Club in 2011.
In 2003-04, several foreign players joined several clubs in Qatar, including former Spain captain Fernando Hierro.
In 2015, Qatar’s Al Saad Club signed 2010 World Champion and Barcelona star Xavi Hernandez.
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