As first season with Al-Nassr comes to an end, Cristiano Ronaldo reiterates support for growing Saudi football
Cristiano Ronaldo made headlines on Tuesday on and off the pitch. Firstly, he scored a spectacular goal which proved to be the decisive strike in a dramatic 3–2 win over Al-Shabab, which kept his team three points behind Al-Ittihad, and kept their title dreams alive.
It was the kind of goal that fans of Spain, Italy, England and Portugal have cheered for years and a goal that would rank alongside the many hundreds scored in the 38-year-old̵7;s illustrious career, and certainly 14 nets. Best so far in Al-Nasr’s Yellow.
Secondly, no more than 30 minutes, he gave a short interview that followed his goal, which was talked about around the world.
“We are much better and the Saudi league is getting better and next year will be even better,” he told Saudi Arabia’s sports channel SSC. “Step by step I think this league will be among the top five leagues in the world but they need time, players and infrastructure. But I believe this country has amazing potential, they have amazing people and in my opinion the league will be fantastic.”
It was not the first time Ronaldo has made such comments since arriving in the country in January. He had said something similar to the overseas crowd during his first international break with Portugal in March. The reaction was one of disbelief in Europe and the comments were dismissive. This time he was talking to the home audience and the message is the same. He means what he is saying.
He stressed on the potential and called for three things – players, infrastructure and time.
The presence of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner will help in the first. There is great potential that this summer will see the arrival of top-class foreign talent in the rosy Saudi league. This is partly because Ronaldo, one of the best in the history of the game, is already there. When Lionel Messi was recently linked with a move to Al-Hilal, the Argentine prospect in Saudi Arabia was taken seriously as Ronaldo is already there. Whether the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner turns up or not, the league is now seen as a place where the best players can go and play.
More players will come and with the presence of Ronaldo, there has to be a certain commitment and mindset from foreign imports. People like Carlos Tevez not only treated China as a vacation, but openly stated that it was. Ronaldo has set such high standards for himself and others that he cannot live without change and other clubs will or should demand the same level of dedication from their new signings. Star has shown that no matter the talent, there is no excuse for less than 100% at all times.
Ronaldo can be seen talking, cajoling and encouraging teammates and sometimes expressing his frustration when the right pass or move is not executed. Yet his greatest anger is directed towards himself. When he misses an opportunity, bows his head or is evicted, his annoyance is visible to all.
Here’s a player who is as good as it gets. His Al-Nassr team-mates must have found training a different experience over the past few months. There have been hundreds, thousands of foreign players in Saudi Arabia over the years, but few, if any, have shown such dedication and professionalism. This is his commitment, you can be sure he means what he says.
So even more than other top-class foreigners can only improve standards in training, preparation and games. And then, as Ronaldo mentioned, comes infrastructure. It is an ongoing project but the number of top class stadiums is increasing and training facilities are also improving. There is no point in signing world famous players and developing homegrown talent and then providing substandard facilities.
If players and infrastructure improve then the third element is time. In football, this is something that has often been in short supply around the world and coaches don’t have a long life in Saudi Arabia. Off the field though, it takes long-term planning, strategy and enough patience to make up for the change that is to come.
In some ways, it doesn’t matter if the rosy Saudi league becomes one of the top five in the world.
The journey and ambition is more important than the destination and the key point is that the league and everyone in Saudi Arabian football aims to never be satisfied, to continually improve and continue to grow. So far, Ronaldo is playing his part but there is more to come.