Saturday, December 31, 2022
RIYADH: Only hours after Cristiano Ronaldo penned a two-year contract with Saudi Arabia's Al Nassr, crowds flocked to a football kit store in Riyadh to buy the five-time Ballon d'Or winner's new club jersey.
Abdulmohsen al-Ayyban, 41, and his nine-year old son, Nayef, were among those queueing at Al Nassr club's official kit store on Saturday where clerks where busy pressing Ronaldo's name onto t-shirts.
"We are witnessing a historic moment," al-Ayyban told AFP of the deal which he believes "will elevate the Saudi football league".
Ronaldo on Friday signed for Al Nassr until June 2025 in a deal believed to be worth more than 200 million euros.
A wide smile stretched across Nayef's face as he proudly held his new jersey aloft.
For the young Saudi, a dream has come true.
"I have always wanted Al Nassr to acquire the best player in the world," he said. "I will make sure to watch all his games at the stadium."
Ronaldo, 37, is expected to appear before fans next Thursday, an official from the Al Nassr club told AFP.
For Saudi Arabia, Ronaldo is the latest high-priced sporting jewel acquired to add lustre to their international image.
At home, the deal further fuelled national fervour that spiked after the kingdom defeated eventual winners Argentina in the early stages of the 2022 World Cup, a victory hailed as one of greatest shocks in the tournament's history.
An unprecedented rush at the Al Nassr kit store started as soon as reports of the deal were leaked to the local press on Friday night — hours before the official announcement.
Abdulqader, the store manager said queues snaked all the way outside the shop and have only grown since.
T-shirt stocks have nearly emptied, pushing customers to bring in their own to have the player's name printed on them -- a process which will take up to two days.
"I have never seen anything like this in my life," Abdulqader told AFP.
Inside the store, a festive mood prevailed, as Lebanese, Egyptian and Chinese nationals bolstered the massive number of Saudis hoping to get their Ronaldo merch.
"I have been a fan of Ronaldo since I was a child and now the Saudi club I support has bought him... my joy is doubled," said Saudi university student Mohammad al-Johni, decked out in the Al Nassr club's official shirt.
"I will be the first person attending his welcoming ceremony," the 23-year-old added.
Rakan Mohammad, a 21-year old university student, echoed the excitement.
"The deal confirms the value of the Al Nassr club," he said. "Enthusiasm and expectations are high."
On social media networks, Al Nassr's channels saw a major boost.
Millions of new users followed the club's Instagram page, bringing the total tally to nearly 4 million, up from around 800,000 prior to the announcement.
"The impact of the deal has already been felt, even before Ronaldo arrives in Saudi Arabia," Ahmed Al-Zabani, a 19-year-old Saudi university student told AFP.
"The impact will continue to grow in the days to come".
Many Saudis took to social media to praise the move.
"The dream has become a reality," read an Instagram post by a shop printing Ronaldo t-shirts in the colours of the Al Nasser team.
The comments quickly flooded in with customers requesting shirts in their size.
"A picture for the history books," wrote one Saudi user on Twitter, captioning an image of Ronaldo holding up his Al Nasser jersey.
Ronaldo heads to the Gulf after a year that saw him relegated to the bench for Portugal and cut adrift by Manchester United.
United parted ways with the Portuguese star after the veteran forward gave an explosive TV interview in which he said he felt "betrayed" by the club and had no respect for coach Erik ten Hag.
United terminated his contract while Ronaldo was with Portugal at the World Cup.