Cristiano Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia vs Lionel Messi and PSG

VOn a “ticket beyond imagination,” the lucky buyer, Saudi businessman Mushref al-Ghamdi, wrote on Twitter. That was most likely the case for the price: the equivalent of around 2.5 million euros for a friendly game. On Thursday, Cristiano Ronaldo took on his nemesis, new world champion Lionel Messi. In a stadium with second division capacity in the west of the Saudi capital Riyadh. Ronaldo in a Saudi club selection, Messi with Paris St Germain.

After all, al-Ghamdi had bought access to the changing rooms with his VIP ticket. It was the first time Ronaldo would appear on the Saudi turf since signing a contract with capital club Al-Nassr that runs until mid-2025 and is expected to bring him the equivalent of more than 200 million euros.

It could have been worse for Ronaldo

Thursday’s game also provided a source of ridicule for the aging world star, who had been introduced with royal pomp by Al-Nassr as “the greatest athlete alive” and boasted in all immodesty that he, Cristiano Ronaldo, was one of the best in Europe I have achieved everything and am now looking for a new challenge.

That sounded a bit strange given the many reports that he would have preferred to end up at a club with which he could have done something in Europe. Just like Messi or Kylian Mbappé, who also played for PSG. For both of them, the kick didn’t seem like a big deal in terms of sport. The British “Mirror” compared the game to “visiting the Harlem Globetrotters”, a basketball circus team.

Of course it could have been worse for Ronaldo. The Saudi league is one of the leagues in the Gulf that can least be accused of being an operetta league. The population of the kingdom is young, hungry for fun – and football enthusiastic. There is a vocal fan culture, even a “Clasico”.

However, it has nothing to do with Ronaldo’s new club, but will be played between Al-Ittihad from the coastal city of Jeddah and Al-Hilal from Riyadh. The latter club merged with the Portuguese’s side for the spectacular game against PSG, although both clubs are actually linked in a football-typical urban rivalry. In that regard at least, Ronaldo was able to pull off a small Saudi football miracle.

Human rights activists didn’t stop at tips that alluded to Ronaldo’s loss of importance as a footballer. They criticized the friendly game as a “sportswashing” event, with which the authoritarian kingdom was whitewashing its human rights situation. Al-Nassr has denied that Ronaldo is a follow-up task to support Saudi Arabia’s 2030 World Cup bid, which the country is pursuing in a notable alliance with Egypt and Greece.

Messi is already a tourism ambassador for the country, which is also remarkable because his employer is in the hands of the very wealthy Emirate of Qatar and both countries have long been as green as Ronaldo and Messi. Even if the power of football to unite people during the World Cup in Qatar had obviously spread to both countries – a few years ago PSG would hardly have played a friendly match in Riyadh. By the way, that ended 5: 4 for Paris.


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