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Cristiano Ronaldo: “People should think of him as the best footballer of all time”

Robert Bauer perhaps needs a brief introduction, despite his positions. So, the 28-year-old from Pforzheim is a former Bundesliga professional, he played for FC Ingolstadt, Werder Bremen and 1. FC Nürnberg. 2019 was over in Germany and the defensive player went abroad.

First to Russia to Arsenal Tula, then to VV St. Truiden in Belgium. He has been playing for Al-Tai since last summer, making him the only German legionnaire in Saudi Arabia’s league. And he is someone who gives a blunt insight into one of the most controversial professional leagues in the world. Fed with petro-dollars in order to use the beautiful appearance of old stars to overshadow the grievances in the country.

In an interview with the internet portal Spox, Bauer makes no secret of the fact that money played a big role in his move. If you’re not a player at a top club, he says, “you have to think carefully about how you’re going to use this time so that you’re in a good financial position at the end of your career.” Saudi Arabia can be viewed as a paradise for such purposes and groups of players. “When the opportunity came to earn so much here, the change was a no-brainer for me,” he says.

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In comparison to his Bundesliga salaries alone, it’s “towards double his salary” for him. But he also conceded more at the Russian club Arsenal Tula than in Germany, Bauer outlined. He was asked why he spoke so openly about it compared to his fellow players. “Many players,” he said, “are afraid of the reaction of the fans when it comes to money. That’s why they try to act as if they only play for the love of the club. But with very few exceptions, no player’s love for a club is so great that he would give up money for it.”

Germany, a know-it-all country?

He sees the criticism that a change would allow players to be exploited for an authoritarian regime as a difficult issue. Bauer converted to Islam before his station in Saudi Arabia. His wife grew up in Dubai and comes from a Muslim family, which is how he came to Islam.

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Religion now plays a big role in his life, which works well with his job because everything is coordinated with prayer times, even the training plan. And the criticism? He says: “In general, I would recommend everyone to travel to Saudi Arabia and see everything there. We in the West think that life everywhere should be the same as it is here. That our western way is the only right one. In my opinion this is the wrong approach.”

He sees Germany as “one of the louder nations when it comes to criticism of the move to Saudi Arabia and the country itself. It was the same at the World Cup in Qatar. Germany is perceived by some people as a rather know-it-all country.”

He “talked a lot about the allegations from the West” with his local teammates and asked them for their perspective. They are of the opinion, he says, “that a lot has changed for the better since Prince Salman came to power in 2017.” He himself had no problems with the interpretation of customs. “I have tattoos and walk around in shorts. Nobody cares about that, except some children. They often come closer and look at my tattoos with fascination. You only know things like that from other footballers on TV.”

Robert Bauer, then still wearing the jersey of the Belgian club VV St. Truiden

Quelle: Getty Images/BSR Agency

Apart from the Bundesliga, the Saudi Pro League is the strongest league he has played in so far, he says. “If you exclude Al-Hilal, anyone can beat anyone. Financially and infrastructurally, however, there are major differences between Al-Nassr, Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad, Al-Ahly, Al-Ettifaq (all of which are controlled by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund PIF, the editorial team) and Al-Shabaab on one side and the rest on the other,” he says. Bauer is currently in a relegation battle with his club Al-Tai, and on Saturday there will be a duel with top club Al-Ahly against Roberto Firmino, who came from Liverpool FC last summer.

The aim is to improve the country’s image with extremely expensive stars like this, a whole group of them were attracted last summer. But Bauer says that of the big names, Cristiano Ronaldo is the only one who really impressed him in terms of sport: “The others were rather inconspicuous. I don’t know if that was only the case in the game against us – but they didn’t push themselves to their limit and weren’t hungry.” From his point of view, it’s understandable, princely salary or not. “After all, it’s different playing the Champions League than playing in Saudi Arabia against a club you’ve never heard of before,” he says.

Toni Kroos clearly criticizes younger players

Toni Kroos has criticized the transfers of professional footballers to Saudi Arabia. It is said that people play football ambitiously there – but it’s all about the money. In the end, this is a decision for money – and against football,” said the former world champion.

He attracted negative attention in the game against his club Riyad Mahrez, signed by Al-Ahli from Manchester City for 35 million. “Despite his goal against us, I was a bit disappointed. Firmino is viewed critically here in Saudi Arabia because he scores few goals. Benzema hits well, but his behavior off the pitch is surprising. He didn’t show up for training and deleted his social media accounts. I don’t know what happened internally.”

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For Ronaldo, reports Bauer, it is no longer just about winning games and becoming champions: “He wants people to think of him as the best footballer of all time. This desire has made him the player he is. And that’s what drives him, whether in the Champions League or in Saudi Arabia.” As an opponent of the 39-year-old international star, you “feel his aura when you’re on the pitch with him. His football IQ is insane. He no longer runs up and down the field, but rather lurks in the box. But no matter where the ball lands, whether after a precise pass or after a blocked cross: Ronaldo is always there.”

“I saw Cristiano Ronaldo as a cool guy”

In the conversation, Bauer also provided an anecdote from the game against the world star. It was towards the end of the game when Ronaldo was sent deep: “I was behind, we were exactly the same speed in the running duel, then he played back. When the ball went out of bounds shortly afterwards, he stood next to me and said: ‘The old man is still almost!’ I replied: ‘Yes, but not faster than me.’ Then he laughed and said he was tired. I saw Ronaldo as a cool guy. He is above everything here. He is by far the most popular personality in the country.”

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The second superstar, on the other hand, hasn’t been able to do much to increase his popularity in Saudi Arabia. Neymar moved from Paris St. Germain to Al-Hilal last summer for 90 million euros, but he only played five games due to an injury. He is currently missing due to a torn cruciate ligament. Bauer was asked whether there was criticism. “People are more sympathetic because it’s a really bad injury,” he answers: “If he had something on his ankle again, it would certainly look different. Then it would say: Is it my sister’s birthday again, or is it Carnival in Rio?”

The fact that Jordan Henderson, who was signed by Liverpool FC, was the first famous player to leave Saudi Arabia in the winter because he was allegedly disappointed by the atmosphere in the stadiums, among other things, was more of a side note in Bauer’s opinion. “Henderson didn’t have enough of a presence here for people to really care. Of course I don’t know what ideas he had when he moved. But if you think that the atmosphere here is like that at Anfield, then of course you will be disappointed.” The Saudis paid 14 million for him in the summer, but let him leave for a free transfer this winter. The 33-year-old has now joined Ajax Amsterdam.

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