NICOSIA – Cristiano Ronaldo will earn €200 million (S$286 million) to promote Saudi Arabia’s joint 2030 World Cup bid in addition to his club salary, a source close to his club told AFP on Monday.
The Portuguese superstar, 37, unveiled to thousands of Al Nassr fans in Riyadh last week, is by far the most famous player to sign for a club in Saudi Arabia or any other Gulf country.
The oil-rich kingdom, along with Egypt and Greece, is considering a bid to host football’s 2030 showpiece tournament, and Ronaldo’s ambassadorial role will bring his reported earnings in the country to over €400 million.
“Ronaldo will be paid more than €200 million for the deal,” said the source, with knowledge of the deal but who requested anonymity.
“He will be an ambassador for the Saudi World Cup 2030 bid for another €200 million.”
The arrival of the former Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus player came just weeks after neighbouring Qatar became the first Arab nation to host the World Cup.
Argentina, led by Ronaldo’s archrival Lionel Messi, beat France on penalties in the final following a thrilling 3-3 draw.
Five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo, who has also won the Champions League five times and holds that tournament’s goal-scoring record, is expected to make his Al Nassr debut on Jan 22.
The deal was backed by senior royals who support Al Nassr, including Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known by his initials MBS, the source said.
“MBS (and his brothers) Naif, Turki and Rakan, the sons of King Salman, are all honorary members of Al Nassr since before their father even became the crown prince,” the source said.
“They wanted to grant their beloved club supremacy and put it in the international spotlight.
“The best way was to bring the best player in the world.”
The deal has been financed by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, the source added.
“Al Nassr and the other Saudi clubs don’t have this huge fund for such a big deal. It’s PIF that secured the payment.”
Recently, the PIF has undertaken other high-profile sporting ventures. These included the purchase of a majority stake in English Premier League club Newcastle United, currently lying third in the standings.
It has also bankrolled the lucrative LIV Golf League, which has split the sport by luring away top stars from the US PGA Tour and DP World Tour.
According to another source close to Al Nassr, it was the princes who put the surprise Ronaldo deal in motion.
“It’s MBS’ brothers who suggested and sought to seal the deal at any price,” he said.
“They are all Al Nassr fans and they wanted to prove their team really is the International,” the source added, referring to Al Nassr’s nickname.
Ronaldo had said in December that “his work in Europe was done” and that he was looking forward to helping Saudi Arabian football develop.
“The vision of what Al Nassr (is) doing and developing in Saudi Arabia both in terms of men and women’s football is very inspiring,” the striker said.
“We can see from Saudi Arabia’s recent performance at the World Cup that this is a country with big football ambitions and a lot of potential.”
Al Nassr have nine Saudi league titles but have never won the Asian Champions League, unlike four-time winners Al Hilal and Al Ittihad, who have lifted the trophy twice. AFP