Fans can now fancy chances of watching Ronaldo on Chinese turf as star joins Al Nassr
Published: Jan 04, 2023 12:45 AM
Portugal's forward Cristiano Ronaldo smiles after qualifying to the next round after defeating Switzerland in Lusail, Doha on December 6, 2022. Photo: AFP

Portugal's forward Cristiano Ronaldo smiles after qualifying to the next round after defeating Switzerland in Lusail, Doha on December 6, 2022. Photo: AFP

Asian football has never taken center stage like this before.

Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr, which was previously little known outside the country, are making headlines in world media. The team gained more than 2.5 million new followers on Instagram in less than 24 hours after announcing the signing of Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. And the Riyadh-based club now has over 7.5 million followers, a nearly 10-time increase from the original number just three days ago.

After agreeing to a 2.5-year contract reportedly worth more than 200 million euros ($210 million), the five-time Ballon d'Or winner became the highest-paid athlete on the planet. Although he is in the twilight of his glittering career, Ronaldo is by far the biggest star to play club football in Asia, and is sure to usher in a new era for Asian football.

The club called the deal "more than history in the making" and hopes the star can "inspire our league, our nation and future generations."

As the most popular person on social media platform Instagram with a record 520 million followers, or more than 6 percent of the whole world's population, Ronaldo will surely bring a huge audience to Al Nassr and the Saudi Pro League. Even the AFC Champions League (ACL), the continental competition played by top clubs from Asia, will hopefully get more attention in and outside the continent.

"Finally! He is Here! Welcome to Asian football, Cristiano Ronaldo!" the ACL tweeted after Al Nassr announced the signing of Ronaldo.

And far from Saudi Arabia, on the far east side of Asia, even Chinese fans couldn't hide their excitement about Ronaldo joining an Asia club. Many are already expecting that one Chinese Super League team will get the chance to play against Al Nassr in the ACL next season.

"So we can go to watch Ronaldo on Chinese turf" when the star and his team come to play the away fixture, excited fans wrote on social media.

Some even started to look for streaming links to the Saudi league games, which was hard to imagine in the past.

Despite all the attention and influence Ronaldo brings, Asian football still has a long way to go before reaching the same height as Europe and South America.

After handing eventual winners Argentina a shocking defeat in the Qatar World Cup group stage, Saudi Arabia finished bottom of their group in the end. And Qatar became the worst-performing hosting nation in World Cup history after losing all their three group games. All the three AFC teams making it to the last 16 - Japan, South Korea and Australia - bowed out in the first round of knockouts.

And on the club level, no Asian team has won the FIFA Club World Cup in its more than 20-year history.

It's a mission impossible to expect Ronaldo, who turns 38 in early February, to change the scenario single-handedly for Asian football. However, with his stardom and influence, there's no doubt that more and more kids will fall in love with the sport, hopefully taking it to a new level in the future.

The author is an editor of the Global Times.