Cristiano Ronaldo joining Al Nassr will have a similar impact as Pele’s move to New York Cosmos nearly 50 years ago, according to the Saudi club’s head coach Rudi Garcia.
Five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo has signed a two-and-a-half-year contract, thought to be one of the most lucrative in football history, following his Manchester United exit.
The Portugal international has yet to make his debut due to a domestic suspension carried over from his time at United, but his impact is already being felt off the pitch.
And in the view of Garcia, the transfer is comparable to the late Pele’s move to American club Cosmos in 1975 following a legendary spell with Santos.
“It’s a bit like Pele’s arrival, especially for the development of football, sport and culture in Saudi Arabia,” Garcia was quoted as saying by L’Equipe.
“Cristiano Ronaldo is more than a player. He is one of the best players in the world.
“It’s amazing how much it’s put a spotlight on our club. Now everyone knows where our club is around the world.
“We must have gone from 800,000 [Twitter followers] to 10 million in a few hours, or a few days, because of Cristiano’s arrival.”
Happy to have you,
— AlNassr FC (@AlNassrFC_EN)
Ronaldo missed Friday’s 2-0 win over Al Tai and will also sit out Saturday’s trip to Al Shabab due to a ban imposed for knocking a phone out of an Everton fan’s hand last April.
He is eligible to make his Al Nassr debut against Al Ettifaq on January 22, but Garcia has confirmed Ronaldo may first feature in a prestige friendly against Paris Saint-Germain.
That could mean a clash between Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as PSG take on a Saudi All-Star XI made up of players from Al Nassr and Al Hilal, but Garcia is not entirely happy.
“His debut won’t be with the Al Nassr jersey. It will be a mix between Al Hilal and Al Nassr,” Garcia said.
“As the coach of Al Nassr, I cannot be pleased with this match. For development, to see PSG, to see the great Parisian players, indeed it is a good thing.
“But we have a championship game three days later. In terms of scheduling, it could have been better thought out. But it’s not a big deal.
“We are in the lead, we are happy. It is a difficult championship to win, but we intend to do it.”
Ronaldo struggled for playing time prior to his United exit and then lost his place in Portugal’s starting line-up in their disappointing World Cup campaign.
Asked what he hopes to see from the 37-year-old when he belatedly makes his debut, Garcia said: “If he finds the pleasure of playing again, that will already be a goal achieved.”