A few years ago, Fabrizio Puglisi met the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo during the Global Soccer Awards held in Dubai. He describes his picture with the legend as one of the jewels in his 'picture with legends' collection on his Instagram page.

Today, Fabrizio, Founder and CEO of the Juventus Academy in the UAE, says that Ronaldo's move to Saudi Arabia's Al Nassr club could be the first step in a bolder effort to place the Kingdom at the centre of Middle Eastern sports. "Sport, especially football, the most popular form of entertainment, is a pillar of Saudi Arabia's reform plan, which aims to promote sport as part of developing a modern entertainment industry in a country where it used to be non-existent before," he said.

On Monday, as the football star flew to Riyadh, he posted a video message for his Al Nassr fans. The superstar will be unveiled before thousands of fans on Tuesday after sealing a shock move estimated at more than 200 million euros.

While Al Nassr Club, which he will call home for the next few years, posted a picture of him holding his new CR7 jersey posted on Instagram: “This is more than history in the making. This is a signing that will not only inspire our club to achieve even greater success but inspire our league, our nation and future generations, boys and girls to be the best version of themselves. Welcome @cristiano to your new home."

Ronaldo's signing until June 2025 is just the latest foray into top-level sports by Saudi, which has moved into Formula One, boxing and golf and snapped up English club Newcastle United.

"Leaving aside the astronomical value of the player and the number of trophies he won (5 Ballon d'Ors, 31 trophies, 5 Champions Leagues, and more than 800 goals in official competitions), Cristiano Ronaldo is by far one of the most important sportspersons in the world, in terms of media impact and the influence on people's buying habits," said Fabrizio.

He fondly remembers Ronaldo's tenure for his beloved Juventus club in 2018 and said that it "strengthened more and more the perception of the Juventus brand as a top world-class club, arousing incredible enthusiasm, especially among young generation from all over the world," he said.

When the striker visited Dubai and met with the children of his club, they were ecstatic. “I still remember the joy of our children at the sight of Ronaldo in Dubai on the occasion of the Globe Soccer Award. They were crazy and unstoppable, I’ll never forget that, and neither will our team,” he said.

Juventus Academy Dubai players at Globe Soccer Awards. Video provided by Fabrizio Puglisi, Founder & CEO

Riyadh resident Masif Al Khoomi said that Ronaldo playing for the city feels "surreal". "We never expected it in the first place. It's a historic moment across the Mena region. People say Qatar hosting a World Cup was a big deal, which it honestly was, but even this is. Getting to see a 5-time Ballon d'or winner playing in your country every week is a matter of pride."

Another football fan, Uzair Syed, a resident of Jeddah, said that Ronaldo playing in Saudi means putting the Saudi football league on the world map. “We are in some way revolutionising the sporting world, we have the fastest F1 circuit in the world, and now one of the greatest players in the history of football is playing in Saudi. We are really looking forward to it,” he said.

According to Fabrizio, the Portuguese footballer is different from other present and past champions because he “put himself on the line, winning and breaking records in the major European championships such as England, Spain and Italy. Despite the advancing age (born in 1985), Ronaldo continues to be the champion he is and, I'm sure, he will prove it again (in Al Nassr).''

He talks about a special CR7 (as Cristiano Ronaldo is known) effect. “He is the most followed person in the world on social media, with 528 million followers on Instagram, 158 million Facebook followers and million more on other platforms.

"In about 48 hours since the official announcement of his arrival, Al Nassr's Instagram followers have tripled in number. It is the CR7 effect, destined to grow in the coming days,” he said, adding that even for today’s ‘new’ champions Mbappè and Halaand, the Portuguese champion is the example to follow.

“The impact on the new generations should not be underestimated, and here I speak because of the incredible experience we had with our Juventus Academy project in the United Arab Emirates, which already had around a thousand members from fifty nationalities,” he said.


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