The 2022 Qatar World Cup was the first major world football tournament held in the Arab world. It was closely followed by another huge scoop for the region’s footballing prestige – Cristiano Ronaldo signed for a Saudi club side.
The Portuguese international mega-star, one of the world’s greatest-ever players, signed for Al Nassar, which is based in the Saudi city of Riyhadr.
The capture of the five Ballon d’Or winning forward is the latest sign of the rise of football in the region.
In addition to a rumoured signing-on fee of around £85 million/$106 million, it is believed that Ronaldo is being paid the highest salary in the history of the sport – around £175 million/$215 million a year.
These figures are important – they show how the Gulf States plan to take the next big step to become bigger parts of the world football scene. They have the enthusiasm to aim for the top – and the money to achieve it.
Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabia, for example, came despite interest from the American MLS team Sporting Kansas City. The Arab team simply had more money – a lot more.
Thankfully football fans can still watch Ronaldo in action. Depending on where you are, the Al Nassar games are now streamed on various services like ESPN and Sky Sports.
Al Nassar match highlights – which are sure to usually involve their captain and star player – are freely available on their YouTube channel.
Whether you are going to become a fan of Al Nassar or simply interested in following a different league for your football betting, Ronaldo’s move has completely changed the image of Saudi football.
But this is just the tip of an iceberg that has seen Gulf States become more and more noticed in the football world.
The Qatar World Cup was part of a trend that has also seen Saudi Arabia purchase Newcastle United in the English Premiership. The club has immediately shaken off its decline and rapidly risen to the top part of the table.
The United Arab Emirates have also been involved in this process. One of the Emirates, Abu Dhabi, took over another English side Manchester City in 2008.
Since then, the injection of Abu Dhabi finance has helped the club rise to become of the best in the world.
Qatar itself has already taken over the leading French club, Paris St Germain. Again, the injection of money from the Gulf has helped PSG become a major footballing power.
At the heart of Gulf football is a willingness to invest large sums in teams around the world. But the ultimate goal for the region is for its own teams to become major forces on the world stage.
The region formed its own football body called the Arab Gulf Football Federation in 2016. This comprises Qatar, Saudi Arabia, The UAE, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman and Yemen.
The Federation aims to establish both club and national competitions. It has already established its own cup, The Arabian Gulf Cup, which is planned to be held on alternate years.
The Cup is a major competition in the region and fiercely competitive. The current champions are Iraq– but the 2024 tournament is held in Kuwait.
Historically Kuwait are the most successful national side in the Gulf – so expect next year’s tournament to be a great showdown between the holders, the hosts and the new football power in the region, Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi national team were one of the surprise packages of the 2022 World Cup ¬ they beat the eventual winners Argentina 2-1 at the start of the Group Stage.
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The Saudis’ impressive performances won them many admirers around the world. It demonstrated that their own Pro League has made great strides recently.
The money available has attracted around 150 foreign professionals to play in Saudi. This has raised the general standard and inspired more fans to get involved.
Best of all it is attracting more Gulf youngsters to enter the game. The money available ensures that coaching facilities are high quality ¬– so expect the local game to improve rapidly.
Already Gulf club sides are rated as some of the best in Asia. Saudi team Al Hilal has won two of the three last Asian club championships.
The future certainly looks bright: in the last year the Saudi Under-23s won the Asian Cup and the Under-20s have won the Arab Cup.
Gulf players have increasingly attracted interest from scouts from Europe’s top leagues – but for once the spending power of the big-name teams can’t always luring young stars away from their homelands.
The Gulf teams now have the financial muscle to hang onto their upcoming players ¬– unless of course they are competing with a foreign club that happens to be owned by one of their own Gulf states.