For Thamer Al Wajaan, seeing Cristiano Ronaldo in the Al Nassr jersey, not far from him on the pitch at Mrsool Park, was a moment he will never forget.
“It was the most beautiful day in my life,” Al Wajaan said on Wednesday afternoon in Riyadh, less than 24 hours after the player's unveiling. “Because I watched Ronaldo since I was a kid. We grew up together.
"Imagine if your favourite player came across the world and became a player for your favourite team also. It was amazing.”
A lifelong Nassr fan, Al Wajaan was not going to miss Ronaldo’s big introduction. Having earlier on Tuesday finalised his two-and-a-half-year contract with the Saudi Pro League leaders, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner was paraded in front of supporters at a sold-out Mrsool Park.
Nassr had announced the event only on Monday – Ronaldo’s signing was confirmed last Friday – and thus tickets for the 25,000-seater stadium were understandably in hot demand.
That wasn’t going to stop Al Wajaan, though.
“It was difficult,” he says. “I was searching on three iPhones and my laptop also. I got lucky. I just refreshed the page … there were 60,000 people in the page … I just wait, and I refresh, and I wait. For two hours. And, finally, I got my ticket. I was so happy.”
Al Wajaan, who lives in Riyadh but studied in the US, went with seven of his friends. Even one who supports Al Hilal, Nassr’s fierce rivals from across the capital.
“He was happy because he’s also Saudi,” Al Wajaan says, still struggling to put into words his club’s latest recruit. “When it was announced, I couldn’t believe that. I still can’t believe it. Even yesterday, I wasn’t sure if it was Cristiano Ronaldo, I was just looking to see if it was fake. But dreams became true.”
Al Wajaan is sure Ronaldo, 38 next month, will be a hit in Saudi Arabia. The nine-time champions sit top of the Saudi Pro League after 11 matches, one point ahead of Al Shabab.
The Asian Champions League, too, represents an obvious goal. It remains the one trophy that has thus far eluded Nassr – Hilal are the current continental champions, winning four in all.
“I’m sure Ronaldo will be a success in Al Nassr because he’s a good player,” Al Wajaan says. “I’m sure he will score a lot of goals. I hope, because I love him. And I hope he gets the Asian Champions League, because Al Nassr needs it.”
Al Wajaan feels not only Nassr will benefit, however. But the whole region.
“It’s very important to have a player such as Ronaldo – it’s not Al Nassr only, it’s Saudi Arabia, or the Middle East to be honest,” Al Wajaan says. “You know the Instagram account for Al Nassr, before it was 800,000. Today it was eight million.
“So that means a lot of money to the club and a lot of interest. We became famous. Like [Real] Madrid, I hope.”
Al Wajaan was speaking at the Nassr club store on King Fahd Road in Al Olaya, where he was buying the team’s second jersey. It was to soon have “Ronaldo 7” on the back.
Not far from him, Ahmed Al Shakra was clutching three Nassr home shirts. Although a Hilal fan, he was there in his role as dutiful father: his three young sons, somehow, support the yellow-and-blues.
“I am very happy, for sure,” Al Shakra said. “I like Hilal, but my sons are all Nassr. And they love Ronaldo. He is the top in the whole world, so now I have to take them to all the matches. For sure, inshallah.”
Deem Naif and Omar Naif hope to attend future matches, also. The siblings love Nassr, but Ronaldo’s presence only deepens the affinity.
“I think it’s a very good deal for Ronaldo to come to Al Nassr,” Deem Naif says, smiling wide. “I didn’t find any tickets for last night. But I’ve been to one match, it was so beautiful. Of course, I will go again – because of Ronaldo.”
Like her brother, who described Ronaldo’s signing as an “amazing moment”, Deem envisages only success for her beloved side.
“Al Nassr will now be a very good team,” she says. “Ronaldo will be a very important player for Al Nassr. [Brazilian forward] Talisca and Ronaldo will be very good partners, inshallah. Al Nassr is the best in the world.”
Maybe they’ll be known throughout the world now. The Rodriguez family, from Colombia, followed the former Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus star at the recent World Cup in Qatar – the Portugal captain sits as the all-time leading goalscorer in men’s international football – and before heading back to their homeland came to Riyadh to experience “Ronaldo mania”.
“Because my sons play football, they love Ronaldo,” Carlos Mauricio says before buying 12 different Nassr garments for his sons. “Because Ronaldo is a very good gentleman, very competent, has a good attitude, without tattoos. Good family, good people. He is a role model.”
Patently, son Salvatore agrees.
“Because Ronaldo is a very good guy, a very good idol, and a very good player too," he says. “The move to Al Nassr is very good for him; he has a new experience.”
Asked if he will now keep a close eye on Nassr’s progress from his native Colombia, Salvatore replies: “Maybe, surely. I might come back to watch him play here.”