Real Madrid captain Nacho is convinced former teammate Cristiano Ronaldo's impact on football in Saudi Arabia will help transform the Saudi Pro League into one of the best leagues in the world.
Ronaldo, one of the greatest and most famous footballers in history, blazed a trail to the Saudi Pro League (SPL) last January when he signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with Riyadh giants Al Nassr.
Since the 38-year-old Portuguese superstar arrived in the kingdom 12 months ago, the SPL has undergone a remarkable and ambitious transformation; backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which took majority control of the league's four biggest clubs, many high-profile players have made their way to Saudi.
Among the arrivals, Ronaldo has been joined at Nassr by former Liverpool and Bayern Munich forward Sadio Mane and ex-Manchester City defender Aymeric Laporte, runaway league leaders Al Hilal recruited Brazilian star Neymar and Portuguese midfielder Ruben Neves, champions Al Ittihad signed then Ballon d'Or holder Karim Benzema, and Al Ahli recruited Algerian forward Riyad Mahrez and former Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino.
Such emphasis on recruiting established stars is part of a wider plan to turn the SPL into one of the top five leagues in the world, as the SPL's director of football Michael Emenalo told The National.
The presence of Ronaldo, as both player and ambassador for the league, has been vital to increasing the SPL's profile, and Nacho believes Real Madrid's record goalscorer's impact has been "very clear".
“Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the greatest players in the history of the world," Nacho said ahead of Real Madrid's Spanish Super Cup final against rivals Barcelona in Riyadh.
"He was my teammate at Real Madrid, and his impact is huge wherever he plays. His impact on the Saudi League was very clear after he came, and many of the world's best players followed to the kingdom. The Saudi League in the coming years will be one of the best leagues.”
The new-look Spanish Super Cup, now involving four teams in a knockout format instead of the traditional one-off game, has been held in Saudi Arabia since January 2020 after a long-term deal was agreed between the Royal Spanish Football Federation and the kingdom. The only exception was in January 2021 due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Real Madrid, winner of two of the three Super Cups held in Saudi, advanced to the final by beating city rivals Atletico Madrid 5-3 after extra time and will meet Barcelona in Sunday night's final.
It presents an opportunity for revenge for Real, who were defeated 3-1 by Barca in last year's Super Cup final, and Nacho is confident his side will emerge from Al-Awwal Park victorious.
"[It] will be a very important day for us to win a new championship," the 33-year-old defender said. "We need this championship, and what happened last season is in the past. We have a perfect lineup, we are leading the league, and we are performing well in the Champions League, so we have no excuse not to win this championship tomorrow.
“We must give everything to win this championship. Barca is very strong as always, and history tells us this. It will be a strong blow if we lose the first championship of the season.”