Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal – PSG / Messi and Ronaldo united against their country: the Saudi project for the 2030 World Cup

Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal - PSG / Messi and Ronaldo united against their country: the Saudi project for the 2030 World Cup

They are probably the only employees of Qatari and Saudi entities to regret the scheduling of a friendly match in the middle of winter, in the mildness of Riyadh when important deadlines are coming for their two teams. Christophe Galtier and Rudi Garcia know it, however: business does not wait. Nor is geopolitics.

Thursday, PSG faces a selection made up of the best players from the clubs of Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr in a match with heavy symbolism. Since luck does things well, it will be, by the way, Cristiano Ronaldo’s first match since his arrival in the largest country in the Middle East. So, on paper, Riyadh has already won: this Thursday, it’s yet another remake of the Messi-CR7 duel that should be replayed, minus the stake.

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The image will put an incredible spotlight on Saudi Arabia, launched at high speed but also with a lot of delay in its sportwashing operation. After the LIV Golf, the rally-raid, Formula 1, the approaching MotoGP, the Asian Games, the Saudi Tour and even the Diriyah Tennis Cup, the kingdom has decided to tackle the most popular sport in the world: football . The takeover of Newcastle was only one step in the Saudi strategy. The more so secret dream of Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince, is now to organize the 2030 World Cup with Greece and Egypt.

In this battle, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi risk being tortured. Because, opposite, Portugal will be a candidate, alongside Spain and Ukraine. Argentina is also thinking about it, along with Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay, to celebrate 100 years since the creation of the World Cup. Will the two stars give in to Saudi advances?

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, a duo that Saudi Arabia dreams of to promote its candidacy for the 2030 World Cup

Credit: Quentin Guichard

Ronaldo, ambassador and influencer

In a sense, Cristiano Ronaldo has already crossed the Rubicon. “The investment in Ronaldo is linked to two thingsdeciphers Jean-Baptiste Guégan, specialist in the geopolitics of sport. First, someone had to be an ambassador. If Al Nassr denies that 2/3 of the 200 million euros will go to an ambassador contract, from the moment he sets foot in Saudi Arabia, he becomes the country’s ambassador in a concrete way. We are talking about the first influencer on Instagram“.

For his part, the Portuguese has always kept quite far from the Lusitanian candidacy. His top-tier concerns were arguably elsewhere. But seeing him choose Saudi Arabia to end his career has taken a real toll on his popularity in the country. “Finally, what is most reproached to him in Portugal is the fact of becoming an ambassador for Saudi Arabiaexplained Alex Ribeiro, manager of Trivela, when discussing the signing of CR7 to Al-Nassr. Officially, he is not yet an ambassador but by going there, he gives such exposure to football in Saudi Arabia that there are the same consequences. This is not necessarily the best way to end the most famous Portuguese personality in history…“.

Since then, the tone has not changed. Even Miguel Albuquerque, president of the regional government of Madeira, historical support of the star, considered that a promotion of a foreign candidacy would be an act “unpatriotic” with the Diario de Noticias.

Cristiano Ronaldo with his Al-Nassr jersey

Credit: Getty Images

Messi, Argentinian flag bearer… until the end?

For Lionel Messi, we are not there yet. Under contract with PSG, a Qatari entity, in discussions to extend, his sporting future does not seem to go through Saudi Arabia in the short term, not before 2024 in any case, the date of the awarding of the 2030 World Cup. Above all, he has always pushed for an Argentina bid in 2030, even showing up in 2017 with Luis Suarez with two separate shirts for the same bid.

Fernando Marin, coordinator of the Argentinian project, then explained to AFP that Messi would be with his country of origin: “He will be with us in this initiative, just like Suarez certainly. We talked to Leo about our goals, and he thinks it’s doable. He showed a real desire to help us. He will probably be the standard bearer for our candidacy“.

Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi in August 2017 promoting the 2030 World Cup co-hosted by Argentina and Uruguay, including

Credit: Getty Images

On paper, no risk. Except that a real alert arrived in the Argentine camp when, last May, Saudi Arabia formalized the enthronement of Lionel Messi as tourist ambassador. The duration of the contract and the amount did not filter. But that the Argentinian agrees to entrust his image to the kingdom says a lot about the attractiveness of Saudi money. An example: Tiger Woods, in his time, refused an offer between 700 and 800 million dollars to join the LIV Golf project.

“Communication mercenaries”

Messi and Ronaldo could therefore become geopolitical exceptions. In recent history, players having supported foreign projects while their country was a candidate, it has never been seen. “Against their country, it would be newbelieves Jean-Baptiste Guégan. But who have supported other candidacies, yes. There was Guardiola and Zidane who took monstrous checks for Qatar in December 2010. But that’s still a fairly recent phenomenon. There was a turning point in the 90s. Players were then associated with the organization of these mega-events which go beyond the framework of sport. We then use the popularity of the players for this. Now, there’s a flip side to that, which is that players become mercenaries in terms of communication. I’m not sure it’s ultimately so productive“. Except for some bank accounts…

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