Al Nassr & the Saudi Pro League

Grace Crispin

Al Nassr & the Saudi Pro League

The public fallout of Cristiano Ronaldo’s controversial interview with Piers Morgan has seen the Portuguese forward without a club. One of the potential suitors for Ronaldo is Al Nassr who currently plays in the Saudi Pro League.

Al Nassr have allegedly offered Ronaldo a contract that would see him make up to €200 million a year, the biggest contract in football history.

But who are Al Nassr and what is the Saudi Pro League?

Al Nassr

Al Nassr currently sit second in the Saudi Pro League, on 19 points three points behind league leaders Al-Shabab. In eight games, Al Nassr have won six, drawn one and lost one - a 1 - 0 loss to fifth-place and city rivals Al-Taawoun.

Al Nassr, or The Knights of Najd, were formed in 1955 and after only operating as an amateur club, when they joined the second tier of Saudi football in 1960, Al Nassr only took three seasons to win promotion. Following their promotion, The Knights of Najd won the Saudi Premier League four times in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as, six King’s Cups, three Federation Cups and three Crown Prince Cups.

The 1990s saw Al Nassr succeed in more international competitions. The Knights of Najd won two GCC Champions Leagues (a tournament between clubs in the Arabian Peninsula), an Asian Cup Winner’s Cup and an Asian Super Cup.

Al Nassr were the first AFC club to play in the Fifa Club World Cup in 2000. The Knights came third in a group that consisted of Raja Casablanca, Sport Club Corinthians Paulista and European giants Real Madrid.

There were a few rocky years in the club’s history in the 2000s. Al Nassr’s golden trio of Majed Abdullah, Fahad Al-Herafy and Mohaisn Al-Jam’aan retired in this period which caused massive change in the team. This even led to Al Nassr only avoiding relegation from the Saudi Premier League in the 2006/07 season on the last day.

However, since that relegation scare, the honorary members of the club set out a long-term plan for Al Nassr, which started with a change in the playing staff.

Since 2014, Al Nassr have been one of the most successful teams in Saudi Arabia, winning the Saudi Pro League in 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2018/19, as well as winning the King’s Cup another three times and winning one more Saudi Crown Prince’s Cup in 2013.

Coaching & Notable Al Nassr Alumni

The current head coach at Al Nassr is Rudi Garcia. The Spaniard has only been at the club since 2022, with all of his previous experience coming in Europe, mostly France. His managerial career started in Corbeil-Essonnes, but he then went on to manage Saint-Etienne, Dijon, Le Mans, Lille, Roma, Marseille and Lyon.

Garcia is a proven winner, with success with Lille, winning Ligue 1 and the Coupe de France in the 2010/11. He reached the Europa League Final with Marseille in the 2017/18 season and the Coupe de la Ligue Final with Lyon in the 2019/20 season.

Notable alumni of Al Nassar include Colombia international and previous Arsenal and Napoli goalkeeper David Ospina, Cameroon striker Vincent Aboubakar, Anderson Talisca, and previous Brazil international and Bayern Munich defensive midfielder Luis Gustavo.

The Saudi Pro League

The Saudi Pro League was founded in 1976 and has usually hosted 16 teams, though this will expand to 18 clubs in the 2023/24 season.

The most successful team in Saudi Pro League history is Al Nassr’s city rivals Al-Hilal, who have won an impressive 18 league titles, as well as being runners-up 15 times. Al Nassr is the second most successful with only nine titles and six runners-up places.

“The Ronaldo Effect”?

With his historic move to LA Galaxy in 2007, David Beckham had an instant effect on the league and the football culture in the US, which was then dubbed the “David Beckham Effect”.

In 2007 alone, 300,000 LA Galaxy Beckham jerseys were sold, which was 700 times the amount of jerseys the same team had sold a year earlier. As for attendances, before Beckham’s arrival, La Galaxy were averaging 20,000 spectators per game, but after the Brit’s arrival, this increased to 26,000 per game.

Many even credit Beckham’s move to the MLS for the league’s continuing survival and growth, with his status in football giving the American game global attention,

Al Nassr and the Saudi Pro League will be hoping that Ronaldo could have a similar effect on their league. Ronaldo has a huge influence in football, as seen in the amount of shirt sales Manchester United saw after his return in 2021. The English club made £187 million in Ronaldo shirt sales within 10 days of his return.

This kind of fanfare could be extremely impactful for Saudi Arabian football, giving the boost needed to get more eyes on their league.