Raúl Caneda, born in Pontevedra, has great insight into the Saudi Arabian league having managed two of the Gulf nation’s biggest teams: Al-Ittihad in 2012-13 and A-Nassr for two separate spells (2014 and 2016), with the Riyadh-based club now taking on a global dimension following the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo. Caneda knows exactly what awaits the Portuguese star… and the world of football.
Were you surprised by the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo with Al-Nassr?
Partly yes, partly not. I already knew that In Saudi Arabia there was a desire to give their league a bigger profile and we are talking about one of the most popular championships in Asia.
Do you think the Portuguese striker has made a wise move?
I have seen Iniesta, Xavi and Raul go to other ‘so-called’ minor leagues and no one said to take a step back. Cristiano will have the best contract in the history of football. I think different phobias influence this kind of opinion and it’s still a bit of this European view, that sometimes we think we’re the focal point of the world.
Do you also mean the World Cup in Qatar?
Qatar has great financial muscle and some clubs with a football tradition, but Saudi Arabia is the nerve center of Arab football and the comparison is similar to that of Spain with Andorra. In Saudi Arabia there are a maximum of eight foreigners per team and they are usually of a very good standard. In 2012, when we played in the semi-finals of the Champions League, three of the four qualifiers were from Saudi Arabia. Al-Hilal has won two of the last four editions of this tournament and the Saudi finals are followed by 20 million people like Algeria, Morocco, Egypt… Al-Hilal vs. Al-Nassr is a kind of Real Madrid. -Barcelona in the Arab world. There is still and ignorance regarding football outside of Asia related to the football culture of this country.
Which league will Cristiano find then?
A very demanding championship. I remember I arrived at Al-Ittihad in February and I was the third manager that season. To me, their league is equivalent to Turkey’s with immense economic power.
Cristiano’s 200 million?
I think the signing of Cristiano is just the beginning. Al-Nassr’s rivals will also want their piece of the pie and things won’t stop with Ronaldo. They (Saudi Investment Fund PIF) have bought Newcastle United and they want to push their league to another level with the goal of having it among the top 10 championships in the world.
A great club, among the three most important in Saudi Arabia and which will demand a lot from Cristiano. In Saudi Arabia there are three or four teams that would compete very well in the Spanish First Division.
And in terms of life, how will Cristiano’s life change?
The country has changed a lot in terms of freedom and Europeans have different lifestyles than local citizens. Then there is the weather, which almost always forces you to train at night. However, Cristiano will find the media attention unrelenting and may find this environment a bit suffocating.