The atmosphere in the stands of the gleaming King Abdallah stadium is that of the great evenings. On May 23, Al-Ittihad, the star club of Jeddah, a cosmopolitan city on the shores of the Red Sea, hosted Al-Batin to sold-out crowds, in front of 55,000 spectators.
Amidst the smoke, thousands of local supporters shouted loudly singing to the glory of the black and gold “Tigers”, their team at the top of the Saudi professional championship, the Saudi Pro League, three days from the end. Young women, who have come with friends or family, wave flags in the colors of the club. “The atmosphere is the same in every home game. We don’t miss any… When we manage to get tickets,” comments Nada (she did not wish to give her name), wearing a flowery veil and wearing a brown abaya. To explain this devotion, the 33-year-old Saudi woman points a finger to the sky: “Ittihad is my soul, it is God. »
The legendary fervor of its supporters has earned Al-Ittihad the nickname “the people’s club”. The pion is transmitted from generation to generation and between friends. He is not the most successful in the history of Saudi football; this pedigree belongs to Al-Hilal, its rival from Riyadh. But, after fourteen lean years, he won the championship this season by beating Al-Nr, the most prominent club in the kingdom and its star player, Portuguese striker and five-time Ballon d’Or winner, Cristiano Ronaldo. “The two times we played against him, we beat him and he didn’t even score a goal,” mocks Omar Jamjour, a 30-year-old, mimicking the frustration of the 38-year-old former Real Madrid star at the time of the defeat.
The arrival of the champion in the Saudi Pro League, in 2023, with the highest salary in the history of football – or 200 million euros per season – shone the spotlight on Saudi Arabia. At the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the “Green Falcons”, the national team, had already distinguished by beating Argentina, who will win the competition a few weeks later. Present in the box of honor that day, alongside Gianni Infantino, FIFA President, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, jealously observed the success of the Qatari organization and the power of football as a tool of soft-powerconfirming his dream of also being the host of a World Cup.
After Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia wants to be the new Eldorado of football. And, for several weeks, the kingdom has launched an all-out offensive which is panicking the football world.
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