It looked like Old Trafford had come to Dubai, when thousands of fans let out a deafening cheer as they caught the first glimpse of football legend Cristiano Ronaldo at Expo 2020
As Ronaldo rose from the stage at Al Wasl Plaza, a sea of fans – many sporting jerseys and T-shirts with the star’s photo on it – went starry-eyed as the Portuguese and Man United star waved out to them. The roar was right on cue.
The star said: “I never expected such a grand welcome with such a huge crowd.”
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner said he loves Dubai and visits it every year. “Whatever Dubai does is just amazing and impressive. I am not surprised at things here. It’s just fantastic to see how things are made possible here.
“Expo is unbelievably impressive. Bringing 192 nations with their culture and traditions under one roof is something very exciting,” he said.
The 37-year-old footballer told his fans who had come from as far as India, to take care of their physical and mental health. “I am fit because I take care of my body. Do everything that makes your body and mind healthy,” he said.
Ronaldo, whose partner is expecting twins, also asked his fans to make sustainable choices to create a better world for future generations. “Listen to your father [advise],” Ronaldo told the audience twice, before narrating a story about his eldest son.
“My son often asks me when he will have a mobile phone. I always tell him: ‘Whenever it’s your time, you shall have it’,”
He also had a word of advice for parents — limit kids’s screen time. “We must take advantage of technology and not be obsessed with it. Children should be given phones for a specific time and not all the time.”
After the interactive session at Al Wasl Plaza, Ronaldo signed number seven jerseys for a few lucky kids. Layan Hamade, a student at GEMS International School, was one. “I happened to be sitting on the first row. I could not believe my ears when an organiser told me that I was one among the lucky ones to be going on stage to get the T-shirt,” Layan said.
“Now, all my friends and schoolmates will be jealous of me.”
A fan who had come from Oman, said it was a dream come true for him. “I follow Ronaldo on every platform. Don’t miss any of his news. When I learnt that he is here, there was no second thought to reach Dubai.”
Another fan, Ravi from Kerala, India, was in Dubai earlier and had planned to return home on January 27. But when he heard that Ronaldo would be visiting Expo 2020, he rescheduled his flight.
“I postponed my ticket to see my favourite star,” he said.
“People present at Al Wasl Plaza are the luckiest ones today.”
One of the most heart-warming moments of the day came when Ronaldo got off the podium to click a photo with a man in a wheelchair, as the crowd roared on.