'It felt like a dream': Qatari fan meets Cristiano Ronaldo in picture perfect moment

Qatari fan meets Cristiano Ronaldo in picture perfect moment
5 min read
24 July, 2023

It all happened because of a painting, a piece of art. Cristiano Ronaldo has 600 million followers on Instagram - more than any other person on the planet - so it’s fair to say that he has a lot of fans.

Not many, however, have shown the same devotion and imagination as Mohammed Bin Ibrahim Al-Fakhrook. The young Qatari has just graduated from university in his homeland and is starting what is likely to be a long career in the oil and gas industry but has already achieved his dream of meeting the megastar, one who inspired him to be a stand-out student.

“During my time at the university, I achieved the highest honours and secured the top position among my peers across all eleven colleges. My work ethic is characterised by a genuine pursuit of excellence and unwavering devotion, traits that I greatly admire in Cristiano Ronaldo.”

"This portrait [of Cristiano Ronaldo] holds deep personal meaning and serves as a timeless memento, symbolising my admiration for an athlete who has been a true source of inspiration for those striving for excellence in their endeavours"

He painted a portrait of the Portuguese magician. “This artwork, which I have named ‘Beyond the Field’, captures the essence of Cristiano Ronaldo's remarkable journey and the profound meanings it represents,” Mohammed told The New Arab. “Ronaldo's joyful and victorious expression, frozen in time, captivates the viewer, drawing them into his world.”

The painting was inspired by a photograph of the player holding the UEFA Nations League trophy that he’d won with Portugal in 2019. In his hand, he holds a golden ball.

After hours of waiting, Mohammed's persistence eventually payed off [photo credit: Mohammed Bin Ibrahim Al-Fakhrook]
After hours of waiting, Mohammed's persistence payed off [photo credit: Mohammed Bin Ibrahim Al-Fakhrook]

“It symbolises the countless moments when Ronaldo's ball skills turned into pure magic, like scoring crucial goals in the final minutes of matches that led to victory," Mohammed explained.

"The image of a flying pigeon emerging from the golden ball represents Ronaldo's exceptional character, both on and off the field. The inclusion of logos representing the teams Ronaldo has played for at the top of the portrait highlights his versatility and the challenges he has overcome in different leagues,” a homage to the fact that the player has excelled in the biggest leagues: England, Spain and Italy.  The merging of Ronaldo’s image with 18th century Joseph I of Portugal, was done, says the artist, to add historical and cultural significance.

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The idea came during the World Cup. The Arab world celebrated when Morocco eliminated Portugal at the quarter-final stage in December but it also marked the last chance of Ronaldo winning the trophy, the only major prize in football that has eluded him.

"As an admirer, I was deeply moved by his departure from the World Cup last year. Witnessing his departure from the field inspired a moment of imagination - an idea was born. I dreamt of not only personally reaching out to Ronaldo but also documenting the encounter by obtaining his autograph on my artwork. This portrait holds deep personal meaning and serves as a timeless memento, symbolising my profound admiration for an athlete who has been a true source of inspiration for those striving for excellence in their endeavours.”

As a token from a fan, it is impressive. Yet the 24-year-old was not finished. He wanted to show the portrait to the player. Given Ronaldo's level of fame, that would always be easier said than done. But the player's move in December not only surprised the world but made it easier for the Qatari. Ronaldo left Manchester United and then joined Al-Nassr of Saudi Arabia.

“Ronaldo seemed beyond reach. The challenge was daunting but I embraced it wholeheartedly. For months, I explored various avenues to reach Ronaldo, reaching out to executives, writers, managers, and CEOs associated with the football industry. Despite setbacks, I kept going on, and in the end, I embarked on a journey to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with no clear plan except my dedication to meet him.”

It was April 24, the semi-final of the King’s Cup between Al-Nassr and Al-Wehda. Ronaldo and his team were widely expected to defeat the men from Mecca and head to the final. Instead, there was a shocking 1-0 loss which looked to have put paid to the plans of the artist. “Because of the defeat, it seemed nearly impossible to meet Ronaldo or any other player.” After six hours in the stadium, he was on the verge of giving up and heading back to Qatar.

“However, as I was about to leave, a kind representative from Al-Nassr introduced me to Ricardo, Ronaldo's manager. Despite his disappointment with the outcome, he liked my painting and called it beautiful. He kindly offered to speak to Ronaldo on my behalf. Soon, someone was sent to inform me to wait in a designated area as Ronaldo would be passing by.”

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Another anxious hour passed by but then one of the best players in the history of the game appeared. “When I saw Ronaldo approaching, it felt like a dream. I genuinely thought I might wake up at any moment, haha! Ronaldo asked if I was the one who had created the painting, and I enthusiastically replied ‘Yes’."

Mohammed delighted in telling The New Arab how he felt. "It was incredible because, after the loss, my painting may have brought some cheer to Ronaldo. He told me it was amazing, and when I asked him to sign at the bottom left, he paused for a second and then decided to sign in the middle of the portrait, just below the logos of different football teams. It turned out even more beautiful than I had originally hoped for. Words can't express how I felt at that moment. It was the happiest day of my life.”

John Duerden has covered Asian sports for over 20 years for The Guardian, Associated Press, ESPN, BBC, and the New York Times,  as well as various Asian media. He is also the author of four books

Follow him on Twitter: @johnnyduerden