“My work in Europe is done. I played at the best clubs in the world… and I won everything. I’m happy and proud to join Al-Nassr. People don’t know about the level here. This contract is unique because I am a unique player. It’s normal for me.” Cristiano Ronaldo’s first words to the media after being officially presented as an Al-Nassr player.
Ronaldo won seven league titles and five Champions League winners’ medals across spells at Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus, scoring a staggering 696 goals. He may even have been as happy as he claimed in that moment; given the fact he had just signed up for a reported annual salary of £177 million ($215m) to become the highest-paid player in world football.
Did anyone really believed that Ronaldo wanted to leave Europe?
The Portugal striker has once made it quite clear that he wanted to continue playing at the very highest level. Ronaldo, who reportedly rejected a lucrative offer from the Middle East last summer, said it is not just about money. The Portugal striker had every intention of remaining in Europe, but none of the big clubs wanted him. After burning his bridges at United, the likes of Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Atletico Madrid and Napoli all distanced themselves from Ronaldo.
He was successful at Juventus, but even his own team-mates were glad to see the back of him when he re-joined United in 2021. Ronaldo then delivered plenty of goals in his homecoming season at Old Trafford, only to throw his toys out of the pram when Erik ten Hag decided he should no longer be the main man in the team.
Al-Nassr ended up being Ronaldo’s best option when all other avenues were closed off, and although the move has allowed him to take centre stage again, he is still not having everything his own way. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner might be the face of Saudi Arabian football, but his new club is still waiting for him to make a decisive impact.
Al-Nassr have made a fortune through shirt and ticket sales since signing Ronaldo, while also boosting their social media following to record-breaking levels for a Saudi club. The 38-year-old’s presence alone has also helped to drastically raise the profile of the league across the globe, but he hasn’t improved the team.
Al-Nassr midfielder Luiz Gustavo said: “Certainly the presence of Cristiano makes it difficult for us, as all teams seek to participate against him in the best possible way, and he gives motivation to everyone [on the opposition].” If that is indeed the case, Ronaldo should be expected to rise to that challenge as one of the finest players to ever grace the club.