Asian challenge awaits Ronaldo after glittering career in Europe

The Portuguese makes his competitive debut for Al Nassr against Al Ettifaq in the Saudi Pro League having accomplished all that he had hoped for in Europe

Manasi PathakReuters
Published : 20 Jan 2023, 01:55 PM
Updated : 20 Jan 2023, 01:55 PM

Cristiano Ronaldo embarks on a new journey in Asia on Sunday when the 37-year-old makes his competitive debut for Al Nassr against Al Ettifaq in the Saudi Pro League having accomplished all that he had hoped for in Europe.

The Portuguese gave fans a reminder of his talent when he scored twice in a friendly on Thursday, leading a team made up of players from Al Nassr and Al Hilal against Lionel Messi's Paris St Germain.

Though his side suffered a 5-4 defeat, the highly-anticipated contest offered much entertainment to fans as long-time rivals Ronaldo and Messi shared the pitch together for possibly the last time.

Decked in shades of blue, Ronaldo scored a flawless penalty and followed it up with his trademark 'Siu' celebration before striking again from a rebound as he ticked off a new chapter in his career a month after a disappointing World Cup campaign.

Ronaldo left the pitch in tears after Portugal were knocked out in the quarter-finals in Qatar, but the talismanic forward was back in high spirits in Thursday's friendly in Riyadh, where fans are excited by the five-time Ballon d'Or winner's arrival.

"So happy to be back on the pitch, and on the score sheet!! And nice to see some old friends!" Ronaldo said in a post on Instagram, along with some photos, including him with the 'Man of the match' award.

Ronaldo's move to Al Nassr, estimated by the media to be worth more than 200 million euros ($216.72 million), has drawn huge attention to Saudi Arabia, which is likely to gain monetary benefits from the deal.

But football pundits have questioned his decision to join a lesser-known league after a glittering career in Europe that saw him win five Champions League titles and seven domestic championships with Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus.

Ronaldo, though, believes now is the right time.

"I'm so proud to make this big decision in my life. In Europe, my work is done," Ronaldo said when Al Nassr unveiled him as their new player earlier this month.

"I won everything, I played in the most important clubs in Europe and now it's a new challenge in Asia."

Al Nassr's French coach Rudi Garcia believes Ronaldo's signing will be a huge step for the Saudi Pro League, where Al Nassr are second in the standings on 30 points from 13 games, one point behind Al Ittihad who have played a game more.

Al Nassr, who play at Mrsool Park, are one of the most successful clubs in Saudi Arabia, having won the league nine times.

Ronaldo, who joined Al Nassr following a bitter split with United, has missed two league matches for the club because of a two-match ban handed down by England's Football Association for knocking a phone out of a fan's hand in April.

The Portugal international and the home fans will hope his much-anticipated debut on Sunday will have been worth the wait.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher