WATCH | Big welcome for Cristiano Ronaldo at new Saudi club Al-Nassr
Cristiano Ronaldo was given a hero’s welcome as he was presented to the fans of his new Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr on Tuesday.
The 37-year-old Portugal striker, who has competed for the mantle of world’s best player for a more than a decade with Argentine Lionel Messi, was introduced to a chanting crowd at the team’s home ground, the packed King Saud University Stadium, also known as Mrsool Park, in Riyadh.
Ronaldo, amid a disappointing World Cup where Portugal exited in the quarterfinals with a 1-0 defeat to Morocco, was released by Manchester United after a controversial interview given to Piers Morgan on TalkTV.
The choice of the Middle East as his next destination has raised eyebrows. At a press conference on his arrival Ronaldo was asked about Saudi Arabia's shock win over World Cup champions Argentina in Qatar, and whether the fact most of their playerswere home-based in the Saudi Pro League, played a role in his decision.
“Many people speak and give their opinions but they really do not know anything about football,” the former Real Madrid star said.
“As you know football now, probably from the last 10, 15 years, is different. All the teams are prepared and ready.
“If you look at the example of the World Cup, the only team who beat the champions was Saudi Arabia — don't forget that. And you had many surprises, the African teams, Costa Rica also did well.
“The evolution of football is different so for me it’s not the end of my career to come to Saudi Arabia. This is why I wanted a change.
“And to be honest I really don't worry about what people say. I took my decision. I’m really happy to be here. And I know the league is very competitive.”
Ronaldo said his “work is done” in Europe, adding that he is relishing new challenges on and off the pitch in the Gulf.
Ronaldo joined Al Nassr last week on a two-and-a-half-year deal estimated by media to be worth more than €200m (R3.6bn).
He was greeted by a sea of yellow and blue at Mrsool Park.
After addressing a news conference, Ronaldo was seen meeting his new teammates in the dressing room. He then made his way onto the pitch, fully kitted out in the club’s colours.
The gathered fans loudly chanted his name as he walked around the 25,000-seater stadium signing footballs and firing them into the stands, before he was joined by his family.
“Me and my family, we want to say thank you to all of you for this support and your welcome,” an emotional Ronaldo said after being handed a microphone. “We’re going to give our best. Thank you everybody.”
Ronaldo arrives in Saudi Arabia with a vast collection of club honours after a glittering spell at Spanish giants Real Madrid from 2009-18 where he won two LaLiga titles, two Spanish Cups, four Champions League titles and three Club World Cups.
He also claimed two Serie A titles and a COPA Italia trophy in three years at Juventus before rejoining United with whom he had bagged three Premier League crowns, the FA Cup, two League Cups, the Champions League and Club World Cup.
Ronaldo added that he had several potential suitors from all around the world after his exit from United, but chose to sign with Al Nassr because the move provided him a chance to make an impact off the pitch.
Ronaldo’s move has been the subject of countless rumours, with some reports saying his contract includes a clause that will allow him to join Newcastle United on loan, while others have alleged the previous holder of the ‘No 7’ shirt was cut loose from the squad for refusing to swap shirt numbers.