Same old Cristiano Ronaldo! Toxic CR7 still isn't getting his own way at Al-Nassr

Comments (0)
Cristiano Ronaldo Al-Nassr 2022-23
Getty Images
The five-time Ballon d'Or winner might be the face of Saudi Arabian football, but his new club are still waiting for him to make a decisive impact

"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 were true in some respects. He 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.

Cristiano Ronaldo's career goalscoring stats

📺 Where to watch Ronaldo's Al-Nassr games

💰 Ronaldo's net worth: How much does Al-Nassr star earn?

But no one really believed that Ronaldo wanted to leave Europe.

During his infamous interview with Piers Morgan on TalkTV that effectively ended his second spell at United, the Portugal striker made it quite clear that he wanted to continue playing at the very highest level.

Morgan said to his esteemed guest: "It comes back to my gut feeling about you, that if it was just about money you’d be in Saudi Arabia earning a King’s ransom. But that’s not what motivates you. You want to keep at the top.”

Ronaldo, who reportedly rejected a similarly lucrative offer from the Middle East last summer, then replied: "Exactly."

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...

  1. Al-Nassr are in a worse position

    Al-Nassr are in a worse position

    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.

    When Ronaldo initially joined, Al-Nassr were sitting three points clear at the top of the Saudi Pro League after 13 matches. They have since recorded three draws and two losses alongside just six wins, which has allowed Al-Ittihad to leapfrog them at the summit.

    They were comfortably beaten 2-0 by arch-rivals Al-Hilal last time out, and consequently, trail the league leaders by three points having played a game more.

    Vincent Aboubakar previously led the line for Al-Nassr, but was released to free up a spot in the squad for Ronaldo to be registered. So far, that decision has not helped the club reach new levels on the pitch.

    Al-Nassr midfielder Luiz Gustavo said when attempting to explain their erratic form in February: “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 game.

  2. The shadow of Messi
    Getty Images

    The shadow of Messi

    Ronaldo may have turned his back on European football, but he has not been able to escape the lingering shadow of Lionel Messi.

    The eternal GOAT debate was put to bed once and for all at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, with Messi inspiring Argentina to their third global title while Ronaldo and Portugal were sent packing after an upset against Morocco in the quarter-finals.

    It has been suggested that Messi "completed football" by getting his hands on the one piece of silverware that had eluded him, but he has no desire to start winding his career down just yet.

    At 35, the diminutive magician remains the best in the business, and will probably continue to shatter all kinds of records in the coming years, with a final swansong at the next World Cup in 2026 not being ruled out.

    In stark contrast - whether he will admit it or not - Ronaldo is coming to the end.

    The two men shared the same pitch for perhaps the final time when PSG made the trip to Saudi Arabia for a glorified friendly in January, and while Ronaldo scored two goals to Messi's one in that contest, the whole event felt like a sad goodbye to the very top level for the Portuguese forward.

    Ronaldo often played up their rivalry in the past, and opposition supporters in Saudi Arabia have quickly realised how to push his buttons.

    The veteran frontman was greeted by Messi chants before Al-Nassr's 3-1 Saudi Super Cup semi-final loss to Al-Ittihad just days after the friendly against PSG, and he was subjected to more of the same this week.

    Before, during, and after Al-Hilal's win against Al-Nassr, the home crowd called out Messi's name, with Ronaldo appearing to make an obscene gesture in response before making his way down the tunnel at full-time.

    The incident led to calls for Ronaldo to be expelled from the country, and although Al-Nassr have offered an explanation, you don't have to be a body language expert to see that he is not happy with how things are going.

    It has even been reported that Messi could join be in line for a move to Al-Hilal that would see him eclipse Ronaldo once again, and even if that appears unlikely, it's safe to say that Al-Nassr's poster boy is getting sick of hearing his name.

  3. Shameless petulance

    Shameless petulance

    One of the themes of Ronaldo's ill-fated final few months at United was his regular outbursts of frustration, as he lambasted his colleagues for misplaced passes, missed chances and defensive errors.

    That behaviour has continued at Al-Nassr, who don't have the luxury of a squad brimming with top-class talent to give Ronaldo the best chance to make a decisive difference in the final third.

    After another defeat to Al-Ittihad in March, this time in the league, Ronaldo couldn't hide his anger.

    He threw his hands up in the air while stomping off the pitch despite the best efforts of one of his team-mates to try and calm him down, before kicking out violently at a water bottle on the touchline - with more Messi chants ringing round in the background.

    Later in the month, he was booked for drop-kicking the ball away after the referee blew the half-time whistle to stop him leading a counter-attack the Kings Cup quarter-final tie against Abha.

    Al-Nassr were already 2-0 up at that stage, but Ronaldo wasn't one of the scorers, which was likely the reason for his petulance. He tends to think of himself ahead of the collective.

    Another example came after Al-Nassr dropped more points with a 0-0 draw at Al-Feiha, as Ronaldo appeared to get involved in a verbal altercation with an opposition player before storming down the tunnel without acknowledging the away supporters.

    These are not the actions you would expect from a man with Ronaldo's vast experience. After an illustrious 20-year career, he still lacks the maturity to control his emotions and set a good example for the younger members of the Al-Nassr squad.

    Ronaldo was instantly made captain upon his arrival at Mrsool Park, but he has yet to prove that he deserves that responsibility.

  4. Misleading goals record & minimal impact
    Getty Images

    Misleading goals record & minimal impact

    Ronaldo's Al-Nassr debut was a glitzy occasion as he received a rapturous reception from 25,000 fans at Al-Nassr's sold-out home ground.

    The hosts didn't provide too much in the way of entertainment, though, as they ground out an unconvincing 1-0 victory thanks to a goal from Talisca, who outshone Ronaldo on the night.

    The Portuguese striker drew a blank in his next outing too, before finally getting off the mark with a last-minute penalty to seal a 2-2 draw for Al-Nassr against Al-Fateh.

    Fast forward three months, and Ronaldo is up to 11 goals and two assists from his first 13 appearances in Saudi Arabia, but that record is not as impressive as it seems.

    He scored all three goals to fire Al-Nassr to victory against Damac, and was the only man on the scoresheet once again in their 4-0 triumph over Al-Wehda, with his first goal in that contest marking the 500th league strike of his career.

    Ronaldo then rolled back the years with a 30-yard free kick in a 2-1 win against Abha, but he's also failed to score in a grand total of eight games, including in the losses to Al-Ittihad and Al-Hilal.

    He should be finding the net on a far more frequent basis in a league that even he has admitted doesn't hold a candle to any of Europe's top five divisions.

    Al-Nassr thought they were getting a player that would be the difference-maker, but Ronaldo has often looked off the pace and his decision-making has been poor. He loses possession cheaply far too often and his passing is nowhere near as crisp as it once was.

    Ronaldo took games by the scruff of the neck in his prime and was ruthlessly efficient in the final third of the pitch. He has looked a shadow of his former self at Al-Nassr, regardless of what the numbers might say.

  5. Rudi Garcia pays the price

    Rudi Garcia pays the price

    Rudi Garcia was on borrowed time as soon as Ronaldo walked through the doors at Mrsool Park.

    When reacting to the news of Al-Nassr closing a deal for the Real Madrid legend, the former Roma boss joked: "First I wanted to bring Messi from Doha. I tried to bring Messi directly from Doha." Talk about getting off on the wrong foot!

    Garcia - a man that has been described as the "biggest bad character in football" by ex-Lyon midfielder Juninho - was never likely to get on well with Ronaldo. When two egos that big collide, one is usually forced to make way.

    And that's exactly how it turned out at Al-Nassr, who took the decision to sack Garcia last week, four days after their disappointing draw with Al-Feiha.

    Prior to the announcement, reports surfaced suggesting that Ronaldo had fallen out with the Frenchman behind the scenes, making it clear he didn't agree with his pragmatic style of play.

    Garcia was the fifth manager to face the axe in the last two years at Mrsool Park, but he was the longest-serving of them all, his tenure lasting 286 days.

    He guided the club to third place last season after a dismal 2020-21 campaign that saw them finish down in sixth in the Saudi Pro League, and they were on course for their first title since 2019 before Ronaldo showed up.

    After the Al-Feiha game, Garcia admitted he wasn't "satisfied" with the performance of his squad, and he had previously caused a stir by highlighting a glaring chance that Ronaldo missed in their cup defeat to Al-Ittihad that could have changed the course of the game.

    Al-Nassr's Under-19s coach, Croatian Dinko Jelicic, has been appointed as Garcia's interim replacement amid rumours of a swoop for Jose Mourinho, but there was certainly no new manager bounce in their latest outing against Al-Hilal.

    Ronaldo had similar problems with Ten Hag at United, and Ralf Rangnick before that, which suggests that Garcia never really stood a chance. The Portugal icon holds all the power at Al-Nassr now, and time will tell whether or not that is a good thing for the club.

  6. Refusal to retire from Portugal duty

    Refusal to retire from Portugal duty

    "We thought, we reflected, me and my family, but then we came to the conclusion that, despite the difficulties, we cannot throw in the towel. I'm glad to be back. Roberto Martinez showed that he counted on me. I feel it, I want it, and my desire is to take Portugal to the highest level. I will always give my contribution when they need me."

    After much speculation over his international future following the World Cup, Ronaldo was named in Martinez's first Portugal squad, and he made it clear he plans to stick around for a while yet.

    Martinez took the easy road by including Ronaldo, whose place in the Seleccao hall of fame is secure due to his record-breaking haul of 198 caps and 122 goals since making his debut back in 2003.

    Ronaldo also captained his country to success at Euro 2016 and the inaugural Nations League, but he was arguably their worst player at the World Cup last year. Even Fernando Santos could see that, as he dropped him to the bench for their final three matches of the tournament.

    Portugal's favourite son bounced back with four goals across 4-0 and 6-0 thrashings of Liechtenstein and Luxembourg, respectively, as Martinez opened his reign with a perfect start to Euro 2024 qualifying, but the forward didn't deliver when it really mattered in Qatar.

    Martinez should have stamped his authority by starting Portugal's new era without Ronaldo. Instead, he could be back to hinder their chances of success at the next European Championships.

    Ronaldo should have had the good grace to step aside, too. He is blocking one of Portugal's next potential stars from making an impact because he is too stubborn to call it quits.

    Al-Nassr certainly don't benefit either. Ronaldo has struggled for full fitness throughout the current campaign, and adding more games to his schedule makes no sense.

    He would be far better off focusing all his effort on club matters if he is truly serious about making a lasting mark on Saudi football - and repairing his damaged legacy.