Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo has made a winning start to life in the Saudi Pro League as he led Al Nassr to a 1-0 victory over Ettifaq in his first match, despite failing to score.
During the match on Sunday, Talisca headed the winner in the 31st minute when Abdulmajeed Al-Sulaiheem’s cross was too high for Ronaldo, who did not seem to mind as he wheeled around to celebrate with the Brazilian midfielder and the rest of his new teammates.
Al Nassr, which has played 14 games, moved a point ahead of defending champion Al Hilal, which has played a game more.
Al Nassr fans had to wait three weeks after the announcement of one of the most surprising transfers in football history to see their new hero in competitive action.
On Thursday, Ronaldo played for a combined XI from Al Nassr and Al Hilal in an exhibition game against a Paris Saint-Germain team featuring old foe Lionel Messi.
Ronaldo, a five-time Ballon d’Or winner, is the all-time Champions League top-scorer, collecting five titles along the way, and has won seven domestic championships with Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus.
Ronaldo also holds the record for international goals -118 with Portugal, with whom he won Euro 2016 – and career goals with 819. In Qatar last year, he became the first man to score at five World Cups.
His shock move to Al Nassr came after his second stint at Manchester United collapsed in acrimony after an explosive TV interview in which he criticised manager Erik ten Hag and the club’s owners. Ronaldo had been repeatedly benched and even temporarily suspended by the club.
He is also coming off a disappointing World Cup where he was benched in the knockout rounds and left the field in tears after Portugal lost in the quarterfinals to Morocco.
Media reports have claimed the Portugal star could be earning up to $200m a year from the deal with the Saudi club, which would make him the highest-paid footballer in history.
Al Nassr president Musalli Almuammar would not confirm the figures in Ronaldo’s two-and-a-half-year contract but said the 37-year-old deserves to be the highest-paid player on the planet.
The attention-catching deal fuels the debate about Saudi Arabia using the sport to boost its image internationally. Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund owns Premier League team Newcastle, and the country is considering a bid to host the 2030 World Cup.
While Saudi Arabia earned its biggest international football win ever at the World Cup in neighbouring Qatar when it beat eventual champion Argentina in its first group-stage game, its domestic league has few other stars and is not watched by a major international audience.