In the midst of a large fireworks display including a laser show, Cristiano Ronaldo marched through a trellis and was celebrated by the enthusiastic spectators.
With a bizarre show, the Portuguese superstar was presented on Tuesday in his new footballing home in Saudi Arabia. The five-time world soccer player involuntarily caused a laugh when he was introduced. "Coming to South Africa is not the end of my career," Ronaldo said at the press conference at Msool Park, the home ground of his new club Al-Nassr.
The 37-year-old apparently still has to get used to his new environment in Saudi Arabia after world clubs Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus Turin. But the reception was probably to Ronaldo's taste. The star striker was introduced by moderator Wiam al-Dachil as the "greatest footballer in the world". That was good after he was still a reserve player for Portugal at the World Cup in Qatar, while his great rival Lionel Messi crowned his career with the World Cup title.
He was "proud and happy" about the decision, emphasized Ronaldo, who said he had received many offers "from Europe, from Brazil, Australia and the United States". However, this had looked different in the weeks after his inglorious departure from ManUnited, as no club with Champions League ambitions had been found in Europe that wanted to sign the expensive superstar. "I broke all the records there, so I want to break some records here too," said Ronaldo defiantly.
Financially, the two-and-a-half-year deal is definitely worth it. According to media reports, Ronaldo should get the equivalent of around 200 million euros per season, including advertising revenue. He wanted to take on a new challenge, said Ronaldo, who first appeared at the press conference in a fine gray suit with a light blue tie.
Then it was off to his new teammates in the changing room. "I'll do my best," promised Ronaldo before entering the stadium and the strange show reached its climax. Ronaldo kicked a few balls into the crowd and was celebrated for it as if he'd just decided a Champions League final with an overhead kick. Then his partner Georgina and the children came onto the field.
There were also a few women in the stands at the packed Msool Park, the home ground of his new club. Female spectators have only been allowed to watch soccer games in stadiums in Saudi Arabia since 2018.
Ronaldo stressed that he wanted to develop something in Saudi Arabia. The Portuguese said he was not interested in the criticism of his decision. It is "a pleasure" and "an honor" to be here, according to Ronaldo: "I'm a citizen of the world. I want to make people happy and help the country get better." A country that is repeatedly criticized internationally for human rights violations and a league that is second-rate at best in terms of sport.
"The league is very competitive. I know people don't know that," said Ronaldo. "Those who criticize me for coming here don't know, they don't understand football. I don't care about their criticism either, it's my decision."
Perhaps Ronaldo's move to Al-Nassr is also short-lived. As the Spanish sports newspaper "Marca" writes, his contract contains a clause that allows a loan to Newcastle United from the Premier League, which, like Al-Nassr, is majority owned by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund.
The condition is that Newcastle land in one of the top four places in the Premier League and thus participate in the Champions League. That could work: Newcastle are currently third. Then the five-time Champions League winner Ronaldo could compete again in the premier class.