Despite all statements to the contrary, it is the next sporting step backwards for Cristiano Ronaldo - albeit a financially extremely lucrative one. Instead of Old Trafford Msool Park, instead of Premier League, the Saudi Pro League.
And instead of a hoped-for return to the Champions League, the 37-year-old Portuguese will not even have the Asian premier class this season after joining Al-Nassr FC in Saudi Arabia.
After the inglorious departure from Manchester United and the reserve role for Portugal at the World Cup in Qatar, the last five-time world footballer without a club switched to the second-rate league in Saudi Arabia - and will at least disappear from the big European club stage. In addition, he will play in a country that is repeatedly criticized internationally for human rights violations.
Financially, however, Ronaldo should make a leap into previously unknown dimensions. "I'm looking forward to a new football league in another country," the five-time world footballer was quoted as saying and spoke of a "very inspiring vision" of the club. "I'm happy to have won everything I could in European football and feel now is the right moment to share my experience in Asia."
One of the big stars of world football has already clarified his future before the start of the transfer window in Europe's top leagues. Until January 31, the focus should now be primarily on the players who played well at the World Cup. Professionals like the Argentinian Enzo Fernandez or the Moroccans Sofyan Amrabat and Azzedine Ounahi are traded at various top clubs.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, can focus entirely on his new club. It didn't take long for statements by the Portuguese from 2015 to be circulating and maliciously commented on. He wanted to end his career with dignity and at the highest level, he said in a TV interview at the time. "It doesn't mean that playing in the United States, Qatar or Dubai leagues is bad, but I don't see myself there," he said.
But the highest level was denied to one of the most successful footballers. It is an open secret that Ronaldo wanted to continue his career at a European Champions League club and was offered to quite a few clubs. But a new employer in Europe could not be found. What's next for the 37-year-old?
Unsurprisingly, Ronaldo's sporting relegation is greatly sweetened financially. According to media reports, including advertising revenue, he should get the equivalent of around 200 million euros per season. He signed for two and a half years. That would mean: More than half a billion. This could be followed by further sums in the high millions for ambassador activities for the Gulf state.
According to an unconfirmed Saudi media report, the move will be financed with the help of several sponsors. In addition to some companies, the Saudi government is also involved as a donor. The football club itself has not yet commented on how it intends to finance the commitment of the new, expensive player.
Al-Nassr FC is currently at the top of the table in the Saudi Pro League. However, the club is not represented in the Asian Champions League this season. The team includes some professionals who previously played in Europe. For example, the former Munich and Wolfsburg Luiz Gustavo or the Colombian goalkeeper and ex-Arsenal professional David Ospina. The team is coached by Frenchman Rudi Garcia, who most recently worked for the first division club Olympique Lyon.
According to Saudi media reports, Ronaldo was expected in Riyadh on Sunday. Accordingly, he could already be used in the game against Al-Tai on Thursday. And apparently more stars will soon follow, there are mainly rumors about the Spaniards Sergio Busquets (34) and Sergio Ramos (36).
The anticipation of the former world footballer is of course huge in the strictly conservative Gulf state. "One of football's greats will be joining Al-Nassr," the Pro League tweeted. "Welcome to your new home," wrote Minister of Sport Abdulasis bin Turki al-Faisal.
Saudi media reported that thousands of fans have already had the club's yellow and blue kit printed with Ronaldo's number seven. The Al-Nassr jerseys are therefore said to be sold out in all sizes for the time being. During an Al-Nassr game on Saturday, fans reportedly chanted Ronaldo's name in the seventh minute, according to media reports. They also welcomed the newcomer on banners.
In other places, however, Ronaldo's reputation is likely to suffer. Critics accuse Saudi Arabia of wanting to polish its own reputation with its involvement in professional sports. Among other things, the country reportedly wants to apply for the 2030 World Cup.
In this attempt, Ronaldo could then become an advertising medium, as could his long-time rival Lionel Messi. The Argentine world champion is the face of a tourism campaign by Saudi Arabia. But Messi will still be playing for Paris Saint-Germain this season and possibly next, and unlike Ronaldo, he will probably be back in the European Champions League.