Instead of Old Trafford now Msool Park, instead of Premier League the Saudi Pro League. And instead of a hoped-for return to the Champions League, Cristiano Ronaldo will not even have the Asian premier class this season.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who was last without a club after the inglorious departure from Manchester United, will at least disappear from the big European club stage after moving to the Al-Nassr football club in Saudi Arabia.
Financially, however, the farewell should mean a leap into previously unknown dimensions. "History is being made," the club tweeted alongside photos showing the Portuguese with the yellow and blue jersey and his iconic number 7.
"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." Saudi media reported that Ronaldo is expected to arrive in Riyadh on Monday. But what will the 37-year-old face in the new phase of his career?
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: Half a billion. This could be followed by further sums in the millions for ambassador activities for the Gulf state.
Al-Nassr FC is based in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. The team plays its home games at Msool Park. Capacity 25 000 spectators. Al-Nassr has won the Saudi Cup six times and the league nine times. The team is currently in second place in the table of the Saudi Pro League. However, the club is not represented in the Champions League of the Asian Football Association AFC this season. According to consistent reports, until recently Ronaldo still wanted to play at the highest level in one of Europe's top leagues and the Champions League, but couldn't find a club that matched that profile.
The Al-Nassr team includes a number of professionals who previously played in Europe. For example, the Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina (formerly with SSC Napoli and FC Arsenal) and offensive player Talisca from Brazil (formerly Benfica Lisbon and Besiktas Istanbul). The team is coached by Frenchman Rudi Garcia, who most recently worked for the first division club Olympique Lyon. Apparently, more stars will soon follow, there are rumors mainly about the Spaniards Sergio Busquets (34 / FC Barcelona) and Sergio Ramos (36 / Paris Saint-Germain). With Ramos, Ronaldo had won many titles at Real Madrid in the past.
The anticipation of the former world footballer is of course huge in the Gulf state. "One of football's greats will be joining Al-Nassr," the Pro League tweeted. "Welcome to your new home," wrote Saudi Arabia's Sports Minister Abdulasis bin Turki al-Faisal. In other places, however, Ronaldo's reputation is likely to suffer. The 2016 European champion is moving to a second-rate league at best, in a state that has repeatedly been criticized internationally for human rights violations.
Critics accuse the strictly conservative Gulf state 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.