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Cristiano Ronaldo’s embarrassing gaffe in Saudi Arabia

Cristiano Ronaldo’s latest coach spoke of his surprise as he looked out at a room filled with reporters.

“Normally after the game there are three or four journalists. Today, I don’t know why.” Al Nassr head coach Rudi Garcia said at a news conference to present the Saudi Arabian club’s superstar signing.

He was joking and it prompted laughter from the room.

The Glazer family is considering selling the club following years of protests from fans. The news came the same day Cristiano Ronaldo left the club by mutual agreement.

“It’s a new era!” said host and newsreader Weam Al Dakheel, who posed all of the questions to Ronaldo, Garcia and Al Nassr president Musalli Almuammar, despite around 100 journalists being present.

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Ronaldo’s arrival on a two-and-a-half-year contract, reportedly earning him up to $320 million-a-year, is expected to heap unprecedented attention on Al Nassr and the Saudi Pro League.

However, at his first news conference, no questions were allowed from the floor – and the only prompt interaction from those present was to applaud on cue.

There were also shouts of “I love you Ronaldo” and mimics of his trademark “Siuuu” celebration.

This was a very stage-managed introduction with a team of public relations officers trying to ensure it went off without a glitch.

But they could not prevent his slip of the tongue when a disorientated Ronaldo mistakenly declared: “For me, it is not the end of my career to come to South Africa.”

The fans turned out in force to watch Al-Nassr's new signing Cristiano Ronaldo train.

Yasser Bakhsh/Getty Images

The fans turned out in force to watch Al-Nassr’s new signing Cristiano Ronaldo train.

It will be fascinating to see if Ronaldo’s fame will see interest in Saudi soccer sustain beyond his first weeks in the country.

He has 528 million followers on Instagram, which is more than any other individual in the world.

And that has already had an effect on Al Nassr’s account, which has risen from 1.2 million followers to 8.9 million since announcing his signing last week. That number is likely to grow even higher.

Almuammar is convinced the deal will be worthwhile.

“So many people spoke about financing and funding. Once we have this greatest star like Ronaldo in Al Nassr we don’t need such finance and such funding,” he said.

“We have so many sponsors who will work with us closely in the upcoming years and they are sponsors of this great agreement and we will have more revenues and proceeds commercially and economically and this is important for the Saudi league and Saudi football clubs.”

Almuammar would not confirm the value of Ronaldo’s contract, but, tellingly, added that “it is normal he will be the highest in terms of cost or salary.”.

One of the most surprising moves in soccer history has raised questions about Ronaldo’s motives as well as those of Saudi Arabia, amid accusations of so-called “sportswashing” to improve its reputation globally.

Cristiano Ronaldo was quickly into his work in Saudi Arabia.

Yasser Bakhsh/Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo was quickly into his work in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi’s Public Investment Fund led the takeover of Premier League club Newcastle United in 2021 and on Wednesday the club’s manager Eddie Howe said there was “no truth” in reports it had an option to sign Ronaldo on loan if it qualified for the Champions League next season.

There is also speculation that Saudi Arabia could bid to host the 2030 World Cup.

Now the signing of a player widely considered to be one of the greatest of all time is another significant step to increase the country’s influence on soccer.

Ronaldo said he was driven by the challenge of a new league, but also changing the impression of Saudi soccer around the world.

“I know the league is very competitive. People don’t know that, but I know because I saw many games,” he said.

It is, however, a significant step down for a man who has won five Champions Leagues and five Ballon d’Or awards for the best player in the world.

He will hope to add to his trophy count with Al Nassr currently top of the league.

Ronaldo’s 701 club goals should also be boosted greatly during his time in Saudi, even if he has struggled for form so far this season.

For the thousands that turned up at Al Nassr’s Mrsool Park stadium on Wednesday, they just wanted to get a first sight of their hero.

Even on a rainy and chilly night in Riyadh the roads around the stadium were backed up with traffic. Supporters queued at the gates, waiting patiently to make their way inside as if this was a match day.

Cristiano Ronaldo looked sharp for his new job.

Yasser Bakhsh/Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo looked sharp for his new job.

Ronaldo, meanwhile, was greeted as if turning up for a movie premier, stepping out of a white Range Rover with blacked out windows while cameras flashed all around.

His image was projected on the outside of the stadium, while strobe lights added to the effect.

Wearing a gray three-piece suit and a blue tie, he strode confidently into the news conference to applause before taking his seat.

“I’m so proud to make this big decision in my life. In Europe my work is done. I won everything and played for the most important clubs in Europe. This is a new challenge,” he said.

Later he changed into the yellow and blue kit of his new club and met his teammates before stepping out onto the field to chants of his name, fireworks and smoke machines.

A player who has lived in the spotlight for the majority of his career was center stage with the eyes of the world on him again.

How long that will last remains to be seen.

A CLUB-BY-CLUB LOOK AT RONALDO’S CAREER

SPORTING (2002-03)

At the age of 12, Ronaldo left the island of Madeira and headed to Lisbon for a trial at Sporting. He joined the club’s academy and by age 16 was training with the first team. Ronaldo, a skinny, skillful winger, made his senior debut at 17 and was already earning admiring glances from big European clubs during his only full season at Sporting (2002-03), when he scored five goals and had five assists. The following preseason, Manchester United visited Sporting for a match to inaugurate the Portuguese team’s stadium. Ronaldo’s performance was so good – he tormented right back John O’Shea – that United’s players urged their manager, Alex Ferguson, to sign him. Ronaldo was even introduced to United’s players in the locker room after the game. Within a week, he had signed for United for 12.25 million pounds (now $14.75 million).

MANCHESTER UNITED (2003-09)

It was during his first spell at United that Ronaldo became a superstar, developing from a supremely gifted but erratic winger into a prolific, fearsome striker. He scored 118 goals in 292 matches in all competitions, helping United win the Premier League for three straight seasons from 2007-09 _ matching the club’s achievement from 1999-2001. He also won the Champions League with United in 2008, scoring the team’s goal in the final that finished 1-1 before United triumphed in a penalty shootout. Ronaldo won the first of his five world player of the year awards in 2008, after a 2007-08 season when he scored 42 goals in all competitions. At that time, he was heavily linked with a move to Real Madrid but he stayed at United one more season – during which he helped the team to a Premier League-League Cup double.

Cristiano Ronaldo's time with Real Madrid was filled with goals and trophies.

Andrew Medicini/AP

Cristiano Ronaldo’s time with Real Madrid was filled with goals and trophies.

REAL MADRID (2009-18)

Signed for a world-record 80 million pounds (then $131 million), Ronaldo gained more trophies and fame in a nine-year stint that was defined by his rivalry with then-Barcelona star Lionel Messi and their combined scoring prowess. So prolific was Ronaldo, who mostly played as a center forward, that he averaged more than a goal a game in his time at Madrid – 450 goals in 438 games – to become its record scorer. He topped the 40-goal mark in eight of his nine seasons, reaching 60 in two of them. He won the Champions League in 2014, ’16, ’17 and ’18 along with two La Liga titles and picked up more Ballon d’Or awards in 2013, ’14, ’16 and ’17 amid a sustained period of excellence that lifted him among the greatest players to ever play the game.

JUVENTUS (2018-21)

Wanting to start a “new phase” in his career – amid a period when he and other top players in Spain were accused of tax fraud – Ronaldo secured another big-money move, this time to Juventus for 112 million euros (then $131.5 million ). It was a record transfer fee in the Italian league and he kept on delivering goals, scoring 101 times in 134 appearances and being the top scorer in two of his three seasons. He never won the Champions League with Juventus, although it was at the Italian club where he moved ahead of Messi in the overall scoring charts in Europe’s top competition. He also won the league title twice (2019, ’20).

MANCHESTER UNITED (2021-22)

“I’m back where I belong,” wrote Ronaldo after he sealed a sudden, rather unexpected return to United amid reported interest from the team’s local rival, Manchester City. A fee of 15 million euros (then $17.75 million) to be paid to Juventus over five years seemed a bargain for United, which saw Ronaldo as the player to lead the club to its first Premier League title since 2013 and a place back on European soccer’s top table. It didn’t work out that way. He continued to score goals – there were two in his first match and 24 in all competitions, including hat tricks in successive home league games – but his reduced mobility and work rate affected United as a whole as the team finished sixth in the 2021-22 season, extending its run without a trophy to five years. Ronaldo missed the start of this season after returning late to training because of what was described as “personal reasons”. Essentially, he wanted a move because United hadn’t qualified for the Champions League. So began a standoff with United’s new manager, Erik ten Hag, that saw him become a bit-part player and then deliver an explosive pre-World Cup interview with Piers Morgan that was the beginning of the end. A week later, his contract was terminated.

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