Cristiano Ronaldo’s debut season in Saudi Arabia was a letdown, but he may not be the last superstar to play in the wealthy kingdom, where he earned hundreds of millions and brought unprecedented attention to Saudi football.
The excitement and joy that marked Ronaldo’s grand arrival in January faded by the end of Al Nassr’s season, when the Portuguese skipped a 3-0 victory against Al Fateh on Wednesday.
Al Nassr, who paid €400 million (RM1.99 billion) for the five-time Ballon d’Or-winner in a two-and-a-half-year contract, came second in the Saudi Pro League and failed to win any trophies, although they secured a spot in the Asian Champions League as a consolation.
“I hoped to win something this year, but we didn’t,” Ronaldo said in an interview posted on the Saudi Pro League’s social media channels.
“But I am very positive and confident that next year things will change, and we will go in a better way.”
Ronaldo netted 14 goals in his 16 games, playing 1,701 minutes. But it was an “unsatisfactory season” for Al Nassr, the preferred team of some senior Saudi royals, said Al Riyadiah newspaper’s chief editor Moqbel Al-Zabni.
“They should have won at least one championship,” he said.
Despite the fans’ discontent, however, the 38-year-old is still a valuable asset for Saudi soccer and the country as a whole, which is trying to transform itself into a destination for tourism and foreign investment.
According to a source close to the talks, the major oil exporter is also close to landing a “massive” deal for Ronaldo’s former La Liga rival Lionel Messi, the Argentine legend who won the World Cup.