Desired by Europe’s elite clubs, Cristiano Ronaldo’s steep decline was laid bare by a move to Saudi side Al Nassr which marks the end of his reign as one of Europe’s most feared strikers. soccer.
Ronaldo will be officially unveiled by Al Nassr on Tuesday after agreeing a deal that runs until 2025 and is believed to be worth more than 200 million euros (A$313 million).
But the wealth and fanfare awaiting the 37-year-old in Saudi Arabia is at odds with his diminished status as a fallen star who trades on his past exploits.
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The fact that Ronaldo is forced to play what is sure to be the final chapter of his glittering career in the backwater of Saudi football is a damning condemnation of his lackluster form over the past 18 months.
Five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo is heading to the Gulf after a painful year that saw him relegated to the Portugal bench and cut adrift by Manchester United.
His second stint with United imploded in November with his departure by mutual consent, shortly after criticizing boss Erik ten Hag and the club’s hierarchy in an explosive TV interview.
As his relationship with United deteriorated, Ronaldo was linked with a string of Champions League contenders including Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Napoli.
A return to his first club Sporting Lisbon has also been rumoured, amid talk of a move to MLS to join former United team-mate Inter Miami. , David Beckham.
But none of those deals materialized and when United decided that their dwindling contribution, coupled with their public displays of dissent, made them an expensive luxury they no longer needed, it was instructive to note the absence of rush to sign aging icon.
Coming alongside his acrimonious exit from United, Ronaldo’s failed quest to finally win the World Cup underscored his descent through the ranks of football’s mere mortals.
In a move that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, Ronaldo has been left out of the starting line-up for Portugal’s last 16 thrashings against Switzerland.
And when Portugal suffered a shock 1-0 loss to Morocco in the quarter-finals, Ronaldo started on the bench, had little impact after his eventual introduction and was last seen in the tunnel in tears after the final whistle.
There has been a sting in World Cup history for Ronaldo as it was his former training partner Lionel Messi who first got his hands on the trophy instead.
The sight of Messi lifting the World Cup following Argentina’s victory over France in Qatar will have pained Ronaldo given their long-standing rivalry.
Few would question Ronaldo’s right to be considered one of the greatest of all time after winning five Champions League crowns and seven domestic league titles combined with United, Juventus and Real. Madrid.
He is also the top scorer in the Champions League and with the Portuguese national team, which won the 2016 European Championship – Ronaldo lasted less than half an hour before suffering an injury in the final against France.
But Messi’s triumph with Argentina propelled him into the ranks of footballing immortals alongside Pele and Diego Maradona, a rarefied tune that Ronaldo will never taste without a World Cup win on his CV.
Ronaldo’s decision to accept the lucrative deal on offer in the Middle East rather than play for a lesser European side made it clear he knew his small place in football’s hierarchy.
Kylian Mbappe, Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah are the new world stars stepping into Ronaldo’s boots.
Al Nassr hailed Ronaldo’s signing, saying the ‘history-making’ deal would ‘inspire future generations’ to be the best version of themselves.
But for the millions who have been captivated by Ronaldo over the past two decades, this version of the superstar is far from the best.