Facing Lionel Messi, saying the wrong country and registration woes: Cristiano Ronaldo's weird and wonderful first week in Saudi Arabia

Cristiano Ronaldo Al-Nassr
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The start of the New Year generally signals a moment of change within the majority of the population – some try and eat healthier while others change jobs or move house. For Cristiano Ronaldo, though, the beginning of 2023 has represented a seismic shift that has seen him move out of Europe for the first time in his life and head to Saudi Arabia, signing for Al-Nassr. 

On December 30, 2022, Al-Nassr and Ronaldo reached an agreement for the Portuguese star to join the club on January 1, 2023. Since then, he has endured a pretty tumultuous period (to say the least) that shows no sign of slowing down – after all, he is one of the greatest footballers to have ever lived. 

But what exactly has happened since Al-Nassr announced the arrival of the 37-year-old to the Middle East just ten days ago? FourFourTwo uncovers all.

Cristiano Ronaldo's weird and wonderful first week in Saudi Arabia

Signing one of the most high-profile sports stars on the planet will inevitably cost a fair bit of cash, regardless of if they're a free agent like Ronaldo was in December, after he and Manchester United mutually agreed to terminate his contract early. 

However, details emerged that Ronaldo would be earning £170 million a year with his blockbuster contract, which included commercial and sponsorship deals. He also received £88 million in a signing-on bonus, too. 

While Al-Nassr are paying a ridiculous premium for Ronaldo's services, his impact on the club's following has been astronomical. Indeed, prior to him joining, Al-Nassr's Instagram following was around the 850,000 mark - now, less than a week after being officially unveiled, over 10 million people now follow the Saudi side on the social media platform.

His unveiling on Tuesday 3 December saw 25,000 people pack into Al-Nassr's Mrsool Park in the captial city of Riyadh, each fan eager to catch a glimpse of the former-Real Madrid and Manchester United forward. 

While he managed to complete those dignitaries unfazed, though, Ronaldo had a slightly awkward slip of the tongue during his first press conference as an Al-Nassr player. Speaking passionately about the move, Ronaldo said he was proud to "come to South Africa".  

Unfortunately, that didn't prove the last of the controversy surrounding the Portuguese player. Due to an FA-imposed ban for knocking the phone out of an Everton fan's hand at Goodison Park last April, Ronaldo couldn't play for two competitive fixtures for Al-Nassr, meaning fans would have to be patient and wait to see their idol a little while longer.

Al-Nassr refused to confirm if they would honour the ban in the time between his unveiling and the first game last Friday, against Al Ta'ee. Eventually, the club relented without commenting any further on the matter. He will still have to wait to make his debut in Al-Nassr colours in the Saudi Pro League until Sunday 22 January, when they take on Ettifaq. 

However, in between there could be an even more eagerly anticipated fixture he is expected to be involved in. Paris-Saint Germain, with Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe among their ranks, will contest an exhibition fixture on January 19 against an XI comprised of players from Al-Nassr and Saudi Arabian champions Al Hilal.

The last time Messi and Ronaldo played each was in December 2020 in a Champions League fixture, with the latter's Juventus winning 3-0 against Messi's Barcelona, courtesy of two Ronaldo goals. 

Lionel Messi against Cristiano Ronaldo in December 2020

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Al-Nassr manager Rudi Garcia said Ronaldo is likely to feature, though it won't be for his side, of course.

"It [Ronaldo's debut] won't be with the Al Nassr jersey. It will be a mix between Al Hilal and Al Nassr," he said.

Finally, Saudi Pro League rules stipulate that clubs can only register up to eight foreign players in their squad at a time. Consequently, Ronaldo couldn't actually register for the side sat top of the league, because he represented the ninth foreign player. 

Therefore, Cameroon's World Cup star Vincent Aboubakar has reportedly had his contract terminated in order to make way for Cristiano Ronaldo, and is expected to end up playing for a European side in the coming weeks.

Phew, got all that? Wherever Ronaldo goes, the drama always seems to follow. 

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Ryan Dabbs
Staff writer

Ryan is a staff writer for FourFourTwo, joining the team full-time in October 2022. He first joined Future in December 2020, working across FourFourTwo, Golf Monthly, Rugby World and Advnture's websites, before eventually earning himself a position with FourFourTwo permanently. After graduating from Cardiff University with a degree in Journalism and Communications, Ryan earned a NCTJ qualification to further develop as a writer while a Trainee News Writer at Future.