If one were to pin down the embodiment of modern footballing success, it’s hard to look beyond Cristiano Ronaldo. With an eye-watering 847 goals from 1177 games, the Portuguese sensation has rightfully earned his place amongst the football greats.
From being a youngster at Sporting and Manchester United all the way to the peak of his performances at Real Madrid, Ronaldo’s impact was ever-potent. His surprise leap to Al-Nassr had the globe gasping.
On a personal level his first taste of Saudi football was successful, he scored 14 goals in 19 starts in his first season at Al Nassr. However, fans and Ronaldo himself will be disappointed with the lack of silverware; Al-Ittihad won the Saudi Pro League and Al Nassr fell short in the Saudi Super Cup and the King Cup.
Background on Al-Nassr
Al-Nassr, based in Riyadh, is no pushover in the footballing realm. With a trophy cabinet boasting nine Saudi Premier League titles and a respectable Asian Champions League final appearance, their ambitions are loud and clear. The number of players flocking to the Asian leagues is making the Asian Champions League such a hotly contested competition. However, under Castro, appointed in July 2023, they’ve had a rocky start, currently sitting 6th in the league.
Summer Saudi Spending
The Saudi Professional League’s transformation is undeniable. Flush with oil money, clubs are not shying away from splurging. This summer’s acquisitions by various teams have taken the competition to new heights, and Al-Nassr isn’t immune to this spending frenzy.
Al-Nassr New Signings
Aymeric Laporte from Man City: Purchased for €27.50m, the French-born Spanish defender, formerly with Athletic Bilbao, had been sidelined at City, notably by John Stones and recent signing Josko Gvardiol. At 29, he has moved to Saudi Arabia seeking more playtime.
Otávio from Porto: The club’s most expensive summer signing at €60m, this 28-year-old Brazilian attacking midfielder, renowned for his versatility and integral role in Porto’s title wins, drew Premier League attention, notably from Liverpool, before the move.
Sadio Mané from Bayern Munich: Acquired for €30m, Mané, 31, left Bayern after a single season. Speculations suggest internal disputes led to his exit. The talented forward aims to replicate his prime form with Al-Nassr and support Cristiano Ronaldo.
Seko Fofana from RC Lens: At 28 and in prime form, Fofana joined for €25.00m. The Ivorian central midfielder, essential in Lens’ previous successful season, joined following a lucrative offer from Al-Nassr.
Marcelo Brozovic from Inter Milan: Brozovic, a Croatian defensive midfielder, was transferred for €15.00m amidst Inter Milan’s financial crunch. Significant in Inter’s 2022/23 season, he chose Al-Nassr’s promising venture.
Alex Telles from Manchester United: Acquired for a mere €7m, the Brazilian left-back will now collaborate with Cristiano Ronaldo at Al-Nassr. His previous season was with Sevilla, but financial troubles at the Spanish club led to his sale.
Mohammed Qasem: After four seasons with Bourj FC, Qasem faces the pivotal phase of his career at Al-Nassr. Although likely a backup to Telles, he’s expected to get chances in the starting XI under coach Luis Castro.
Ronaldo’s Potential Impact
Ronaldo isn’t just another player; he’s a brand. His gameplay, notorious for its agility and finishing, can be a game-changer for Al-Nassr. But more than his on-pitch wizardry, Ronaldo’s leadership can steer Al-Nassr’s younger players, much like he did at Real Madrid and Juventus.
Bookmakers will be keen to see if Ronaldo can impact his team enough to challenge for a title or two before his inevitable retirement. Currently Indian betting sites have Al Nassr priced at 5/1 to win the league – third favourites behind Al Ittihad and front runners, Al Hilal. It will be interesting to see if the legend that is Ronaldo has enough to bridge the gap of 4 points to league leaders Al Hilal.
However, with great names come great challenges. Ronaldo’s age might be a factor to consider. Adapting to Saudi’s football style, cultural nuances, and scorching heat can be daunting. Furthermore, even with their star-studded signings, squad chemistry can pose potential obstacles to their championship dreams.
Al Nassr are not the only team with big signings. Former teammate and Ballon d’Or winner, Karim Benzema was persuaded to make the move to Saudi Pro League competition, Al Ittihad. Al Ittihad sit in 3rd place in the table, highlighting the improving quality in the division. It will be no easy task to take Al Nassr to glory against competition that is improving year on year…
Comparisons and Precedents
Stars like Xavi and Samuel Eto’o have previously taken paths to lesser-known leagues. Their experiences varied but provided a blueprint of what to expect. They’ve demonstrated that star power does not automatically translate to immediate success.
However the Saudi League has something different about it. Sure, Ronaldo is nearing the end of his career, but the money is attracting excellent players at the peak of their powers away from Europe’s top leagues. A real difference to the retirement leagues of the past such as the MLS and Chinese Super League or even Qatari league.
Fan and Team Morale
One cannot ignore the Ronaldo effect off the pitch. The rush to grab Ronaldo shirts, which sold out within an hour, and the exponential growth of Al-Nassr’s social media are hard to overlook. Al Nassr’s Twitter platform (now X) has risen from 90,000 followers to now over 1.3 million. Likewise Instagram has grown from 800,000 to a staggering 19 million followers. The ripple effect of his signing has boosted not only the club’s finances but also the morale of teammates who now share the dressing room with a living legend.
While the Saudi Professional League is in the throes of an exciting transformation, Ronaldo’s addition to Al-Nassr is undeniably the icing on the cake. It’s a blend of ambition and star power. Can Ronaldo lead them to glory amid this heightened competition? Only time will tell. But if history is anything to go by, betting against Ronaldo might not be the wisest choice. One thing’s for sure; Ronaldo’s legacy in Saudi football will be one for the books. Whatever happens, fans and punters alike are in for a thrilling season ahead.