RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Cristiano Ronaldo was presented as the superstar new signing of Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr on Tuesday, with the team’s president saying the Portugal great deserves to be the highest paid player on the planet.
Ronaldo said he turned down “many clubs” around the world to complete one of the most surprising transfers in the sport’s history, which could reportedly earn him up to $200 million a year.
Al Nassr president Musalli Almuammar would not confirm the exact figures in the two-and-a-half-year contract.
“He is the best player in football history so it is normal he will be the highest in terms of cost or salary,” Almuammar said. “This is something that he really deserves, so the amount of money he will take, he really deserves.”
Ronaldo was presented to thousands of fans at Al Nassr’s Mrsool Park against a backdrop of fireworks and smoke machines.
The former Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus forward will play in the Saudi Pro League after rejecting offers from Europe, North America and beyond.
“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,” Ronaldo said at a news conference where he only answered questions from the master of ceremonies, despite sitting in a room full of journalists.
The 37-year-old Portugal international, who has won five Ballon d’Or awards for the best player in the world and five Champions League titles, will play outside of Europe for the first time in his storied career.
“Nobody knows this, but I had many opportunities in Europe, Brazil, Australia, the U.S., even Portugal, many clubs tried to sign me. I gave my word to this club,” Ronaldo added. “I want to give a different vision of this country and football. This is why I took this opportunity.”
Excitement built throughout the day ahead of Ronaldo’s introduction, with fans making their way to the stadium early in anticipation of his arrival.
Large video screens on the exterior walls of the ground pictured him in Al Nassr’s yellow and blue shirt, alongside the words “Hala Ronaldo.”
When he eventually walked out onto the field at the 25,000-capacity stadium, the crowd chanted his name raucously.
“I want to make you all happy. This is my goal,” he said.
Ronaldo had his contract with United terminated in November after conducting an explosive TV interview in which he criticized manager Erik ten Hag and the club’s owners, the Glazer family.
Al Nassr, the nine-time Saudi Pro League champions, made an offer to him during the World Cup, which was held in Qatar in November and December. However, the deal was not confirmed until Dec. 30.
Ronaldo flew in to Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport on Monday night, where he and his family were greeted by fans, before undergoing medical tests at Mrsool Park on Tuesday.
The hugely ambitious transfer is expected to heap unprecedented focus on Saudi soccer ahead of a potential bid to stage the World Cup in 2030, as well as on Al Nassr, which is little known outside of Asia.
The Saudis have shown increasing interest in high-profile soccer. Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund completed the takeover of Premier League club Newcastle in 2021 despite questions raised about human rights in the oil-rich kingdom and “ sportswashing.”
For Ronaldo, it likely brings the curtain down on his career in elite club soccer.
Last summer he wanted to move to a club that was competing in the Champions League after United failed to qualify for Europe’s biggest club competition.
Despite links with Chelsea, a transfer did not materialize.
He also endured a disappointing World Cup, which saw him dropped by Portugal for its last two games before leaving the field in tears following a loss to Morocco in the quarterfinals.
Ronaldo only managed three goals for United in 16 games this season, with one of those coming from the penalty spot.
However, there have still been landmarks.
He scored his 700th club career goal against Everton in October and became the first male player to score in five World Cups with his penalty in Portugal’s 3-2 win against Ghana in the group stage.
Ronaldo will aim to win a league title in a fourth different country after winning seven domestic championships in England, Spain and Italy combined.
“I am coming here to win, play, enjoy and be part of the success of the country and the culture of the country,” he said.
Ronaldo was handed a two-match suspension by the English Football Association in November for knocking a mobile phone out of the hand of a supporter following a game against Everton last April.
He had already left United by the time of the ruling, but the FA said the suspension would be transferred to any new club.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson