Has he Ittihad-it? Nightmare start for Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia

Has he Ittihad-it? Nightmare start for Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia
After Al-Nassr were knocked out of the Saudi Super Cup, fans are questioning whether the veteran Portuguese star has still got what it takes to win.
2 min read
27 January, 2023
Patience is dwindling at the Riyadh club for under-fire Ronaldo [Getty images]

Christiano Ronaldo’s footballing swan song in Saudi Arabia started in a nightmarish fashion on Thursday, after Al-Nassr's shock cup defeat to rivals Al-Ittihad, leading to anger among supporters who expected more from the Portuguese star. 

The Riyadh club crashed out of the Saudi Super Cup after losing in the semi-final, which fans blamed on Ronaldo's failure to convert clear-cut chances in front of goal. 

Al-Nassr Manager Rudi Garcia even publicly took aim at the 37-year-old captain, now the world's highest-paid player, saying: "One of the things that changed the course of the match was Cristiano's missed opportunity in the first half."

Immediately after Ronaldo failed to score an equalizer, Al-Ittihad sprang on the counter-attack and doubled their lead with a slick finish from Moroccan Abderrazak Hamdallah. 

Hamdallah rubbed salt into the wounds with a goal celebration in front of an uproarious home crowd that imitated arch-rival Lionel Messi's. 

Ronaldo - already a household name across the Arab world for his years at Real Madrid - joined Al-Nassr on a free transfer from Manchester United at the start of 2023, earning a staggering $210 million over two years at the Saudi club. 

Al-Ittihad fans in Jeddah taunted Ronaldo with the chant "Messi, Messi, Messi", as he left the field fuming. 

Al-Nassr’s own supporters were barely less scathing as they took to social media to express their distaste at the superstar’s lacklustre start.  

"Cristiano Ronaldo is ruining my Al-Nassr. Normally we’d be beating Al-Ittihad but we are losing 2-0. We didn’t pay $500 million to lose trophies we’d normally win!" tweeted one fan, although with an apparently inflated figure of Ronaldo's earnings. 

His contract with Al-Nassr states that he can join Saudi-owned Newcastle United in England if the Premier League side qualifies for the Champions League.

Ronaldo has been keen to chalk up his 141 goals in the Champions League, to cement his place as the tournament's highest-ever scorer.