Cristiano Ronaldo said his move to Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia does not signal the end of his competitive career as he was introduced to fans at a sold-out Mrsool Park on Tuesday night.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner, 37, completed his medical with the Saudi Pro League leaders in Riyadh earlier in the day having on Friday agreed to a two-and-a-half-year contract.
Reports suggest the deal, including commercial and sponsorship tie-ins, could be worth more than $200 million per year.
Ronaldo, who arrived on Monday in the Saudi capital with partner Georgina Rodriguez and children, was welcomed to huge fanfare at the 25,000-capacity stadium.
Speaking at a press conference not long before, the former Sporting Lisbon, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus forward said: “I’m so proud to make this big decision in my life, in football. As you mentioned there, in Europe my work is done; I won everything, I played for the most important clubs in the world. And for me now it’s a new challenge in Asia.
“I’m thankful that Al Nassr gave me the opportunity to show and develop not only for the football, but also for young generations, for the women’s generation as well. For me it’s a challenge, but in the same way I feel very, very happy and very proud.”
Ronaldo, who in November left Manchester United by mutual consent, represents one of the most recognisable athletes in the world, and is comfortably the most prominent figure to have signed for a Saudi club.
“As I told you before, this is a great opportunity not only in football but also to change the mentality of the new generation,” he said. “As nobody knows, but I can say now, I had many opportunities in Europe, many clubs in Brazil, in Australia, US. Even in Portugal many clubs tried to sign me.
“But I gave the word for this club, for the opportunity to develop not only the football, but the other part of this amazing country. I know what I want, and I know what I don’t want as well.
“I want to give a different vision of the country, of the football, the perspective of everybody. So this is why I had, and I took, this opportunity.”
Ronaldo has been criticised for joining Al Nassr, with his detractors claiming it is no way to bring down the curtain on one of the most successful careers in the game's history.
With 118 goals, he sits as the all-time leading goalscorer in men’s international football, while he has registered more than 800 goals in his career overall.
The Portugal captain is a five-time winner of the Uefa Champions League, and has guided his country to success in both the 2016 European Championship and the 2018/19 Uefa Nations League.
“Football is different [nowadays]; the evolution of football is different,” Ronaldo said. “It’s not the end of my career to come to Saudi Arabia. This is why I want to change, and to be honest, I really don’t care what people say.
“I took my decisions and I have responsibility to change that. But, for me, I’m really, really happy to be here.”
Nassr, nine-time Saudi champions, sit top of the domestic standings after 11 rounds, one point ahead of Al Shabab. They last won the title in 2019. Rudi Garcia's side next take on Al Ta’ee in the league on Thursday.
“I know the league is very competitive,” Ronaldo said. “The people don’t know that as well, but I do. Because I saw many games. What I want and I’m looking forward is to play. And I hope to play after tomorrow if the coach gives me a chance. But I’m ready to play, to still enjoy football and the people.”
On the “unique” nature of his contract, he said: “I’m a unique player, so it’s good coming here. I beat all the records there, so I want to beat a few records here as well. As you say, this contract is unique, but I’m a unique player as well. So it’s normal.
“It’s simple. I’m coming here to win, to play, to enjoy, to be part of the success of the country and the culture of the country. And I’m here altogether with Al Nassr, with my coach, with my president, and all the people of Al Nasser. What I want is to enjoy, to smile, and play football.”