Cristiano Ronaldo 'happy' to finally make Al Nassr bow, says coach Rudi Garcia

Portuguese captained side to 1-0 win over Al Ettifaq to send Riyadh club back to the top of Saudi Pro League

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Al Nassr manager Rudi Garcia said Cristiano Ronaldo was happy to finally make his debut for the club, but said they must ensure the forward is in his best shape to maximise his talent.

The former Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus star captained Nassr on his first appearance for the Saudi Pro League side, helping his new team to a 1-0 victory against Al Ettifaq at Mrsool Park on Sunday night. Brazilian Anderson Taslica got the game’s only goal, on 30 minutes.

However, the majority of attention was on Ronaldo following last month’s hugely lucrative move to Saudi football. The Portugal captain, a free agent having in November left United by mutual consent, signed a two-and-a-half-year deal with Nassr understood to be worth more than $200 million per year.

Speaking after the win that took Nassr, nine-time Saudi champions, back to the top of the table, Garcia said: “Everyone knows Cristiano – he’s a five-time Ballon d’Or winner. He’s one of the best players in the history of football.

“It’s up to us to make sure we get him in the best condition. I want him to enjoy playing here and tonight he was happy to play for the first time.”

Ronaldo, 37, showed plenty of endeavour on Sunday night as he led the Nassr attack with Talisca and Argentine Pity Martinez playing either side. Yet he only once troubled Ettifaq goalkeeper Paulo Victor, forcing the Brazilian into a low save with 12 minutes remaining.

Still, the victory lifted Nassr back to the standings' summit, one point ahead of city rivals and reigning champions Al Hilal – although Hilal have played a match more (15). Last champions in 2019, Nassr's next game is against third-placed Al Ittihad on Thursday, albeit in the Saudi Super Cup.

On Ronaldo settling into the team, Garcia said: “It’s very important for the players to play normally and not always try to give the ball to Cristiano. I told them they need to make the right choices on the pitch.

"Obviously when Cristiano or Talisca are alone and asking for the ball we need to give them the ball. These two players are able to make the difference.

“Tonight, I think that sometimes we had good positions to cross but not enough people in the box – and sometimes no Ronaldo and no Talisca.

“We need to work on that, to have one of them in the box and maybe the other playing outside the box.”

Meanwhile, Ettifaq manager Patrice Carteron welcomed Ronaldo’s arrival to the league, describing setting up his side to face the all-time record goalscorer in men’s international football as “a privilege”.

“I am very happy that he came to Saudi Arabia for the excitement of every game, and at a big club like Al Nassr,” Carteron said. “It’s fantastic news for football here, and everyone will enjoy it and every ground should be full.

“He’s a fantastic player and we were all happy to face such a player. He played a good game today. He did not score, but he’s so dangerous.

“You can see he’s still not 100 per cent, but it’s a privilege to face him - and we wish him all the best.”

Updated: January 23, 2023, 12:10 PM
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