Cristiano Ronaldo thrives in new-look Al Nassr as focus sharpens on Saudi Pro League title

After a stuttering start, the Portuguese star is providing the goals and assists while receiving plenty of support from a team which was significantly strengthened this summer

Cristiano Ronaldo has registered six goals and four assists in the Saudi Pro League this season, taking his career tally to 850 goals. AFP
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Having not long collected another Saudi Pro League player of the month award, Cristiano Ronaldo racked up one more milestone to go with it.

The Al Nassr captain swept home his side’s fourth in the 5-1 victory at Al Hazem on Saturday, the goal not so much majorly impacting the match as embroidering it.

Yet, for Ronaldo, it signified a fresh mark hit. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner struck the 850th goal of an already prodigious professional career, this final-phase Ronaldo, now 38, showing little sign of slowing down.

“[Eight-hundred and 50] career goals and still counting!” read the last line of his post-match post on social media, Ronaldo never one to miss a personal beat.

To be fair, he had already paid homage to his resurgent team.

“Another great performance! We keep improving,” the same message began.

Nassr seem to be doing just that. After a stuttering start to the 2023/24 Saudi Pro League (SPL) season, last year’s runners-up have rebounded in spectacular fashion. Saturday’s win made it three on the bounce, those opening twin defeats swiftly consigned to memory. The trio of victories have brought 14 goals, with only one conceded.

Ronaldo, as is his MO, has been integral to the turnaround. The Portuguese forward, who missed through injury the league opener at Al Ettifaq, has six goals in those three games, vaulting to the top of the division’s scoring charts. What’s more, he sits at the summit for assists, too, alongside ever-improving teammate Abdulrahman Ghareeb, on four.

It speaks to Ronaldo’s all-round contribution thus far. On Saturday, he surged forward to play in Ghareeb to break the deadlock; for Nassr’s third, he ran onto a Marcelo Brozovic pass and squared to Otavio for his compatriot to score the simplest of first goals for the club.

Clearly, Ronaldo is thriving in a new-look Nassr. After failing to fire the Riyadh team to last season’s title – signed in late December, he still struck 14 goals in 16 matches – Ronaldo called for major reinforcement of the squad.

So Nassr, since June one of four teams majority controlled by the Public Investment Fund, were among the most active in the summer market. With Brozovic on board, they added Lens captain Seko Fofana, Manchester United full-back Alex Telles, African player of the year Sadio Mane, Manchester City treble winner Aymeric Laporte and Portugal international winger Otavio. With the latter two arriving late, Nassr have finally hit their stride.

Working behind the scenes, Ronaldo is understood to have been key to the identification of suitable signings. Nassr, and the collaboration that involves the SPL and other entities, have delivered.

The feeling is, whereas last season Ronaldo bemoaned privately what he perceived a dearth in quality within the side, he has been buoyed by the business completed.

Of course, rivals have strengthened significantly also – primarily champions Al Ittihad, Al Hilal and Al Ahli – but Ronaldo no longer carries the burden in totality for Nassr. And, patently, he is enjoying the release, even if some matches have been marked by outbursts, whether at officials or opposition.

Ronaldo's delight at winning a first trophy with Nassr at last month’s King Salman Club Cup was evident, and no doubt he will be aiming for Asian Champions League success following recent qualification for the group stage.

The domestic league, though, forms his focus. A serial title winner with Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus, Ronaldo will recognise the challenge ahead in the revamped SPL, a landscape he has gone some way to moulding.

In rude health – he finished top scorer in the King Salman Club Cup, with six goals – Ronaldo will hope the international break does not stymie Nassr’s progress; his neither: in 11 appearances in all for club this campaign, he has 12 goals and five assists.

In his apparent twilight, but aided considerably by Nassr’s summer splurge, for the moment Ronaldo appears right where he wants to be: the leading light in a league now full of them.

Updated: September 04, 2023, 10:29 AM