Ronaldo's glorious European legacy revisited as Portugal great prepares for Al Nassr debut

By Sports Desk January 22, 2023

A staple of the European game for the best part of two decades, seeing Cristiano Ronaldo make his Al Nassr bow in Saudi Arabia will undoubtedly be strange for many.

His move was completed in December following widespread reports linking him with a Saudi switch ever since he and Manchester United parted ways the previous month.

Ronaldo featured in a kind of Saudi all-star XI match against Paris Saint-Germain during the week but will make his official Al Nassr debut on Sunday to essentially bring the curtain down on one of the greatest careers in the history of European football.

While writing off Ronaldo is always unwise, a combination of the striker's age and the unsavoury nature of his second spell at United make a return to elite European football seem improbable.

Nevertheless, as a five-time Champions League winner and the top scorer in the history of European football's premier club competition, Ronaldo's legacy as one of the all-time greats is secure.

But with seven top-flight league titles and a plethora of other trophies to his name, Ronaldo's impact on the continental game went beyond his goals on the grandest club stage.

Ahead of Al Nassr's clash with Al Ittifaq, Stats Perform looks back on his seismic impact in European club football.

Ronaldo's Premier League emergence

Ronaldo's return to the Premier League may not have gone to plan – the 37-year-old only scored once in the competition this term before an explosive interview with Piers Morgan led to his Old Trafford exit.

However, the three-time Premier League winner certainly made his mark in England, scoring 103 goals in 236 top-flight games for United.

Having burst onto the scene as a tricky winger, Ronaldo recorded 37 assists in the competition for the Red Devils, who he also helped to their third European title in 2008.

He also claimed his first Ballon d'Or while in Manchester in 2008 after scoring 31 goals in their title-winning 2007-08 campaign – that single-season tally has only been bettered by three players in the competition's history.

Making history with Madrid in LaLiga

Given the way his United spell ended, it remains to be seen whether Ronaldo will be remembered as an Old Trafford legend or not. But there's no doubt about his legacy at Real Madrid, where he really made his name as one of football's greatest as he became Los Blancos' top scorer with 450 goals in all competitions.

Incredibly, the Portugal forward averaged over a goal per game throughout his trophy-laden spell in Spain, hitting the net 311 times in 292 appearances in LaLiga.

Ronaldo scored with 16 per cent of his shots for Madrid, a higher percentage than he managed in the Premier League, Serie A or the Champions League. 

Madrid may be famed for their Champions League accomplishments, but Ronaldo also helped them to two domestic title triumphs in 2011-12 and 2016-17, netting 46 times as Jose Mourinho's side earned 100 points in the first of those campaigns.

Serie A success with the Bianconeri

Given Juventus' failure to win the Champions League, few consider Ronaldo's time in Turin to be an unmitigated success. The raw numbers, however, suggest otherwise.

Managing 81 goals in 98 league appearances for a club in perpetual crisis – with a conversion rate of 15 per cent – tells the story of how Ronaldo evolved in Serie A, honing his game as the ultimate penalty-box forward in his advancing years.

Despite a tumultuous period that saw Maurizio Sarri replace Massimiliano Allegri, Juventus stretched their incredible run of Scudetto success to nine consecutive seasons.

That stint ended in Ronaldo's final full campaign at the Allianz Stadium, though he still finished as Serie A's top scorer with 29 goals. 

The Champions League master

For those who believe Ronaldo to be the greatest to have played the game, the Portugal forward's exploits in the Champions League are always the crucial factor.

Ronaldo's record of 140 goals in the competition is unmatched, though his great rival Lionel Messi (129) may have something to say about that if he declines to follow his fellow forward's lead in exiting Europe.

Averaging almost a goal contribution per game (180 in 183 appearances), Ronaldo won an astonishing 115 games in the Champions League, lifting the trophy five times – a joint-high tally.

As Madrid cemented their status as European masters by winning three consecutive titles between the 2015-16 and 2017-18 seasons, Ronaldo top-scored in the competition every season, consolidating his legacy as the ultimate big-game player.

Related items

  • Manchester City thriving under ‘dead or alive’ title pressure – Pep Guardiola Manchester City thriving under ‘dead or alive’ title pressure – Pep Guardiola

    Pep Guardiola believes his Manchester City players are thriving under the pressure of the title run-in.

    City enjoyed an outstanding weekend in their quest for a fourth successive Premier League crown as an emphatic victory over Luton, coupled with defeats for rivals Liverpool and Arsenal, put them top of the table.

    Guardiola’s side are now not only clear favourites to retain their title but in a strong position to secure an unprecedented second treble in succession.

    “They like to play the pressure,” said City manager Guardiola, speaking after Saturday’s 5-1 hammering of the Hatters. “They like it when you are dead or alive.

    “That doesn’t mean we are going to do it but I am pretty sure we will be there until the end because I know them, I see their faces in the meetings before games and how they prepare.

    “That means we’ll be Premier League champions? No, no. I am not saying that. But we will compete, that is for sure.”

    City now head into two decisive knockout games against Real Madrid in the Champions League and Chelsea in the FA Cup over the coming week in good heart.

    Real are the first up at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday for the second leg of a quarter-final tie that is evenly poised at 3-3 after a pulsating game in the Spanish capital last week.

    Full-back Kyle Walker, who has missed the last five games with a hamstring injury sustained on international duty last month, could return after being an unused substitute against Luton.

    Guardiola said: “He feels much better but he was injured, so now we will see in the next days. But he is good, he feels good.

    “Maybe he can help with minutes because it is a ‘final’ but I don’t want to lose him for a long time if he gets injured. He will train a bit more now and we will decide.

    “I know how important Kyle is against the players from Real Madrid but he was not in Madrid and Manu (Akanji), Josko (Gvardiol), John (Stones) and Ruben (Dias) played incredibly well. We will see.”

    Fellow defender Stones should be fit despite being left out of the squad altogether on Saturday as a precaution.

    Guardiola said: “He had some problems, some niggles, but he’s fine.

    “He is not injured but he felt uncomfortable and we didn’t want to take risks. That is all.”

  • Mauricio Pochettino: It will take time for leaders to emerge at youthful Chelsea Mauricio Pochettino: It will take time for leaders to emerge at youthful Chelsea

    Mauricio Pochettino has warned it will take time for leaders to emerge among Chelsea’s inexperienced squad and rejected comparisons with players who helped shape the club’s illustrious past.

    With an average age of just over 23, the Argentinian has worked with the youngest group in this season’s Premier League, and accused his team of lacking maturity in the aftermath of last weekend’s 2-2 draw against bottom side Sheffield United.

    Since taking over in May 2022, co-owner Todd Boehly and his Clearlake Capital consortium have pursued a transfer policy exclusively favouring players in their early 20s, while the squad’s more experienced members – many of whom won Chelsea’s last major silverware, the 2021 Champions League – have been moved on.

    It has left a squad that has been accused of lacking balance, while at times this season there has been a notable absence of leadership on the pitch, as Chelsea have struggled to climb above mid-table.

    But Pochettino, who has repeatedly defended the club’s recruitment strategy, called for perspective, singling out former stars who took time to mature into leadership roles.

    “John Terry was young,” he said. “I don’t believe when he was 18, 19 he was already a leader. (Those players) were in a different situation. Maybe they had some help when they were young, maybe they were in another project.

    “We are in a project where 80 or 90 per cent of the players are young. They need to grow all together. They need some help. That’s why we are here, to help them in this process to become leaders.

    “We’re talking about too many players that only arrived this season at Chelsea and in the Premier League.”

    An unbeaten run of seven games, their longest in the league for almost 18 months, has helped drag the team into contention for European qualification.

    Victory over Everton at Stamford Bridge on Monday night will put them in a promising position to break into the top eight, likely to be sufficient to reach next season’s Conference League, though they could also seal a Europa League place by finishing in the top seven or by winning the FA Cup.

    Nevertheless, Pochettino urged caution, suggesting it is unfair to expect players – such as striker Nicolas Jackson, who has led the line virtually all season despite previously having played only 34 league games for former side Villarreal – to instantly assume the mantel of Chelsea greats.

    The 22-year-old has scored 12 goals in 35 appearances since his £32million move from LaLiga, and recent performances have marked a significant improvement on his early weeks in west London.

    “We talk about Nicolas Jackson,” said Pochettino. “If we compare with (Didier) Drogba’s first season, there’s hope he can be a leader, but Drogba was a leader in his first season.

    “People can find excuses and criticise, but I cannot pay attention. Sometimes you laugh about the opinions you receive from outside.”

  • Cagliari cool Inter Milan charge to Serie A title with draw at San Siro Cagliari cool Inter Milan charge to Serie A title with draw at San Siro

    Inter Milan remain 14 points clear atop Serie A after twice being pegged back in a 2-2 draw at home to Cagliari.

    After closest challengers AC Milan drew 3-3 at Sassuolo earlier on, Inter could have moved 16 points ahead with six fixtures left and they led at the interval courtesy of Marcus Thuram’s early strike.

    Eldor Shomurodov drew Cagliari level and while Hakan Calhanoglu put Inter back ahead from the spot, Nicolas Viola made sure of a point apiece with his 82nd-minute strike from close range.

    The stalemate might just be a mere hiccup for Inter, who can seal a first Scudetto in three years by beating city rivals Milan next Monday although twice squandering one-goal leads will doubtless frustrate head coach Simone Inzaghi.

    The hosts started brightly as Nicolo Barella had an early sight at goal which Simone Scuffet did well to push away before Cagliari’s defence scrambled to snuff out Thuram from latching on to the rebound.

    But the visiting backline was split open as Matteo Darmian slid through to Alexis Sanchez, who hared to keep the ball in play and his cutback was tucked away by the onrushing Thuram after 12 minutes.

    Zito Luvumbo made a nuisance of himself with a shot at Yann Sommer before chipping over while, at the other end, Inter were denied by the offside flag after Barella had headed past Scuffet.

    The Cagliari goalkeeper was alert to paw away Calhanoglu’s long-range free-kick just after the hour mark, which proved crucial as the visitors drew level a few moments later.

    A speculative long ball forward from Adam Obert was brought down by Luvumbo with his knee and led to Shomurodov lashing low beyond Sommer from the edge of the area in the 64th minute.

    The equaliser spurred Inter into action and they had a golden opportunity to retake the lead when Davide Frattesi’s header hit the outstretched hand of Yerry Mina.

    While the Colombian defender protested his innocence after the penalty was awarded, the decision stood and Calhanoglu directed his 74th-minute spot-kick beyond Scuffet, who guessed the right way and got fingertips to the ball but not enough to stop it from hitting the back of the net.

    But it was Cagliari who had the final say as Inter half cleared a cross and Matteo Prati’s header back into the area ricocheted off fellow substitute Gianluca Lapadula, with Viola drilling low beyond Sommer.

    Viola might have nicked it at the death as Cagliari hit Inter on the counter but his header was straight at Sommer and the spoils were shared.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.