Cristiano Ronaldo's move to join Al Nassr is proof of Saudi Arabia's ambition to improve as a football nation, says Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Portugal superstar Ronaldo had his contract with Manchester United terminated by mutual consent shortly before his country's World Cup opener, leaving him free to make a lucrative move to the Saudi Pro League.

The transfer marks the end of an illustrious career for Ronaldo in Europe, where he lifted the Champions League on five occasions and won the Ballon D'Or on five occasions.

With Ronaldo having reportedly attracted the interest of clubs in Europe and MLS, Courtois believes the addition is a statement of intent from Saudi Arabian football.

"The transfer of Cristiano makes it clear that the country wants to improve in sports," Courtois told reporters.

"Cristiano choosing to come here is his decision, but it shows that Arabia wants to improve. They've brought him in to win the league."

Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti had a similar view of the deal, saying: "Cristiano has been a fantastic signing. We wish him well. He's a legend of our club, like [Gareth] Bale, who retired yesterday. They remain in the hearts of all Madridistas."

Madrid are in Saudi Arabia for the Supercopa de Espana, where they face Valencia in the semi-finals on Wednesday, and Ancelotti wants to use the competition as a benchmark for success in the remainder of the campaign.

"Titles are always important for this club. Last year gave us a lot of confidence for that season. Hopefully the same thing will happen this year," he added.

"We have to fight for all the titles. We have one very close to try to win it. The goal is the Super Cup, for now."

Carlo Ancelotti was reluctant to blame the referee for Real Madrid's defeat to Villarreal because he thought neither team's penalties should have been given.

Madrid were beaten 2-1 at Estadio de la Ceramica on Saturday as Los Blancos were denied the chance to return to LaLiga's summit ahead of Barcelona playing Atletico Madrid on Sunday.

Yeremy Pino gave Villarreal the lead just after half-time, before referee Cesar Soto Grado took centre-stage.

Juan Foyth was penalised when the ball brushed his hand as he tried to grapple with Vinicius Junior, allowing Karim Benzema to equalise.

But Foyth then won a penalty at the other end on the very next attack as his pass was cut out by the hand of David Alaba, whose arm appeared to be outstretched to break his fall.

The second incident – which yielded Gerard Moreno's match-winning spot-kick – looked particularly contentious, hence Ancelotti being asked after the game if Madrid had been hard done by, but the Italian thinks his team's penalty award was harsh as well.

"We have to get used to this," he told Movistar+. "When there is a hand in the area, it is a penalty, for either side.

"If it was up to me, neither one nor the other [is a penalty]. We have to get used to it, because this is the rule."

During his press conference, Ancelotti added: "Soccer has changed in that sense. There is a clear rule, for everyone, if it is touched with the hand and it is not close to the body, it is a penalty.

"If you slip or don't slip, it's not important. You have to get used to this.

"The two penalties, with the rule, are correct. The fans don't like this, but the referees have to respect this rule."

There was not any doubt regarding Ancelotti summary of the match, however, adamant the Yellow Submarine were worthy winners.

"They played better than us and when you do, you deserve to win," he said. "The game was even, competitively, [but] Villarreal played better than us.

"The key is that we did not defend well in our half. We were not compact enough, we left balls between the lines and they took advantage of it.

"They played very well, at a high level. We didn't, especially defensively.

"We have been dangerous [going forward], but we have left too much control in things that we usually do very well. We must focus well to solve the problem."

Carlo Ancelotti expressed satisfaction with his current midfield options amid reports Real Madrid are the frontrunners to sign Jude Bellingham.

Madrid are said to be leading the race to prise Bellingham, who shone for England at the World Cup last month, from Borussia Dortmund.

Bellingham started all five of England's matches at Qatar 2022, which ended in quarter-final defeat to France, scoring and assisting one goal from central midfield.

Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain are also said to have an interest in his services, but the latest speculation suggests it is Madrid who are poised to add him to a midfield that already includes young France internationals Eduardo Camavinga, Aurelien Tchouameni and Uruguay star Federico Valverde.

Asked about the talk about acquiring Bellingham, Ancelotti told a press conference: "Bellingham has proven to be a great midfielder at the World Cup, like others.

"There are many young people, Enzo [Fernandez], Pedri and Gavi... There are many young midfielders that are coming out and Bellingham is one of them.

"But I keep my midfield, which is very good. Tchouameni, Camavinga, Valverde... We have a lot of young people here."

 

Ancelotti was speaking ahead of Madrid's LaLiga clash with Villarreal on Saturday, their second league game since the resumption of the season following the World Cup. 

Madrid faced Cacereno in the Copa del Rey on Tuesday, winning 1-0, and face a Supercopa de Espana semi-final with Valencia next Wednesday.

"Tomorrow a fresh team will play, most of those who did not play against Cacereno," added Ancelotti. 

"It is a team that is approaching last year's team. After that, each game I will choose who is better. The Supercopa is a very important title for us and I will try to get the best team."

He was also speaking following the death of former Sampdoria, Juventus, Chelsea and Italy striker Gianluca Vialli.

Both Ancelotti and Vialli were part of the Italy squad that finished third at the 1990 World Cup on home soil.

"It's a very sad day for me," said Ancelotti. "My dear friend has passed away. May he rest in peace."

Eden Hazard played like "he didn't care" during Real Madrid's 1-0 Copa del Rey victory over Cacereno, according to opponent Carmelo Mereciano.

Madrid secured their place in the round of 16 with a narrow win over their fourth-tier opponents on Tuesday, thanks to a superb 69th-minute strike from Rodrygo.

However, the performance of Hazard came under fire as he failed to register a shot or even a touch in Cacereno's penalty area before he was hauled off by Carlo Ancelotti in the 68th minute.

Cacereno winger Mereciano was not impressed by the display of the former Belgium international, who signed for Madrid from Chelsea in 2019 for a reported €100 million fee.

"Hazard? It was like he didn't care about the game," Mereciano told AS. "He didn't want to take the ball, he didn't run.

"He was totally unnoticed."

Hazard struggled to make an impact on what was a rare appearance for Madrid, having featured just seven times for Los Blancos in all competitions this season.

Ancelotti defended the 31-year-old after the match, partly blaming Cacereno's poor pitch for his limited attacking output.

"You can't play football [on Cacereno’s pitch]," Ancelotti told reporters. "I liked [Hazard].

"It's difficult to evaluate players individually, it was impossible to play. Smaller players like Hazard or Rodrygo suffer more, but he delivered."

Carlo Ancelotti criticised the state of Cacereno's pitch after his Real Madrid side's hard-fought 1-0 Copa del Rey victory on Tuesday, saying "you can't play football" on surfaces like that.

Madrid's fourth-tier opponents put up a stubborn performance against the European and LaLiga champions, but a superb 69th-minute strike from Rodrygo was enough to see Ancelotti's side into the round of 16.

The poor standard of the surface at Estadio Principe Felipe made it difficult for Madrid to get going as they made hard work of avoiding a massive upset.

Ancelotti was frustrated with the quality of the turf, telling reporters: "You can't play football. For me it's not football, it's another sport.

"It's nice because small teams can fight and compete with bigger teams. It's good for the fans, but the fans also want to see nice games."

Despite Madrid's lacklustre performance against a team three leagues below them, Ancelotti was content with how his team played, saying: "Rodrygo made a fantastic play, the rest was an even and competitive game.

"A lot of struggle, a lot of long balls, it couldn't be done any other way. The team has complied and I'm satisfied, it was a game we're not used to.

"I liked everything, from the first minute to the last, I knew we had to suffer. We didn't risk anything, the line of defence was fine, a clean sheet, everything was fine."

While Ancelotti was unhappy with the standard of Cacereno's pitch, he was complimentary of their team, adding: "They played very well.

"They pressed high up, we didn't have the chance to handle the ball well."

A superb Rodrygo strike was enough for a much-changed Real Madrid side to see off fourth-tier Cacereno on Tuesday and secure their place in the Copa del Rey round of 16.

Plying their trade in the Segunda Federacion, Cacereno more than held their own as the the European and LaLiga champions were unconvincing with Carlo Ancelotti having made nine alterations following the victory over Real Valladolid on Friday.

But in the 69th minute, Rodrygo jinked onto his right foot before arrowing into the top-right corner and that proved be enough to see Madrid through.

Madrid's hopes of winning a 20th Copa del Rey, and their first since the 2013-14 campaign, remain alive but they made hard work of the victory.

It took until the 16th minute for the first shot on target of the contest, Dani Ceballos sending a tame long-range effort into the waiting hands of Ivan Moreno in the Cacereno goal.

The underdogs largely kept their opponents at bay during the first half and had a couple of attempts of their own, with David Grande testing Andriy Lunin before Carmelo Merenciano saw a shot deflected over the crossbar.

Ancelotti made a pair of changes at the break, but they had little impact as Cacereno continued to look the more threatening of the two teams, though Marco Asensio stung the palms of Moreno with a fierce drive.

Madrid were in need of a moment of quality, and Rodrygo provided one it in abundance when a mazy run into the box ended with the forward superbly curling home.

Ancelotti's men would not relinquish that lead, despite some late pressure, and they are in the hat for the next round.

Carlo Ancelotti believes a "zero tolerance" policy needs to be taken against racism after Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior was abused by some Real Valladolid fans on Friday.

Madrid won the game 2-0 thanks to a Karim Benzema double, but shocking footage emerged after the final whistle of Vinicius being racially abused as he was substituted late on, while objects were also thrown at the Brazil international from the stands.

Vinicius voiced his frustration on social media over LaLiga bosses' inaction in tackling racism, saying the league "continues to do nothing".

Ancelotti agreed with Vinicius that racism needs to be stamped out with more action, though he stopped short of criticising LaLiga.

When asked if he had discussed the topic with the Brazil international, Ancelotti told reporters: "I don't have to [talk to Vinicius].

"It's quite clear to me. Racism shouldn't exist, and xenophobia shouldn't exist. Talking about it with Vinicius would be a mistake.

"It's society's problem, it shouldn't exist, for me it has to be zero tolerance.

"I don't think it's LaLiga's problem. It's a general, cultural problem in society. Society doesn't have the education it should have.

"With such an important issue I wouldn't focus on Vinicius or LaLiga or the punishments. It's much bigger."

A number of Madrid's key players are set to run out of contract at the end of this season, including midfield pair Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.

Ancelotti is relaxed over their futures though, explaining: "Football is changing. When a player reaches the end of his contract it isn't as worrying as it was a few years ago.

"A lot of players reach the end of their contract and it's no problem, if they want to stay, they stay, and if they want to go, they go. Clubs aren't so worried about that."

Carlo Ancelotti has described 2022 as one of his "most special years" after guiding Real Madrid to Champions League and LaLiga glory.

Los Blancos' victory over Liverpool in Paris in May saw Ancelotti become the first coach to win Europe's premier club competition on four occasions.

The 63-year-old, who has been linked with the vacant Brazil job, has reflected on a wonderful year and believes it ranks with the best in his career.

"This is a special year that came after a fairly troubled period," he told Il Foglio.

"It was thought that my career was coming to an end. It was a unique season because of how we won, especially in the Champions League.

"Spectacular comebacks, overturning all predictions with a thousand difficulties to overcome. I consider this 2022 among the most special years in my life. Yes, just 12 months to remember."

Despite suggestions he could replace Tite as Brazil boss, Ancelotti insisted his focus remains squarely on Madrid and steering them to yet another Champions League triumph.

"In fact, after the victory you never stop," he added. 

"You immediately think about the future. You lift the Champions League number 14 and they immediately tell you to think about the 15th. 

"It is in the history and tradition of this club. Real Madrid is a football club, I repeat, a football club. Economy and finance are almost in the background. The sport aspect is what matters most. 

"And yet, the budgets have remained in order despite the demanding restructuring of the Santiago Bernabeu and the difficulties of the pandemic years during which all of football has suffered."

Madrid, who sealed a 2-0 win over Valladolid on Friday in their first game since the World Cup, are next in action against fourth-tier Cacereno in the Copa del Rey on Tuesday.

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti issued a warning about Karim Benzema being ever better in 2023 after the Ballon d'Or winner's double in Friday's 2-0 victory at Real Valladolid.

Benzema missed the 2022 World Cup as France finished runners-up due to a quad injury sustained on the eve of the tournament. He has since announced his international retirement.

The 35-year-old forward brushed off that disappointment in Madrid's first game since LaLiga's resumption, netting an 83rd-minute penalty before doubling his tally six minutes later.

"I see Benzema very motivated, and I think you will see a different Benzema from now on in 2023," Ancelotti told DAZN.

In the 2022 calendar year, Benzema has been involved in more goals in all competitions than any other LaLiga player, with 40.

Benzema scored 44 goals in 46 appearances for Los Blancos last term but has had an injury disrupted season this time around, netting eight times in 13 games.

On his team's performance, Ancelotti told LaLigaTV: "There are a lot of good news from this game.

"The result first, the performance of Thibaut [Courtois], the two goals of Karim. We finished this year, that was an amazing year, in the best way.

"It was really difficult. We started well, then we had difficulties, did well first half, did well at the end of the game. It's quite normal after you come back after a long holiday, it's not easy."

Madrid had plenty of representation at the World Cup and Ancelotti conceded that the mid-season re-integration has proved difficult.

"We have players with different conditions," the Italian said. "Some players arrived yesterday.

"It's true they also didn’t have their own break, only 10 days. There's not a lot of time to put all of them in good condition. We have to work on this."

Eduardo Camavinga, who only played twice for Les Bleus at Qatar 2022, earned praise from Ancelotti for his impact as a substitute, getting the assist for Benzema's sealer.

"He has shown it since he arrived," Ancelotti said. "He makes a difference when he enters the game because he has a lot of energy. He is an important player for us."

Karim Benzema scored a late double as Real Madrid snatched a 2-0 victory at 10-man Real Valladolid on Friday to leapfrog Barcelona at the top of LaLiga.

Carlo Ancelotti's side looked set to be frustrated at the Jose Zorrilla Stadium in their first game after the World Cup, with Benzema squandering a gilt-edged first-half chance.

However, the France international – who missed Qatar 2022 through injury – made amends after the interval as he converted from the penalty spot with seven minutes remaining before sealing victory six minutes later.

Valladolid saw forward Sergio Leon sent off for dissent after the award of Benzema's penalty as Madrid dug deep to go one point clear of Barca, who play their game in hand at home to Espanyol on Saturday.

Carlo Ancelotti has made it abundantly clear that he will never declare Lionel Messi as the greatest football of all time.

Victory at the World Cup with Argentina handed Messi the one prize that had previously escaped his clutches, adding to a trophy cabinet that boasts four Champions League medals, 10 LaLiga titles and seven Ballon d'Or wins.

That has reignited the debate surrounding who the greatest player in history is, with Messi's standing receiving a boost against the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona.

While some are now happy to declare Messi as the greatest of all time, those are words that Real Madrid boss Ancelotti, who has coached the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Karim Benzema, will never utter.

"It's a hard thing to say. His career continues, whether he has a World Cup or not," he said in a press conference.

"In every era there have been very strong players, a lot. 'Messi is the best in history' will not come out of my mouth.

 

"I enjoy the best, I have seen Maradona, [Johan] Cruyff, I coach the current Ballon d'Or winner [Benzema]. I don't know who is 'the best ever'."

Ancelotti has been linked with taking over as coach of Argentina's great rivals Brazil, but the Italian reiterated his commitment to Madrid.

"I don't know if they are interested, because they haven't contacted me," he said.

"I appreciate it, in any case, but my situation is very clear: I am happy in this adventure and I will continue until Madrid tell me 'it's over'."

Karim Benzema will "show all his quality" in the remainder of Real Madrid's season following his World Cup snub with France, according to head coach Carlo Ancelotti.

Benzema won the Ballon d'Or in October after his 44 goals in 46 games during the 2021-22 campaign helped Madrid to win both LaLiga and the Champions League.

However, he has been plagued by injury problems this season and missed the World Cup with France after being ruled out with a thigh issue on the eve of the tournament.

The 35-year-old has since retired from international duty, after France head coach Didier Deschamps decided not to bring him back to Qatar as Les Bleus went deep into the tournament, ultimately losing the final to Argentina on penalties.

With Madrid's competitive season getting back under way at Real Valladolid in LaLiga on Friday, Ancelotti believes Benzema will kick on from this season's setbacks to help Madrid compete for silverware yet again.

"We've got Benzema back and that's good," Ancelotti told reporters at his pre-match press conference on Thursday. "He came back on December 10.

"He started working with the team, played 30 minutes and 45 minutes in friendlies and he's doing well, with enormous enthusiasm.

"He knows that his first leg of the season has not been good and he wants to show things in the second. He's going to show all his quality in this stretch of the season."

Madrid's hunt for trophies sees them facing a busy schedule over the remainder of the season, still competing in the Copa del Rey, Supercopa de Espana and the Champions League.

As well as those cup competitions, Madrid currently face a two-point deficit to leaders and bitter rivals Barcelona at the summit of LaLiga.

Ancelotti acknowledged the difficulties Madrid's packed fixture list will pose, saying: "The calendar is going to demand a lot from us. Until March there will be a lot of matches.

"We will do individual evaluations of the players, that is the key. Three have returned today and can play tomorrow, but we will have to examine them in detail. We will ration who needs rest and who needs work.

"The only clear thing is that there will be no days off until March."

Despite the hectic remainder of the season, Ancelotti does not feel the squad needs any additions in the January transfer window.

"We're doing very well," Ancelotti added. "We don't need players. I think we're better than last year, take a look."

With a number of key players set to run out of contract at the end of the 2022-23 campaign, Ancelotti is remaining calm over their futures.

"It is an issue that does not worry me," Ancelotti said. "[Dani] Ceballos, [Marco] Asensio, [Luka] Modric, [Toni] Kroos... we are going to be able to evaluate all the cases.

"I want to make one thing very clear: I fully trust these players between now and June. If they consider that the best thing is to go, I will be happy for them."

Endrick has revealed Vinicius Junior and Cristiano Ronaldo played a part in his decision to join Real Madrid.

The 16-year-old forward has agreed to join LaLiga and European champions Madrid from Palmeiras in July 2024.

Endrick had been linked with the likes of Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea before opting to make the move to the Spanish capital in a deal that could reportedly be worth €70million.

Fellow Brazilian Vinicius and Madrid's all-time leading goalscorer Ronaldo influenced the teenager's decision to make the switch to Los Blancos.

 

He told Marca: "Real Madrid is a very big team, and Vini had sent me messages and gave me more hope.

"Cristiano, who is my idol, also played for Real Madrid. That's why I chose Real Madrid and I think it's the right choice. God has always been with me and he has told me that it is the best way."

Carlo Ancelotti also convinced Endrick that joining Madrid was his best option.

"Yes, I spoke with Ancelotti, with Rodrygo, with Eder [Militao], with the Brazilians," he said.

"I thank God very much for everything that happens in my life and I hope that many good things still come, but you have to keep your feet on the ground, have humility and persevere."

Andrea Pirlo was "very, very close" to signing for Real Madrid in 2006 and also held talks with Pep Guardiola's Barcelona.

Pirlo played for Milan between 2001 and 2011, winning two Serie A titles as well as a pair of Champions League trophies with the Italian giants.

But during this time, the Rossoneri were involved in the Calciopoli scandal as one of five teams accused of fixing Serie A matches.

This brought their future participation in Serie A and the Champions League into doubt as Pirlo won the 2006 World Cup with Italy, and a move to Santiago Bernabeu almost materialised.

The former midfielder told FourFourTwo: "We had just won the World Cup, but we didn't know what would happen.

"I was very, very close with Real Madrid. But then we got told that Milan could enter Champions League qualifying and be readmitted to Serie A.

"I was offered a new contract straight away and the club did a lot to keep me."

Pirlo also had discussions with Madrid's rivals Barcelona and head coach Guardiola in 2010. "He called me in [to his office after the game] and started talking about how he wanted to play and how he would like me to join his team," he recalled.

"For me, it was a source of pride, especially to talk to him and also to be compared to a Barcelona player. In the end, nothing happened, but being called by Guardiola into his office to talk was a wonderful experience."

Pirlo, now the head coach of Turkish side Fatih Karagumruk, was wanted by English sides, too, with Chelsea one of those who tried to lure him away from Milan.

"Ancelotti asked me to go with him [to Chelsea]," the 43-year-old said. "The two teams talked about it with my agent, and there was a big chance.

"But in the end, when it was time to sign the contract, Silvio Berlusconi [then Milan owner] and Adriano Galliani [CEO] didn't want me to go."

Manchester City also tried to unsuccessfully bring Pirlo to the Premier League before he eventually joined Juventus, where he stayed for four years before ending his career with MLS franchise New York City FC.

"I spoke with Juventus, with Roberto Mancini's Manchester City and with other big teams," he explained. "But in the end, I decided to go to Turin because they had a good project to get back to winning ways.

"They had just gone through some tough years, but they had a new stadium and were building a new Juve, where I would be an important player, so I decided to go there."

Cristiano Ronaldo provided Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti with no problems during their time together at Santiago Bernabeu, the head coach has insisted.

The 37-year-old is a free agent following his dramatic release from Manchester United ahead of the World Cup, which came after a seismic interview with Piers Morgan where he slammed the club's owners and manager Erik ten Hag.

Having fallen out of favour at Old Trafford, Ronaldo found himself struggling for selection once again on the international stage after being dropped by Portugal for their 6-1 last-16 triumph over Switzerland.

The Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) have insisted Ronaldo did not threaten to leave Portugal's World Cup camp due to a disagreement with coach Fernando Santos in the wake of being named as a substitute.

However, Ancelotti has made it clear that he never experienced any challenges during the pair's time together in the Spanish capital.

"I had him for two years, zero problems. In fact, he solved them for me," Ancelotti told Corriere Dello Sport.

"Can someone who scores at least one goal per game be considered a problem?

"Cristiano trains very well, he is attentive to detail, for me it was all too easy to manage him. He's an exceptional player.

"With me, he will have played a hundred games and scored more than a hundred goals, one who scores 50 every year is someone who does good for the team."

Ancelotti was asked whether he considers this tournament to be the 'last dance' for Ronaldo, though he is not sure that assessment is correct.

"I don't know - he probably still feels 20-years-old because he is fine, from his body he has the answer he seeks," added Ancelotti.

"He has always treated the physique in an almost paroxysmal way.

"But the competition has become tough, for Portugal even someone like [Rafael] Leao starts from the bench."

Back at club level, Ancelotti is looking to knock Barcelona off their perch at the top of LaLiga and has positive news regarding Karim Benzema, who was ruled out of the World Cup with France.

"He's coming back on Saturday, we will put it right," he said on the forward.

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