A club-by-club look at Cristiano Ronaldo’s career ahead of the start of the Portugal superstar’s time in Saudi Arabia with Al Nassr:
At the age of 12, Ronaldo left the island of Madeira and headed to Lisbon for a trial at Sporting. He joined the club’s academy and by age 16 was training with the first team. Ronaldo, a skinny, skillful winger, made his senior debut at 17 and was already earning admiring glances from big European clubs during his only full season at Sporting (2002-03), when he scored five goals and had five assists. The following preseason, Manchester United visited Sporting for a match to inaugurate the Portuguese team’s stadium. Ronaldo’s performance was so good – he tormented right back John O’Shea – that United’s players urged their manager, Alex Ferguson, to sign him. Ronaldo was even introduced to United’s players in the locker room after the game. Within a week, he had signed for United for 12.25 million pounds (now $14.75 million).
MANCHESTER UNITED (2003-09)
It was during his first spell at United that Ronaldo became a superstar, developing from a supremely gifted but erratic winger into a prolific, fearsome striker. He scored 118 goals in 292 matches in all competitions, helping United win the Premier League for three straight seasons from 2007-09 – matching the club’s achievement from 1999-2001. He also won the Champions League with United in 2008, scoring the team’s goal in the final that finished 1-1 before United triumphed in a penalty shootout. Ronaldo won the first of his five world player of the year awards in 2008, after a 2007-08 season when he scored 42 goals in all competitions. By that time, he was heavily linked with a move to Real Madrid but he stayed at United one more season – during which he helped the team to a Premier League-League Cup double.
REAL MADRID (2009-18)
Signed for a world-record 80 million pounds (then $131 million), Ronaldo gained more trophies and fame in a nine-year stint that was defined by his rivalry with then-Barcelona star Lionel Messi and their combined scoring prowess. So prolific was Ronaldo, who mostly played as a center forward, that he averaged more than a goal a game in his time at Madrid – 450 goals in 438 games – to become its record scorer. He topped the 40-goal mark in eight of his nine seasons, reaching 60 in two of them. He won the Champions League in 2014, ’16, ’17 and ’18 along with two La Liga titles and picked up more Ballon d’Or awards in 2013, ’14, ’16 and ’17 amid a sustained period of excellence that lifted him among the greatest players to ever play the game.
Wanting to start a ”new phase” in his career – amid a period when he and other top players in Spain were accused of tax fraud – Ronaldo secured another big-money move, this time to Juventus for 112 million euros (then $131.5 million). It was a record transfer fee in the Italian league and he kept on delivering goals, scoring 101 times in 134 appearances and being the top scorer in two of his three seasons. He never won the Champions League with Juventus, though it was at the Italian club where he moved ahead of Messi in the overall scoring charts in Europe’s top competition. He also won the league title twice (2019, ’20).
MANCHESTER UNITED (2021-22)
”I’m back where I belong,” wrote Ronaldo after he sealed a sudden, rather unexpected return to United amid reported interest from the team’s local rival, Manchester City. A fee of 15 million euros (then $17.75 million) to be paid to Juventus over five years seemed a bargain for United, which saw Ronaldo as the player to lead the club to its first Premier League title since 2013 and a place back on European soccer’s top table. It didn’t work out that way. He continued to score goals – there were two in his first match and 24 in all competitions, including hat tricks in successive home league games – but his reduced mobility and work rate affected United as a whole as the team finished sixth in the 2021-22 season, extending its run without a trophy to five years. Ronaldo missed the start of this season after returning late to training because of what was described as ”personal reasons.” Essentially, he wanted a move because United hadn’t qualified for the Champions League. So began a standoff with United’s new manager, Erik ten Hag, that saw him become a bit-part player and then deliver an explosive pre-World Cup interview with Piers Morgan that was the beginning of the end. A week later, his contract was terminated.
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80
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