Ronaldo will be officially unveiled by Al Nassr on Tuesday after agreeing a contract that runs until 2025 and is reportedly worth more than €200 million.
But the riches and fanfare that await the 37-year-old in Saudi Arabia are at odds with his reduced status as a fallen star trading on the heroics of the past.
For Ronaldo to be forced to play out what will surely be the final chapter of his glittering career in the soccer backwater of Saudi Arabia is a damning indictment of his lackluster form over the past 18 months.
Ronaldo, a five-time Ballon d’Or winner, is heading to the Gulf after a painful year that saw him relegated to the Portuguese bench and left adrift by Manchester United.
His second stint at United fizzled out in November with his mutual consent departure, shortly after he criticized boss Erik ten Hag and the club’s hierarchy in an explosive television interview.
As his relationship with United soured, Ronaldo was linked to a number of Champions League contenders, including Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Napoli.
A return to his first club, Sporting Lisbon, was also rumored, while there was talk of a move to MLS to join Inter Miami, partly owned by former United teammate David Beckham.
But none of those deals came to fruition and when United decided that his dwindling contribution, coupled with his public displays of dissent, made him an expensive luxury they no longer needed, it was instructive to note the lack of rush to sign the aging icon.
At the same time as his acrimonious departure from United, Ronaldo’s failed quest to finally win the World Cup underscored his descent into the ranks of soccer’s mere mortals.
And when Portugal suffered a shock 1-0 defeat against Morocco in the quarter-finals, Ronaldo started on the bench, made little impact after his eventual introduction and was last seen walking through the tunnel crying after the final whistle.
There was a sting in World Cup history for Ronaldo, as it was his former training partner Lionel Messi who first got his hands on the trophy.
Few would question Ronaldo’s right to be considered one of the all-time greats after winning five Champions League crowns and a combined seven domestic league titles with United, Juventus and Real Madrid.
He is also the record scorer in the Champions League and with the Portuguese team, which won the 2016 European Championship: Ronaldo lasted less than half an hour before being injured in the final against France.
But Messi’s triumph with Argentina catapulted him into the ranks of soccer immortals alongside Pelé and Diego Maradona, a rarefied air that Ronaldo will never taste without a World Cup victory on his resume.
Ronaldo’s decision to accept the lucrative deal offered in the Middle East rather than continue playing for a lesser European team made it clear that he knows his diminished place in the soccer hierarchy.
Kylian Mbappe, Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah are the new world stars that get into Ronaldo’s boots.
Al Nassr hailed Ronaldo’s signing, saying the deal “makes history” and would “inspire future generations” to be the best version of themselves.
But for the millions who have been captivated by Ronaldo over the past two decades, this version of the superstar is far from the best.