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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Tom Victor

"Almost unbelievable!" Cristiano Ronaldo's debuts and how he fared ahead of Al-Nassr bow

The next stage in Cristiano Ronaldo is drawing ever closer, with the Portugal star poised to make his first appearance for Al-Nassr in Thursday's friendly against none other than Lionel Messi and Paris Saint-Germain, and it could be an entertaining game if his previous debuts are anything to go by.

Ronaldo, 37, was unveiled by his new club earlier this month after leaving Manchester United by mutual agreement. With Rudi Garcia's side flying high in the Saudi Pro League, the veteran has an opportunity to hit the ground running after his new club manager said : "The greatest champions are the easiest to manage".

Al-Nassr's new signing has a lot to live up to, based on the achievements in his other club debuts over the years. Here, Mirror Football has taken a closer look at the last 20-plus years of Ronaldo's firsts.

Sporting CP, 2002

After moving from Madeira to Lisbon as a youngster, Ronaldo was still in his teens when he made his Sporting debut. Despite winning the previous season's Primeira Liga, Sporting needed to go through qualifying for the Champions League and were drawn against Inter Milan.

Ronaldo started on the bench, but joined fellow homegrown star Ricardo Quaresma on the pitch for the final half-hour. While the 17-year-old's debut wasn't his most eventful game, there was already plenty of noise around him.

How do you expect Cristiano Ronaldo to get on at Al-Nassr? Have your say in the comments section

Cristiano Ronaldo was a team-mate of Ricardo Quaresma when he broke through with Sporting (VI Images via Getty Images)

"The previous year, another one of those magical wingers, Ricardo Quaresma, had his breakthrough season, marvelling the crowd with his skills,"'s Pedro Marques recalled in 2017. "But I remember people saying: "Sure, Quaresma is great, but there's another kid who will soon make it into the first team who is breaking records at youth level.

"They were talking about Cristiano, and when he did get into the first team in 2002, I understood what they meant. His amazing pre-season goal against Betis was all the proof I needed: showing fantastic pace and composure, Ronaldo beat the keeper to the ball and, from a difficult angle outside the area, curled a beautiful shot into the top corner with his right foot. Sporting had a star in the making."

Man Utd, 2003

He made his Premier League debut from the bench (Getty Images)

In the end, Sporting only got one season of Ronaldo. He showed plenty of quality in that period, prompting Man Utd to fight off competition from elsewhere in Europe to snap up the winger after losing David Beckham to Real Madrid.

While Ronaldo wasn't thrown immediately into the starting line-up, he didn't have to wait too long for his first appearance in the Premier League. It came against Bolton in August 2003, with the youngster coming on at 1-0 up and helping Alex Ferguson's team romp to an eventual 4-0 victory.

"It was a marvellous debut, almost unbelievable," Ferguson said, per ESPN. "I thought the pace was too slow in the first half and I knew Cristiano would add penetration.

"We have to be careful with the boy. You must remember he is only 18. We are going to have to gauge when we use him."

Alex Ferguson spoke highly of the Portugal star (PA)

Before the game, Bolton boss Sam Allardyce had been warned about Ronaldo's ability by Mario Jardel. The Brazilian striker, who made his Trotters debut later that month, had been a colleague of the Portuguese at Sporting.

"He reminds me of Ryan Giggs when he first started," Allardyce said. "He can go inside, outside, uses both feet and runs at people. Everyone holds their breath when he gets the ball."

Ronaldo's first United goal didn't arrive until a few months later, against Portsmouth in November. By the end of his first stint, though, there was no doubting his star quality.

Real Madrid, 2009

By 2009, Ronaldo was more than just potential. Real Madrid had ponied up £80m to take him to the Bernabeu, and big things were expected immediately.

Ronaldo scored on his Real Madrid debut (AFP via Getty Images)

With Manuel Pellegrini at the helm, Los Blancos had splashed the cash over the summer, with Kaka, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso among the others to arrive in a £200m+ spree. All of them were in action as Madrid got their season underway with a narrow victory over Deportivo La Coruna, with Ronaldo scoring from the penalty spot.

"He's as I expected him to be," Pellegrini had said in July upon welcoming Ronaldo to the Spanish capital. "He is the first to arrive at a training session, he has fully integrated into the squad, he doesn't act as a star.

"He is a very talented but normal player who is devoted to Real Madrid. His image is very different to how he is as a player."

Raul had put Real Madrid in front against Depor, with Ronaldo restoring their lead after Riki's equaliser. Juan Carlos Valeron drew the visitors level for a second time, only for Lassana Diarra to settle the game in the second half.

Ronaldo scored again in his very next game, and had 10 in his first seven Real Madrid games. And he was just getting started.

Juventus, 2018

Ronaldo had knocked Juventus out of the previous season's Champions League (Bongarts/Getty Images)

Countless games and goals later, not to mention multiple Champions League titles, Ronaldo started the next chapter with Juventus. He had eliminated the Bianconeri from the 2017-18 Champions League, scoring twice at Juventus stadium before putting away a last-gasp penalty decider at the Bernabeu, so Juve fans had high hopes.

The Serie A giants had pipped Napoli to the title the previous season, and the signing of Ronaldo was supposed to help them become more secure domestically while also challenging for European glory. The latter didn't materialise, thanks to Ajax's shock win in Turin in the quarter-finals, but a Ronaldo-inspired team didn't experience defeat in the league until March.

That all has to start somewhere, and in this case it was an August trip to Verona to face Chievo. Ronaldo played the full 90 minutes but wasn't on the scoresheet, with Federico Bernardeschi's stoppage-time goal giving Juve a 3-2 victory.

Ronaldo drew a blank against Chievo in 2018 (AFP/Getty Images)

Sami Khedira's opener was cancelled out by Mariusz Stepinski, with former Juve midfielder Emmanuele Giaccherini putting the hosts in front. An own goal made it 2-2, though with Bernardeschi finding the late breakthrough after Ronaldo had failed to find a way past home goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino.

“Physically, Ronaldo held out well on his debut considering he has only been training with us for seven days and he did really well,” Juve boss Max Allegri said (per The Guardian. “He pulled their defence around, he moved between the lines and, on several occasions, he wasn’t served with the ball.

"You can already see that he is a different player. I was struck by how easily he has blended into the team and he was very happy with the win at the end.”

Man Utd, 2021

Ronaldo scored twice on his second Man Utd debut (Rui Vieira/AP/REX/Shutterstock)

When Ronaldo returned to Old Trafford for a second debut, he did so as a very different player. This was no longer a raw talent waiting to be eased into a regular role, but rather someone whose profile and past meant many expected his name to be the first on the teamsheet.

United had been enjoying an unbeaten start to the season under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer when they welcomed Newcastle in September 2021. It was the first time in 12 years that the home fans were able to see Ronaldo in that famous red shirt, and he certainly played up to the returning hero narrative.

It was Ronaldo himself who broke the deadlock, slotting a rebound past Magpies keeper Freddie Woodman. Javi Manquillo's equaliser threatened to spoil the party, only for Ronaldo to add a second for the hosts before Bruno Fernandes and Jesse Lingard made the points safe.

The Portugal star will want to make a fast start in Al-Nassr colours (AFP via Getty Images)

“I didn’t expect to score two goals," Ronaldo told BBC Sport after the victory. "I expect one but not two. I have to appreciate the fans and what they did to me today. I feel so proud for that.

"When I started the game I was so nervous, I swear. It is normally because I did not expect that they would sing my name all game. I was very nervous but maybe I didn’t show but I was. The reception is incredible but I am here to win games and help the team.

“It was unbelievable moment. I was super-nervous and was thinking last night that I wanted to play good and show I was still capable of helping the team. This club is unbelievable and I am so proud. I am going to give everything to make them proud of me."

Ronaldo would go on to score 24 times for United in his first season back, but it wasn't enough for a title challenge or even a top-four finish. Before the end of 2022, he was gone, and now he is preparing for another debut - this time in a new continent.

"I won everything, I played at the most important clubs and for me now it is a new challenge in Asia," Ronaldo said upon being unveiled by his new club. "I'm a unique player, I beat all the records there [Europe], so I want to beat a few here. This contract is unique, because I'm unique, so this is normal.”

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