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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Tom Victor

Cristiano Ronaldo's retirement plan and Al-Nassr U-turn amid Saudi Arabia struggles

As Cristiano Ronaldo marks his 38th birthday, it's safe to say things are looking rather different for the veteran compared to this time last year.

Twelve months ago, Ronaldo was gearing up for Man Utd's trip to Burnley, having missed a penalty one day earlier as United were stunned by Middlesbrough in the FA Cup. He didn't score that day, but did deliver two hat-tricks between then and the end of the season while finishing as top scorer for his club.

Fast forward to February 2023 and not only is Ronaldo no longer at Old Trafford, but he's no longer in Europe. The Portugal international has endured a tough start to life at new club Al-Nassr, and faces some big decisions in the twilight of his career.

Struggles in Saudi Arabia

Before leaving Manchester United in November when his contract was terminated by mutual agreement, Ronaldo was in the midst of one of his worst ever seasons in front of goal. He had scored just three times for Erik ten Hag's side, and was unable to end his wait for a World Cup knockout goal as Portugal fell in the quarter-finals.

A move to Saudi Arabia was supposed to change that, but things haven't all gone Ronaldo's way. He drew a blank on his league debut against Ettifaq and also failed to net as Al-Nassr lost in the semi-finals of the Saudi Super Cup.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner also missed a sitter in his third game, against Al-Fateh. He did finally get off the mark, but only after taking penalty duties off team-mate Anderson Talisca to equalise in the same match.

What is next for Cristiano Ronaldo? Have your say in the comments section

Cristiano Ronaldo hasn't had the best of starts to his Al-Nassr career (AFP via Getty Images)

Playing until 40

When Ronaldo moved to his new club, he did so on a contract running until 2025. The huge sums of money won't have hurt, with reported figures of £173m per year, but it also allows him to keep going until the age of 40.

Ronaldo addressed his future in an interview with Piers Morgan which aired shortly before the World Cup. It was there that the magic number of 40 came to light, with the veteran laying out his plans.

"I want to play two years more, three years more," he said, suggesting he will not still be going by the time the next World Cup rolls around in 2026. "So two or three years maximum.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored his first Al-Nassr goal at the third time of asking (AFP via Getty Images)
Cristiano Ronaldo has spoken about playing until the age of 40 (Getty Images)

"I want to finish [aged] 40. I think 40, will be a good age… But I don't know, I don't know the future. Sometimes you plan one thing for your life and as I told many times, the life is dynamic. And you never know what's going to happen.”

A European return?

When Ronaldo moved to Saudi Arabia, he claimed his work in Europe was done. He scored a huge 701 goals on his home continent, winning multiple Champions League titles, paving the way for a new chapter.

"I broke all the records there (in Europe) and I want to break a few records here," he said upon joining Al-Nassr. "I'm coming here to win, to play, to enjoy, to be part of the success of the country and culture of the country.

Al-Nassr boss Rudi Garcia has suggested Ronaldo could yet return to Europe (Al Nassr Football Club/AFP via G)

"In Europe, my work is done," he added. "I had many offers in Europe, many in Brazil, Australia, the US, even in Portugal. Many clubs tried to sign me but I gave my word to this club, for the opportunity to have not only football but (to be) part of this amazing country. And for me, it was a challenge."

Just weeks later, though, Al-Nassr manager Rudi Garcia suggested his new signing had unfinished business. “He is one of the best players in the world," the Frenchman said. "He will not finish his career at Al-Nassr, he will return to Europe.”

The next 12 months could have a big part to play when it comes to determining how Ronaldo will end his career. He can still write his own ending, whether that means going out at the top or in the shadows, with a bang or with a whimper.

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