Cristiano Ronaldo's Al-Nassr adventure got off to a winning start as his new team moved to the top of the Saudi Pro League with a 1-0 victory over Ettifaq.
The 37-year-old has been made to wait for his first competitive match in the country after he was slapped with a two-match ban from the English FA. But after serving that suspension, he was able to appear in front of Al-Nassr supporters for the first time.
And a goal from the brilliant Anderson Talisca was enough to overcome their midtable opponents, a result which sees them return to the top of the table.
Ronaldo was handed his first start by manager Rudi Garcia, along with the Al-Nassr captain's armband. But any illusions that he would be given an easy ride in his new league were quickly put aside during a competitive and physical encounter at the Mrsool Park Stadium.
Ronaldo gets his wish
Ronaldo hit back at critics in a punchy opening press conference at the start of January. Suggestions that he had only gone to Saudi Arabia for the riches clearly struck a chord with the veteran striker.
“I'm a unique player, I beat all the records there [Europe], so I want to beat a few here. I won everything, I played at the most important clubs and for me now it is a new challenge in Asia.”
And he has his wish in joining a side that will very quickly have a chance to win some silverware, with Al-Nassr moving to the top of the league with Sunday’s win.There’s a long way to go, but few would doubt he can win a league title in a fourth different country.
Saudi myth quickly dispelled
If Ronaldo - or anyone else - thought he would be able to coast in his new league, they can think again. Ettifaq are no great shakes in terms of the Saudi Pro League, they currently find themselves in midtable.
But they were game opposition and threw themselves into some very physical challenges. In one exchange in the first half, Ronaldo was muscled to the ground by a defender with the referee waving away his protests.
Unquestionably below the standards he has played in previously, this is still no walk in the park. And every team in the league will be similarly motivated to perform in the shop window that Ronaldo’s presence has now afforded them.
Man Utd problem not repeated
During his time at Old Trafford, debates over whether Ronaldo should be named captain were never far away. There were talks of poisonous dressing room splits, with some players backing Ronaldo’s leadership bid, whilst others supported Harry Maguire.
However, there will be no lingering rows with his new team-mates, despite only being with the club a matter of weeks, manager Rudi Garcia gave him the armband against Ettifaq. Previous captain Abdullah Madu is still in the lineup, but assumed his new role as vice skipper.
Talisca shows up the main man
Ronaldo may be the undoubted star of the Saudi Pro League. After all, his arrival has put more eyes on the league than ever before.
But in Anderson Talisca, Al-Nassr have another talent capable of playing at a considerably higher level. The Brazilian has been away from the limelight since leaving Besiktas to join Guangzhou Evergrande in China four years ago.
But his numbers speak for themselves and he has remained a consistent goalscorer wherever he has played. His goal against Ettifaq was his 12th in as many games and at times, he looked head and shoulders the best player on the pitch.
After his opening goal, Ronaldo was quick to embrace with his new colleague and he will be delighted that he has a partner who can easily share the burden with him. They look like a partnership which will be very difficult to stop.
New year, new club, new Ronnie
After months of moping and moaning at Manchester United, Ronaldo did look very content in his new surroundings. It’s been a minute since we’ve seen him play with a smile on his face, but he had one here - £173m-per-year will do that for you!
He also cut a much more positive figure on the pitch. Too often at United he was seen criticising his team-mates and having a body language that seemed to impact on those around him.
But during his debut, Ronaldo was constantly reassuring his new colleagues, even when the quality of passes was below what he would expect. He was clearly very unhappy during his final months in English football and it looked like a weight had been lifted off him.