Saudi Arabia's Al-Nassr could not resist the temptation to sign five-times Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo in January, but although the prolific Portuguese forward scored an impressive number of goals, they finished the season empty-handed.
Ronaldo's hopes of silverware ended on Saturday as Al-Ittihad clinched the league title for the first time since 2009 with one match to spare.
Ronaldo left Manchester United last year following an explosive television interview in which he said he felt betrayed by the club and did not respect their Dutch manager Erik ten Hag. Al-Nassr stepped in to sign him until 2025 in a deal reportedly worth more than $214.61 million to make him the world's highest-paid athlete, according to Forbes.
He scored 14 goals in 16 league games but failed to net during a 1-1 draw with Al-Ettifaq on Saturday in which he was substituted. Real Madrid's all-time leading scorer failed to impress in several key matches, often taking out his frustration on his teammates.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s winner keeps Al Nassr three points behind Al Ittihad with two games remaining pic.twitter.com/xbW67erQsD— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 23, 2023
The first trophy to slip from his grasp was the Saudi Super Cup when his team lost 3-1 to Al-Ittihad in the semifinals in January.
"It is not easy to adapt in the first five, six or seven games. Everyone knows my movements now and I am beginning to understand the movements of the rest of the players. Step by step we can reach higher levels," Ronaldo said.
Al-Nassr suffered a heavy blow in the league race title on March 9 when they lost 1-0 to Al-Ittihad, Brazilian Romarinho scoring the winning goal and overshadowing Ronaldo.
After a draw with Al-Fayha last month, Al-Nassr sacked coach Rudi Garcia amid reports of disagreements with the players, hitting the team's hopes of winning the title for the first time since 2019. Al-Nassr then lost 2-0 to arch-rivals Al-Hilal before a surprise 1-0 defeat by lowly Al-Wehda in the King's Cup semifinals. That left the 38-year-old Ronaldo's hopes of winning a trophy dependent on Al-Ittihad stumbling in the league and that did not happen.
Al Nassr's failings were not all Ronaldo's fault, of course, although his presence appeared to affect his teammate Anderson Talisca with the Brazilian scoring 11 goals in 11 games before Ronaldo's arrival and seven in 11 alongside him.
(Reporting by Osama Khairy; editing by Ed Osmond)