Cristiano Ronaldo reminded us of his considerable goalscoring talent, as he scored all four goals for his new club Al-Nassr in their defeat of Al-Wehda in the Saudi Premier League.
In the process, he passed the landmark of 500 career league goals, notching up his 61st hat-trick in doing so.
One of the first to congratulate him was the British TV journalist, Piers Morgan, the man that he gave the explosive interview to that effectively ended his United career.
And whilst there were many that thought he was joining a footballing backwater when he moved to Saudi Arabia, his mere presence in the league there means that matches there are getting far more coverage in Europe and globally than they have ever done previously.
Those behind the move might argue, therefore, that he is already beginning to repay the considerable investment made in him.
Move to Al-Nassr
Following that interview, Ronaldo’s Manchester United contract was terminated by mutual consent.
He then had a mixed World Cup, becoming the first man to score in five World Cups, but then benched by Portugal manager Fernando Santos after reacting angrily to being subbed during a game against South Korea.
Meanwhile, his agents were trying to find him a new club, but none of the European elite were interested, because of his age, salary demands, and concerns that he could be a disruptive element in the dressing room.
Instead, he signed for Saudi club Al-Nassr on a two-and-a-half-year contract, believed to be worth £200 million a year. As part of the deal, he has an ambassadorial role for Saudi football, which includes supporting a possible World Cup bid since they are considering a joint bid in 2030 along with Greece and Egypt.
His debut for his new club was delayed, however, because he was still serving a suspension from his Manchester United days for smashing a fan’s mobile phone after a defeat to Everton last April.
His first match on Saudi soil was in an exhibition game playing for a combined team drawn from Riyadh’s two major clubs, Al-Nassr and Al Hilal, against PSG. He scored twice in a 5 – 4 defeat.
Opening his account
He finally made his league debut against Al-Ettifaq. But although his side won, he did not find the net.
However, he did get off the mark in his second game against Al-Fateh, converting a last-minute penalty and rescuing a point for his team in a 2 – 2 draw.
The scene was set for him to take Al-Wehda apart.
He opened his account for the evening midway through the first half by converting a left-foot strike, and then added a second before the break, slotting past the goalkeeper who had rushed out trying to intercept him.
A penalty in the 51st minute enabled him to complete his hat-trick, but he was not finished yet. Instead he added a fourth, lashing home a rebound after his initial shot had been blocked.
The win was enough to put Al-Nassr top of the league on goal difference.
That was the 61st hat-trick of his career, and he has now scored 30 hat-tricks before the age of 30, and 31 since passing that milestone.
In doing so, he achieved a task he had set himself last year when he posted on social media “30 hat-tricks before 30 and 30 hat-tricks after 30. It’s time to unbalance the scale!”
Ronaldo now has 503 league goals: three for Sporting Lisbon, 103 for Manchester United in his two spells with the club, 311 for Real Madrid, 81 for Juventus, and now five for Al-Nassr.
He is only the fifth man in history to have achieved the feat, and joins legends of the game like Pelé and Ferenç Puskas in what is an elite club.
However, his tally is much greater than that if all competitions are taken into account.
He is now on 706 goals in club football, to which must be added the 118 he has scored for Portugal, as he remains the highest scorer of all time in international football.
There might be some critics who argue rather sniffily that goals in Saudi Arabia should not count because of the quality of the league, but a number of top players are already playing there, whilst Sergio Busquets is the latest linked with a big money move in the summer.
The next match
Ronaldo will next have the chance to add to his tally when they host Al-Taawoun next Friday.
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