March 23, 2023

Thibaut Courtois and Carlo Ancelotti on Tuesday both backed Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabia as the forward’s former club Real Madrid prepare to play the Spanish Supercopa in the country.

Ronaldo, 37 — who starred for Madrid for nine seasons, becoming the top scorer in the club’s history — was presented as an Al Nassr player last week after being released on a free transfer by Manchester United.

Madrid play Valencia in Riyadh on Wednesday in their Spanish Supercopa semifinal, with the winners due to face either Barcelona or Real Betis in the final on Sunday.

“I think with the signing of Cristiano, you can see that it’s a country that wants to improve in sports,” Courtois said in a news conference on Tuesday.

“We’ve seen it with Formula One, we’ve seen it with other events, like us being here.

“We saw it at the World Cup. [Saudi Arabia] beat Argentina. Cristiano coming here is his own decision, but it shows Saudi Arabia wants to improve. It’s important for the league that a player of his level has arrived.”

“It’s a fantastic signing for [Al Nassr],” coach Ancelotti said.

“We wish Cristiano all the best. He’s a legend of our club.”

The Spanish Supercopa first took place in Saudi Arabia in 2020 after the Spanish football federation (RFEF) agreed a six-year deal to bring the tournament to the country with a new ‘Final Four’ format.

LaLiga winners Madrid will face Copa del Rey runners-up Valencia in a semifinal that pits Ancelotti against his former player at AC Milan — now Valencia coach — Gennaro Gattuso.

Ancelotti admitted the pair’s relationship has suffered in recent years after Gattuso replaced his former coach in charge of Napoli in 2019.

“We shared great moments [at Milan], we won two Champions Leagues,” Ancelotti said. “After that, the relationship hasn’t always been good. We’ve had some personal problems. I don’t want to talk about that.”

Madrid go into the Supercopa having been beaten 2-1 at Villarreal in LaLiga on Saturday and missing defender David Alaba and midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni, both ruled out with calf injuries.

“I think we’re fine physically,” Courtois said. “We have games every three days but that’s what you get at a big club like Real Madrid. The other day [against Villarreal] we weren’t at our best. We’ve talked to the boss about what we did wrong tactically. I think [Tchouameni and Alaba]’s injuries aren’t too serious. Let’s hope they can be back with the team soon.”

The Villarreal defeat saw two penalties given for handball by referee Cesar Soto Grande — one for each team — with Courtois criticising both awards after the match.

“[Refereeing bodies] explain things to us in the summer. Sometimes it’s a bit boring, because it’s an hour-long meeting and they cover things you already know. But the strange thing is that after that, things happen that they said wouldn’t happen. That creates confusion.

“With the penalties the other day [against Villarreal], even though [the handball by defender Juan Foyth] was in our favour, I think it’s very unfortunate to give a penalty for that… With the other one [conceded by David Alaba], the laws say that when you use your hand for support, it isn’t a penalty.

“I understand that a referee can give it, football is so fast, but they have the help of [VAR]. Maybe we have to improve that, to see what really affects things or not, that’s where the doubt is.”

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