The happy homecoming will follow the anticlimactic exit. Cristiano Ronaldo will receive a rapturous reception when he returns to Manchester United. Juventus bade him an unsentimental farewell. The Portuguese’s 134th and last game for the bianconeri was a cameo against Udinese in which he was booked and Juventus lost a lead. Manager Massimiliano Allegri confirmed Ronaldo wanted to leave.
Era-defining players can overshadow everything, appearing bigger even than historic outfits, but Allegri underlined the significance of the great Italian institutional club. "Things change, it's a law of life,” he said last week. “Juventus remains, which is the most important thing. Cristiano gave his contribution, he made himself available, now he leaves and life goes on.”
There has been a feeling that Allegri was happy for Ronaldo to go, but if he sounded ambivalent about an all-time great, it is understandable. Ronaldo was a remarkable success in Turin in one respect, a failure in another.
The Portuguese leaves as Serie A’s reigning capocannoniere, becoming the only player to top-score in England, Spain and Italy, the first to win every major trophy in each and alone in registering a century of goals for a club in all three.
Even as Romelu Lukaku was named the division’s player of the year, Ronaldo still outscored him. He can feel an ageless phenomenon: the oldest player to score 30 times in a Serie A season, the man who got more goals in a campaign for Juventus than anyone else.
And yet Juventus declined on Ronaldo’s watch: more in spite of him, but perhaps partly because of him. He joined a club who had won seven consecutive Scudetti and fired them to two more, but they finished fourth last season, 13 points behind Lukaku’s Inter.
He was not responsible for two strange managerial appointments, as they bored of domestic domination under Allegri, and while they became champions again under Maurizio Sarri, he was a mismatch with Juve. Giving the reins to the rookie Andrea Pirlo backfired as Juventus lost their crown.
The sense was that they had grander aims to pursue. Ronaldo was the quintuple Champions League winner hired to rectify Juventus’ record of underachievement in the most prestigious European competition. Yet Allegri’s record of reaching two finals – and losing only to Lionel Messi’s Barcelona and Ronaldo’s Real Madrid – was admirable.
Juventus relapsed with Ronaldo, going out not to the current superpowers but the second-tier clubs at earlier stages: Ajax in the quarter-finals in 2019, Lyon and Porto in the last 16 thereafter.
Ronaldo scored all four of Juventus’ goals against Ajax and Lyon: in one respect, he was blameless, and Lyon manager Rudi Garcia described him as “extra-terrestrial” after an extraordinary long-range strike, but as a star vehicle, Juve felt a lesser team. By this year’s exit, it was Federico Chiesa producing the doomed heroics.
Ronaldo leaves Juventus with 14 Champions League goals, one fewer than he got in his last season at Real alone. He joined as Serie A’s record signing and goes for a fifth of the fee.
Juventus have had to write off 80 per cent of that €100m transfer fee, as well as paying him the biggest salary in their history. They got commercial benefits in return, as well as a bigger place in the global spotlight. Despite those 101 goals, it was still a slight return on a huge investment.
While the balance of power may have shifted when they sold Zinedine Zidane to Real in 2001, taking Ronaldo in the opposite direction did not restore them to their previous pre-eminence. But without their statement signing, maybe Allegri can restore some of the principles that had stood them in good stead.