Even as the World Cup reaches its peak, Cristiano Ronaldo jockeys for position among football’s biggest headlines. The Portugal forward is no longer in Russia and he may soon no longer be at Real Madrid since he is seriously considering joining Juventus. For once, the story has some substance.
This isn't an annual flirtation with a Manchester United who have no interest in being manipulated by a Madrid player again. Alex Ferguson was so certain that Ronaldo was returning in 2013 that he told his players.
Ronaldo may be 33, but he is making history every season with Madrid and, unlike the younger Wayne Rooney who was his teammate in Manchester, there is no evidence that Ronaldo is in decline. Ronaldo maintains he wants to keep going into his fifth decade.
Juventus fans, who have seen Ronaldo score 10 times in seven games against them, saw how devastatingly effective he can be when he scored one of the best goals this year in the Uefa Champions League quarter-finals. Those fans in Turin applauded him, which meant a lot to Ronaldo.
Ronaldo has yet to say anything, ditto Madrid, though the club have publicly denied that they have made a move for Neymar or Kylian M'Bappe. The European champions did sign right-back Alvaro Odriozola, 22, from Real Sociedad on Friday in continuation of their policy of buying the best young Spanish players.
Jorge Mendes, Ronaldo’s agent, however has spoken publicly about his star client moving, while Juventus are believed to be prepared to break their own transfer record and pay €100 million (Dh433m) for Ronaldo, a figure less than half the €222m that Paris Saint-Germain paid to make Neymar the world's most expensive player when buying the Brazilian from Barcelona in 2017, and one which allegedly left Ronaldo "hurt" that his current employers would even countenance at selling him at such a low fee. Ronaldo’s salary alone would likely double the amount Juventus pay to the rest of their squad in total.
Ronaldo isn’t the first member of the current Madrid team to clash with club president Florentino Perez and allow himself to be linked with a move, but Perez is a tough, shrewd negotiator who usually gets his way. Ronaldo does have other issues in Spain, including debts to be paid to the tax authorities.
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Is the time right for Ronaldo to depart? The Portuguese has won everything there is to win in his nine hugely successful years at the Bernabeu, taking the starring role and being instrumental in Madrid’s rise from Uefa’s 13th ranked team to the first.
Regardless of the honours, any departure could be as awkward as that of former Madrid legends Raul and Iker Casillas. Saying goodbye is so often hard to do.
If Ronaldo, who has an offer of €25 million per year, plus €5 million in bonuses, to stay at Madrid, wants to leave then the club would rather he says it publicly. It serves Madrid’s all-time leading goalscorer no purpose to do this; it will only weaken his negotiating position and mean he will have to backtrack if he doesn’t depart.
Teammates such as Luca Modric, with whom he enjoys a productive partnership, want him to remain at the Bernabeu.
“I don’t think he’s going to go and I would like him to stay because he’s the best player in the world,” said the Croatia captain. “He means a lot and hopefully he will stay. I think he’ll stay, that’s my opinion. I can’t imagine him at any other club.”
Madrid’s players won’t decide Ronaldo's future is this is a battle of ego and money, but Juventus, who have made a hard play for Ronaldo and saw their share price rise by 11.19 per cent on Thursday and by another 5.06 per cent on Friday, know how to make a player feel welcome.
Juventus appeal on several levels to Ronaldo. Twice Champions League finalists in the past four years, the perennial Serie A champions would be strengthened by Ronaldo, the man who helped defeat them in the 2017 Cardiff final.
A move would be quite a challenge for Ronaldo and while the Turin weather may be similar to Manchester, which he so despised, they have an excellent record of prolonging careers of older players.
Players such as Patrice Evra to Mario Mandzukic couldn’t believe how hard they were worked after arriving in Turin – and that pair had been around before arriving in Northern Italy. Juventus players are expected to spend most of pre-season in a Turin hotel rather than with their families and are expected to rest rather than travel on their occasional days off. The squad have fitness tests every day and at least one confessed that they were pushed so hard during some training sessions that they vomited and had to drop out. They were expected to make up the sections that they had missed too. Juventus players are expected to work hard, though it is true that long-time goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon had the occasional cigarette in the shower.
Juventus are a winning machine, one good enough to win the last seven scudettos. They also indulge egos. Within 24 hours of signing, a new player can expect a call from club legend Pavel Nedved and current stalwarts Giorgio Chiellini, Claudio Marchisio, Gonzalo Higuain or Sami Khedeira, the latter two former teammates of Ronaldo at Madrid. Players are made to feel welcome and there is far less tension between club chairman Andrea Agnelli than Madrid’s biggest stars have with Perez. Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri is also hugely respected.
Juve would counter the argument that the once great Serie A is now a backwater compared to the Premier League, one with half empty stadiums, by stating that their smart new Juventus Stadium is full for every game and that they can still attract big players, both young and old. They took a young Paul Pogba from Manchester United; they took Higuain from their biggest rivals Napoli for €90 million two years ago. They woud have to sell players to finance the Ronaldo deal, and will always be wary that the player is playing games to get a better contract in Spain until he signs, but Juventus fans would love to see Ronaldo join.