Comment: Why Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus is a deal where everyone wins
It was late last week when some of Europe’s leading clubs began to contact Cristiano Ronaldo’s camp, wondering whether it was for once actually true and this might be more than a bluff - that he might really be considering leaving Real Madrid. They were all told that indeed it was true, but that negotiations were already very far advanced with Juventus. He would not be going anywhere else, not Manchester United, not Paris Saint-Germain.
So, on Tuesday, just as the World Cup was reaching its most vaunted stages, one of the most sensational transfers ever was confirmed.
One of Real Madrid’s greatest ever players would be leaving, for one of Europe’s other great clubs.
It has shocked so many, but may also be one of those transfers that makes sense for everyone: hence Ronaldo’s revelation that he pushed for the move; hence Real Madrid’s willingness to let him go for a “mere” €100m - still considerably shorter than his €1bn buy-out clause.
The logic for Juventus is obvious, even allowing for Ronaldo’s advanced years at almost 33 years of age. They are trying to complete what was supposed to be done with Gonzalo Higuain in 2016. They want to sign the guarantee of goals that can at last bring them that Champions League, so have gone out and signed the Champions League’s greatest goalscorer and one of its most decorated players with five medals.
There is also the symbolism of the purchase, as much as the figures. Juventus are emboldening their status as a super-club, illustrating they aren’t going away just as a generation of players seem set to go away, and that is reflected in how they are the first Italian club to sign a reigning Ballon D’Or winner since the original Ronaldo in 1997. While there are obviously far too many complications here to say that Italian football is back, especially since this should secure the title in Turin for yet another season, it is a step forward.
Ronaldo himself meanwhile is in good enough physical condition to keep scoring goals going forward. That should not be a concern. He may not show up in the same areas of the pitch as he used to, although that has been the case for some time, although he shows no signs in his rate of scoring letting up.
It is that positioning that means this move makes sense for Real Madrid, too, even though they are losing such a source of goals. Historically brilliant as Ronaldo is, his current abilities demanded that the team play a certain way. It was becoming a somewhat predictable way, even if one problem with facing Ronaldo is that you know what he’s going to do but still can’t stop it. It’s just, with key players like Luka Modric also the wrong side of 30, the time was right to start changing things; to start replenishing.
Real and Ronaldo have prevented the awkward situation of him still staying there while they brought in new stars, and prevented the potentially sorry sight of him not being at the club while also being at a peak.
They will now look on, to one of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and - less likely right now - Eden Hazard, Harry Kane or Mo Salah.
Whoever signs, they will change how the team looks, how they play. It is still highly unlikely they will ever have a Madrid legacy that looks anything like Ronaldo’s.
He is the greatest goalscorer in their history, and probably the second greatest player in their history. The latter should not be seen as faint praise, but the opposite. The modern Real Madrid were after all effectively created by Alfredo Di Stefano. Before the Argentine’s 1953 signing, Madrid had not won a single Spanish title for 20 years, and only won two Spanish cups. Immediately after it, they embark on the most stellar spell of special achievement the continent has seen, in winning five European Cups in a row and establish the club’s identity as the most successful club in history.
That was a spell nobody had matched… until the last half-decade. Ronaldo’s legacy is that he has been the greatest player, the key figure, in the second greatest ever spell of European success, an the greatest spell of modern Champions League success: four trophies in five years and the gold-standard of three in a row.
The one caveat to all of this is that Ronaldo only won two league titles - but that is ultimately down to something else that actually marks out his greatness: that grandiose rivalry with Leo Messi. The Barcelona great won more league titles, but the Portuguese matched him for Champions Leagues and ultimately Ballon D’Ors.
That rivalry is something else the football world has lost, but Ronaldo wants to try to win other battles, other trophies: another league in a different country, maybe another Champions League with a different club.
Real Madrid have lost a player that took himself and them to a different level, and it might well be a case where everyone wins.