As Cristiano Ronaldo wheeled away, shirt in the air, after firing home the penalty which gave Real Madrid a 4-1 lead over Atletico in the Champions League final in May, you couldn’t help that feel Florentino Perez’s master-plan had finally bore the fruits of his financial endeavours.
Much like a cartoon villain Perez’s attempts to secure a 10th European title for Madrid were foiled year after year, with high-profile managers such as Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho unable to deliver him the prize he coveted most.
Of course Carlo Ancelotti’s well-balanced side, spearheaded by the two attacking destriers in Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, ended the wait, and there was a feeling that all would now be well at the Santiago Bernabeu. The pressure had been lifted, the tension eradicated and the ultimate goal achieved.
The downward spiral
The last of those three descriptions may be true, but merely two La Liga games into this campaign and things are threatening to fall down around Perez’s ears. Most worryingly for the team, and indeed anyone who calls themselves a Madrid fan, is that it’s Ronaldo who appears to have appointed himself chief wrecking ball.
Moving back to that fateful night in Lisbon, wherein the Portuguese star’s late penalty put an Atletico fight-back beyond all doubt, Ronaldo’s future seemed more certain than it had ever been. In September last year the talismanic forward put pen to paper on a new five-year contract which sees him take home a reported £288,000-a-week, and the Ballon d’Or bestowment earlier this year was the pinnacle of positives his recent form for Madrid has produced.
Put simply Ronaldo had become the saint that Perez had pictured in his dreams when he spent £80 million to take him from Manchester United, and the player himself was enjoying the most efficient period of his career. As is so often the case at Madrid however, bubbling a little underneath the surface is a plot that threatens to take the European dominance Los Blancos are vying to repeat and reduce it to ashes.
The Di Maria saga
As though written into a finely developed narrative it’s United who find themselves both the cause of Madrid’s new-found friction with Ronaldo, and the solution for the player should the perfect Bernabeu bubble burst. Their record-breaking purchase of Angel di Maria appears to have acted as a catalyst for annoyance amongst the Madrid players, who were keen to see the Argentinian retained following an incredible campaign last season.
Unfortunately it would appear that Ronaldo is leading the charge when it comes to the host of players demanding answers, with speculation playing upon the fact that he approached Perez in the hope of getting the deal vetoed, just as he did last summer before Mesut Ozil’s exit to Arsenal. Just as then Perez refused him, and just as then the player in question - Di Maria - departed for good.
As it stands currently tempers are steadily rising, with the general theory being that Perez has been angered by Ronaldo’s decision to voice his opinion to the media - he explained to Spanish paper Marca that he disagreed with the deal - and Ronaldo himself keen to let anyone who will listen know that he and the president were at loggerheads over Di Maria’s sale.
Ronaldo's return to United
And yet rather than dutifully taking up the usual stance of a high-profile player linked with a sensational exit from Madrid, by either backing off into obscurity for a time or claiming there’s ‘no problem’ with himself and Perez, Ronaldo has done the opposite, and further fuelled the rumours clinging onto the notion that he could make a spectacular return to Old Trafford.
By actively singing the praises of the transfer business Louis van Gaal has undertaken this summer, and then stating how he loved United and would one day like to return, Ronaldo hasn’t just flirted with the idea of moving back to Manchester in the minds of Red Devils fans, he’s practically signed the documents to make it a reality.
Of course for the time being he will remain a Madrid player, but his recent actions have most certainly made a shock move far more feasible and, with Perez’s attitude towards players falling into line, fireworks may just ensue.
For the mega-rich Madrid chief may spend lavishly to annually replenish the galaxy of stars on his books, but there’s to be no doubting who is in charge. The fact that he never saw eye-to-eye with Di Maria is whispered to have been one of the main reasons why the 26-year-old was allowed to leave, and even Mourinho didn’t last long once his honeymoon period at the Bernabeu had ended.
Perez's stance on Ronaldo
With Ronaldo though Perez knows that he has a marketable asset, who not only has a fan base which spreads into the tens of millions, but also makes a hell of a difference to the team’s on-pitch fortunes. It’s that fact that makes him the only true ‘unsaleable’ asset Ancelotti currently has in his squad, and Perez will be acutely aware that no matter how he feels, how much he’s offered or how much Ronaldo praises United, negotiating the player's exit whilst he’s in his peak would be presidential suicide.
Regardless of that though the 29-year-old, particularly over the last few days, has made it clear through his actions that the idea of leaving Madrid isn’t so far-fetched as many would have assumed.
Van Gaal may not be Sir Alex Ferguson, and the United side he’d be going back to is a far cry from the one he left in 2009, but Old Trafford holds happy memories for Ronaldo, and by his own admission a return is an outcome he himself wouldn’t fight against.
If Perez isn’t careful his deteriorating relationship with the most globally recognised superstar in world football will begin to instigate serious fuss. When it does United will be waiting in the wings to offer Ronaldo the perfect route out.
And who says romance is dead?