Approaching midnight local time on May 18, moments after the referee had blown for time in the Champions League final, Cristiano Ronaldo turned to reporters in Kiev’s Olympic stadium and announced, “It was nice being at Real Madrid.”
Real had just won their third consecutive European Cup, but that was no longer the story. The rumour mill went into overdrive. Would the planet’s best player be leaving one of the world’s biggest clubs? Where could he possibly go?
It was not the first time noises had been made about his exit from the Santiago Bernabeu, and previously the gossip had always ended with him getting a lucrative new contract. But on this occasion, the soundbite seemed more emphatic.
As it turns out, he was not bluffing. After nine years, four Champions Leagues, two La Ligas, two Copa del Reys, three Club World Cups, four Ballon d’Ors and 450 goals, Ronaldo is finally leaving Madrid, heading to Juventus in a transfer worth an initial €100 million.
Despite the warning he gave us that night in the Ukrainian capital, it still feels shocking.
After all the success Cristiano and the club shared together, a match as perfect as Darth Vader and the Death Star, it will be strange to see him pull on the black and white striped shirt of the Italian champions.
It could, though, end up working well for all of the parties involved.
Firstly, Real. It is already a case of out with the old, in with the new for Los Blancos this summer. The manager who led them to three consecutive European titles, Zinedine Zidane, has gone, replaced by the erstwhile Spain manager Julen Lopetegui.
Lopetegui will want to bring in his own players and impose his own style on the team. Without the all-consuming shadow of Cristiano hanging over the club, that will be made significantly easier.
That is not to say that the Spanish giants will not miss CR7 and his seemingly infinite capacity to put the ball in the back of the net, but even as they remorselessly marched towards the Champions League final last season, they gave the sense that this cycle was coming to an end. Real looked a team in need of some renewal.
They did not play spectacularly well at any point during the campaign and relied on the individual brilliance of their talisman more than a clear idea of how to play the game. If the money that the transfer frees up in terms of fees and wages is spent wisely, Lopetegui will be able to mould a younger, more cohesive side.
Secondly, for the player himself. Ronaldo won everything there is to win at Real, broke every record there was to break and wrote himself into the history books. He felt, however, increasingly unloved by the Madrid club’s president, Florentino Perez.
In an open letter to the Real fans, Ronaldo stated, "I only have feelings of enormous thanks for this club, this fanbase and this city”, Perez conspicuous in his absence. “I can only give thanks to all of them for the love and affection that I have received. However, I think that the moment has arrived to start a new chapter in my life."
It could be that a step into the unknown, and a chance to prove wrong those who doubted his ability to maintain his scoring feats for so long, will be just what he needs to maintain his psychological edge.
Finally, for Juventus. Paying €100 million for a 33-year-old – and giving him a four-year contract that will cost the club a reported €70 million a year – is a significant gamble. It is the highest fee ever received by Real, the highest ever paid by an Italian club and the highest ever paid for a player over the age of 30.
But Juve, if they want to make the step up to the level of the European super-clubs, needed to make a statement. For the last seven years, they have dominated their domestic championship. But that has never felt like quite enough.
To truly crown this era of success, Juventus must win a first European title since 1996. What better way to aid that cause than to sign a man who has scored 105 Champions League goals since his arrival at Real in 2009? For comparison, Juventus as a team have scored 93 times in the competition over the same period.
There is no doubt that Ronaldo will be as driven as ever to win a sixth Champions League title with a third club and his force of will and relentless winning mentality is exactly what Juve need if they are to drag themselves to glory in the coming seasons.
From a marketing perspective, it is also a positive step and will help the club build its brand in Asia and Africa to the level where it is able to compete commercially with the likes of Real, Manchester United, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
More than just for Juventus, the signing is a coup Serie A. A decade after Kaka won the Ballon D’Or, the world’s best footballer will once more be playing on Italian pitches.
At times throughout the Old Lady’s period of dominance, it felt as if the Italian top flight had lost all of the sheen and the glamour that it had in the 90s and early 00s, and with Ronaldo’s arrival it will recuperate at least a bit of the status it once held.
“It was nice being at Real Madrid”, Ronaldo said. It was impressive watching him, too. Juventus fans are hoping that, four years from now, we will be saying the same things about his time in Turin.
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