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Cristiano Ronaldo is off to Juventus. The soccer world is still trying to process that stunning news. It’s also changing before our eyes.
If Neymar’s move to Barcelona altered the global soccer landscape, Ronaldo’s transfer alters planet football’s alchemy. It’s the first time a top-two player in the world has switched clubs since, well, Ronaldo himself back in 2009.
And in various ways, to varying extents, it makes sense for all involved. Ronaldo has his reasons. Juventus gets the superstar it hasn’t had in over a decade. Real Madrid gets $117 million and a chance to rebuild.
But the transfer is far from a home run for all involved. The intricacies – and our list of the winners and losers of the transfer – begin with Ronaldo himself.
Loser: Cristiano Ronaldo the player
Ronaldo was the driving force behind this move. But is it a good one for his career?
The answer is complicated. We’ll address the complexity soon. But if framed as a “yes or no” question, it’s a no.
Ronaldo is off to a one-team league that’s the most boring of Europe’s big four. And he’s off to that one team. Juventus has won seven consecutive Serie A titles by an average margin of over nine points. It would have been favored to win an eighth without Ronaldo.
So for Ronaldo personally, winning that eighth would be a borderline meaningless accomplishment. It won’t add to his career ledger in a significant way. Neither will beating up on Serie A minnows. Unless Ronaldo’s goal tally is truly unprecedented, nothing he does in his new domestic league will move the proverbial needle in terms of Ronaldo’s place in the sport’s history.
Ronaldo’s success at Juve, therefore, will depend almost solely on the Champions League. Going all in on a knockout competition which no club has a better than 20 percent chance to win doesn’t seem like a wise move.
Plus, Juventus doesn’t play a very attractive brand of soccer. It infamously – in the minds of some, cowardly – receded into an ultra-conservative system in most of its big games last year. Is this how Ronaldo wants to spend the last few years of his prime?
Ronaldo is betting on himself. He has, throughout his career, pitched himself as transcendent. If he does transcend in Italy – if he transforms Serie A, and wins a European title – he’ll come away from this with a more legitimate claim to the GOAT title. But if not – the far more likely scenario – he’ll have curbed his relevance sooner than necessary, and he’ll come away from this as the main loser.
Winner: Ronaldo’s bank account
Ronaldo was the third-highest paid player in the world, significantly behind Messi and Neymar. Juve will change that. And Ronaldo, already infinitely popular in Spain, will expand his global brand.
(Oh, and he no longer has to deal with those pesky Spanish tax authorities.)
Winner: Ronaldo’s Real Madrid legacy
One question fans will have for Ronaldo: Why now? Why leave Real at the height of your powers?
But in a sense, that’s why the timing makes sense. Ronaldo departs on the back of a fourth Champions League title in five years, and on his own terms. He departs with an impeccable Real Madrid legacy.
Had he begun to decline while still in the Spanish capital, or had new Real boss Julen Lopetegui moved toward life after CR7 while he was still around, that legacy could have been clouded ever so slightly. The Juve move preempts that possibility.
Loser: Real Madrid’s 2018-19 title hopes
Real Madrid is not better off in the short term without one of the world’s best players. Of course it isn’t. It’s further away from a Champions League four-peat today than it was 48 hours ago.
But in the long run …
Winner: Real Madrid
Madrid handled the Ronaldo situation about as best it could have. Nobody really wanted to say it aloud, but signing a 33-year-old Ronaldo to a new lucrative, likely four-year contract would have been an awful idea. It would have precluded the signing of other, younger stars. A decreasingly effective Ronaldo would have occupied the top spot of Real’s wage pyramid at age 35 and 36, and would have hindered the club.
Plus, as I wrote Tuesday:
Though the 2017-18 team ascended to the top of Europe once again, fissures had begun to appear [at Real Madrid]. More than half of the threepeat’s core is now over 30. Los Blancos finished 17 points behind Barcelona in La Liga, and benefited from plenty of good fortune in the Champions League knockout stages.
With manager Zinedine Zidane stepping down and Lopetegui replacing him, this summer was the natural starting point for the rebuild. It was time for a refresh before the fissures became full-on cracks.
Madrid now has freedom. Financial freedom off the field. Stylistic freedom on it, with no need to accommodate Ronaldo. It could have caved to its star and ceded to his demands. It didn’t. And it’ll be better off for the decision.
Winner: Florentino Perez
Both Real Madrid and Ronaldo clearly framed the transfer as primarily Ronaldo’s decision. By doing so, Real president Florentino Perez avoided being known as the man who sold the club’s most famous player, but also made the best long-term decision for the club.
Winner: Gareth Bale
Finally out of Ronaldo’s shadow. Will he get a chance to play regularly? If he can stay healthy, he should.
Winners: Superstars with Real Madrid dreams
Neymar? Eden Hazard? There’s Real Madrid money available now. There’s also an implicit mandate for Perez to replace Ronaldo with a star. Real will set the tone for the summer transfer market from here on out.
Loser: La Liga
For the second summer in a row, the Spanish league has lost a top-three player and bona fide megastar. That’s a big blow to its global marketability.
Winner: Serie A
Serie A has had an alarming lack of star power in recent years. Its TV deals have lagged behind those of Europe’s other top leagues. Its global pull pales in comparison to that of the Premier League, or even La Liga and the Bundesliga.
Ronaldo could change everything. He also might not. There’s a chance the importance of one player is overblown. Neymar didn’t instantly overhaul Ligue 1’s image. Will Ronaldo be able to flip a switch and change Serie A’s?
Maybe, maybe not. But there’s no way his impact will be negative. And the upside is enormous. As former Italian star Christian Vieri recently said, “People don’t talk about Serie A much abroad because there aren’t the superstars there were in the past. Ronaldo could revitalize it.”
This is an absolute coup for Juventus. It makes the team better – a definitive favorite in Serie A, as opposed to a modest one. Ronaldo gives the Bianconeri the dynamic striker they lacked.
He also makes the club, like the league, far more marketable. It brings Juve closer to the true European superclubs. Shirt sales will soar. Sponsorship revenue will spike.
As long as Juventus meets Financial Fair Play requirements – which it surely will – it’s the chief winner here.
Oh, and Ronaldo can no longer score against Juve in the Champions League!
Loser: Gonzalo Higuain
Higuain was supposed to be Juve’s big signing two summers ago. He’s been decent. Now he’s surely on the way out, replaced by a bigger name, bigger personality and better player. Juve will shop him immediately.
Loser: Gianluigi Buffon
Buffon probably just wants the best for Juve, so he might actually be a winner here. But he has to be thinking: Man, Cristiano, couldn’t you have come two years earlier?
The legendary Buffon left Juventus at the end of this past season after a sterling 17-year tenure. He left with trophies, but never the ultimate trophy, a Champions League title. His last two runs were ended by Ronaldo and Real Madrid.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Buffon recently joked of Ronaldo’s move. “It bothers me the two goals that he scored against me in the final and the ones that he got last season.”
Loser: Ronaldo’s timing
A few hours before the first World Cup semifinal kicks off?! C’mon, Ronny. Really expected you to try to upstage the final instead.
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