United fans’ wet dream – at the moment, only playable in a video game…
Barcelona were hoping to sign Marco Verratti for at least £80 million. Bayern splashed half of that amount on Serge Gnabry and Corentin Tolisso. Manchester City attempted to lure Dani Alves to Etihad. However: all those facts and speculations have become irrelevant in light of the news from Madrid. Because Cristiano Ronaldo, in a private conversation, admitted that he wants to leave the Spanish capital for good.
It would certainly make a great story. An absolute superstar, following the years spent in Barça’s shade, finally reaches the pinnacle of his career, wins back-to-back Champions League titles as well as La Liga, edges towards the third consecutive Ballon d’Or, breaks the 100 goal barrier in UCL, punishes derby rivals with a hat-trick, topples Gianluigi Buffon’s dreams and… leaves. Leaves on the highest note possible, fulfilled. Ends an era.
But the reality, as usual, proves to be far more prosaic. The legend currently has a £13 million tax trial ahead of him. The Spanish IRS argues that he breached the law once he allowed his image right earnings to be deposited in Virgin Islands. As a result, he faces the choice his arch-rival Messi has encountered last year: either pay the money upfront or go to the court and risk a suspended jail sentence of 21 months.
From that perspective, CR7’s ‘leaked announcement’ could definitely be a way of putting the pressure on his current employers to either finance his payments or, at the very least, provide him with as much of a legal support as possible. For a club, capable of spending twice the amount Ronaldo owes to the taxpayers on Asier Illarramendi, it could be a much better and cheaper deal than hiring any future replacement for their leading forward.
The trump cards in this game are still in Ronaldo’s sleeves. Him, informing Sir Alex Ferguson that he’s looking for a way out from Santiago Bernabeu; him, turning down reportedly obscene offers from China; him, uncharacteristically flooding his Instagram account with the photos in Portugal’s kit – it’s all adding up very well to the reported £175 million Manchester United, Bayern and PSG have supposedly prepared to spend on his services.
Yet what really turns Ronaldo’s poker shuffle into just another bluff is Madrid’s sporting stature. They’ve just picked up every major piece of silverware imaginable; some argue that it’s been accomplished thanks to the best football team in Los Blancos’ history. In Cardiff, they could afford to unveil a bench with Bale (£86m), Danilo (£27m), Kovačić (£26m) and Morata (£26m) on it; £64-million James Rodríguez didn’t even make it. If there’s a power in Europe capable of delivering more trophies in 2018 – it’s Zinedine Zidane’s team.
Cristiano, known for being a relentless perfectionist, has to be well aware of that. The last season was his eighth played alongside Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo; sixth alongside Raphaël Varane; fifth with Luka Modrić; fourth with Dani Carvajal, Casemiro, Isco and Bale. At the age of 32, even taking his outstanding athleticism in account, he will simply not have another professional partnership like this one, ever. Not to mention a chance to drink champagne from three Champions League cups in a row.
If he was to ditch those relationships and prospects, the most realistic direction for him would be a Manchester United return. Red Devils have just ended their one-year romance with Zlatan Ibrahimović and with Antoine Griezmann’s plans falling through, they’d be surely delighted to welcome even more accomplished forward with rich, previous Old Trafford experience as a bonus. At the same time, the Portuguese star himself would surely welcome new aims, such as reaching 100 Premier League goals – which is currently short on by 16.
Tactically, it shouldn’t be much of a burden for him. Eight years have passed but MU didn’t really evolve further than a 4-2-3-1 formation. The gameplan involving a pure goal poacher, interested only in finishing the chances work pretty well for them last season, when Ibra had that job. Also, Ronaldo and José Mourinho have fond history of leading Madrid to record-breaking 100 points and 121 goals in La Liga, five years ago. The Portuguese goal machine has bagged more than 1/3 of that goalscoring loot by himself; apart from the dubious quality of his potential new/old teammates, there’s no reason why he couldn’t be this threatening again.
Of course, it’s still United, who need him much more than he needs them. Last season, he scored 25 league goals from 162 shots, boasting 48% accuracy and 15.43% conversion rate. At the same time, Zlatan’s 17 goals from 116 shots with 55% accuracy and 14.65% conversion rate mean that ultimately, MU would be getting themselves an equally clinical player – only three years younger than his Swedish predecessor. Considering Ibra’s outstanding performances prior to his leg-breaking injury – it would’ve been a superb signing.
Which is why everyone in Madrid is currently persuading Cristiano to stay. Upon hearing the news, Zinedine Zidane has immediately dialled a number at Kazan, where his player was preparing for a Confederations Cup game against Mexico. In vain. According to ‘Marca’, Sergio Ramos’ attempt to have the same conversation with Ronaldo was also futile. On the other hand: Pepe, just recently released by Los Blancos has reportedly offered his national team’s colleague a PSG move, where he himself seems to be heading this summer.
Pepe and Ronaldo – the entire chapter in Madrid’s and Portugal’s history.
However – the French direction, just doesn’t seem plausible. CR7 would likely break every single Ligue 1 goal record possible, but his chances for continental silverware in a team that couldn’t even outrun Monaco and choked 4-0 aggregate lead over Barcelona would greatly diminish. Bayern, the other side with both reputation and transfer money big enough to attract Ballon d’Or’s holder, are also out of question: just hours ago, their executive officer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has officially rubbished the speculations.
That just leaves United. From sunny Spain to rainy Manchester; from a team on top of the world to the sixth-best English side; from Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale to Jesse Lingard and Ashley Young; from nearly guaranteed Champions League semifinal every year to almost certain, uphill struggles in UCL’s group stage. From heights back to the narrow, climbing path. Just like in Zlatan’s case, this would be a huge sporting statement from the veteran – only with slightly more time still left in his professional tank.
Realistically speaking, the chances of that happening have to be slim. Bookies are billing his MU transfer at 9/4, with Chinese and MLS sides (both 20/1), Chelsea (22/1) and Manchester City (33/1) trailing. As it’s yet another world record transfer fee we’re talking about, it would still be stunning news if Ronaldo ended up exercising his reportedly ‘irreversible’ decision to leave. Therefore, someone has to be playing mindgames here: either the player or his highly influential agent, Jorge Mendes. And it’s more than likely that Florentino Pérez will play the part of Neville Chamberlain in this 2017’s case of desperate appeasement…
Meanwhile – more and more clubs are noticing the drama: