And so he’s back. Perhaps as interesting as the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo returned to Manchester United is how it happened. As early as May, many of us were speculating about how it might make sense.
Juventus didn’t exactly offer it, but with projected losses of more than € 300million over two years, they had made it pretty clear that if he wanted to leave they would pay a fee equal to his amortized residual value (€ 28million … the game now belongs to the accountants like everyone else), they wouldn’t get in his way. His contract was still a year long, an extension would be very difficult and the club wanted to build up again through the youth.
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Meanwhile, Manchester United had the money to sign him – and pay his hefty wage – and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer liked the idea of a seasoned goalscorer who could add momentum to the attack and serve as a role model for younger players. So much so that the club had signed Edinson Cavani to a one-year contract that was about to expire.
If Ronaldo wanted to leave Juventus, Man United was a natural target and Cavani’s departure would help offset part of his salary (at least a third).
Unless it didn’t happen. On May 10, United exercised their option to give Cavani another year, effectively closing the door to an early move for Ronaldo … or so we thought. Because out of the blue we found that Ronaldo wanted a move.
There was evidence even though it only started less than two weeks ago. Edu Aguirre, a journalist who is very close to Ronaldo (so much so that his Instagram feed includes pictures of them on vacation together) said Real Madrid wanted to bring him back. This led to a rare public denial via Twitter from her manager Carlo Ancelotti and a lengthy post from Ronaldo himself talking about how focused he was and how he “can’t let people keep messing with it”. [his] Names. “(Speaking of names, he mentioned that of his team at the time, Juventus, a total of zero times.)
Then, earlier this week, Real Madrid made a 160m offer (at PSG, of course, he would have teamed up with Lionel Messi, the football equivalent of a Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal doubles team or Magic Johnson who joins Larry Bird .)
Ronaldo won three Premier League titles and one Champions League title for the first time at Manchester United, among others. What is he going to do this time? Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images
It got very real on Thursday morning. Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes traveled to Turin to tell Juventus that Ronaldo wanted to leave, adding that he was about to close a deal with Manchester City. Juventus accepted this and spun the line that the renovation might come a year earlier. They reminded Mendes that they would need a $ 28 million bid from City and he told them to expect a bid in the next 24 hours. Mendes then hopped into a Cessna and flew to Paris, where he spent the afternoon.
We don’t know if he met with PSG after landing to see if that was an option in case they decide to let Mbappe go. They politely said Ronaldo was not in their plans but then they had also said that Mbappe was not available and that they had no plans to negotiate with Real Madrid even though they were speaking to the Spanish club at the time.
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When facts change, plans change, and Mendes, who has been one of the top agents in the world for two decades, understands this better than most. He traveled to Paris to cover his bases and when he checked in with Manchester United on Thursday he covered another base. This happened even while he was still in contact with Manchester City waiting for them to make an official offer to Juventus.
By noon in Europe on Friday, the mood had turned. In his pre-Arsenal press conference, Man City manager Pep Guardiola said: “Cristiano will decide where he wants to play, not Manchester City or me … It seems far away at the moment.” It felt like a “take it or leave it” statement. Perhaps the catch was with the fee Juventus was asking: City was reportedly unwilling to bid more than € 15m. Maybe it was because of Ronaldo’s contract: at Juventus he earned 31 million in the Premier League.
Minutes later and a few miles away, Solskjaer opened the door in his own pre-game media duties: “I didn’t think Cristiano would leave Juventus. If he ever wants to move away from Juventus, he’ll know we’re here … Let’s see what happens to Cristiano. “
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer suggested that Cristiano Ronaldo would return in April 2019 talking to children.
When a manager says this openly – especially a prudent guy like Solskjaer – you know something is imminent. Within minutes, City notified the media that they were out of the Ronaldo sweepstakes, and a few hours later, United’s official account tweeted this.
It will be time to analyze and judge if it is the right move for Cristiano and United, but for now you are stunned by the mechanics of how it came about.
First and foremost is the timing itself. Why did Cristiano wait so long? It’s not like anything happened in the past week that suddenly made Ronaldo leave Juventus. The club’s financial situation did not suddenly deteriorate in mid-August. Ronaldo didn’t suddenly meet Max Allegri after two years and thought: “Nah, I don’t really want to play for this guy.” It wasn’t as if Juve had promised him to acquire a top-class supporting cast for him, and so he wanted to jump: He knew very well that there would be no significant newcomers apart from Manuel Locatelli.
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In fact, it feels that this has as much to do with opportunities elsewhere as it does with wanting to leave.
There were only four viable destinations in terms of those who could afford it: Real Madrid, PSG, Man City and Man United. Madrid want Mbappe and PSG want to keep Mbappe. Mendes knew that while Mbappe is very good, he can’t play for two teams at the same time and that whoever didn’t win Mbappe might have an interest in Ronaldo. Likewise, Man City, which Harry Kane had missed, was an option.
Man united? They were there all the time, and the mere fact that they hadn’t moved sooner for him, when it might have made more sense athletically, didn’t mean much. Ego is a part of football and maybe surpassing a City-related goal played a role. And that’s the other notable part of this story because Ronaldo isn’t the kind of player you’d expect to be bought around; You expect him to be courted and seduced by clubs, you expect wars for his attention. Instead, we let Mendes go door to door.
This is one of the greatest players in the history of the game. He is 36 years old, but last season (29) he scored more league goals than all but two players (Robert Lewandowski with 41 for Bayern Munich and Lionel Messi with 30 for Barcelona) in Europe’s Big Five leagues. And he won the Golden Shoe at the European Championship not six years ago, but six weeks ago. Everyone he’s ever worked with – even those who don’t like him – raves about his fitness and professionalism.
But here we are. In the end, he moves almost in hindsight for the last week of the transfer window, with his agent working around the clock.
It’s not a criticism of Ronaldo. It’s a sign that for many clubs, reality (the kind of COVID) is biting. The fact that agents who were once able to manipulate clubs and players as if they were little toy soldiers on a map can no longer do so as easily as they used to.
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My colleague Paolo Condo brought up the idea that the age of “player power” and superstars who always prevail might be over or at least put on hold. Messi wanted to stay at Barcelona (and allegedly they wanted to keep him): he didn’t get his way. Kane wanted to move from Tottenham to Man City: he didn’t get his way. Gianluigi Donnarumma wanted a massive salary increase from Milan or a move to Juventus: he failed to prevail and now supports Keylor Navas at PSG and earns little more than what Milan offered him.
And now Ronaldo. He got his move, yes, but only at the very end of the summer and after some Herculean efforts on the part of his agent.
Perhaps it is far-fetched to say that we have moved away from the era of the almighty individual mega-star. That said, Man City has tons of great players but no dominating superstar (unless you count Guardiola), and they won nearly four times that last season. You can make a similar argument for Chelsea, who are winning the Champions League with their alternating front men, or for Liverpool, where it’s hard to pinpoint an individual standout. Atletico Madrid of course won LaLiga without an A listener and if Antonio Conte were here he would tell you that Inter won Serie A through the strength of the collective (and, of course, brilliant coaching).
What about PSG? Yes, they had two megastars on the A-list with Neymar and Mbappe, and no, they didn’t win the league. Be that as it may, and no matter how much effort it took, Ronaldo can now write more chapters in Manchester United’s history after 12 years.