We all thought that last year’s summer transfer window was crazy. Paul Pogba’s world record transfer fee of £89 million was bettered not once, not twice, but thrice as Neymar Jr and Kylian Mbappe joined PSG for £200 million and £162 million, respectively, and Ousmanne Dembele moved to Barcelona for over £109 million. But boy, the biggest transfer of this decade only unfolded this summer.
Most world-class footballers are well-known. Thousands of fans flock to stadiums wearing jerseys that support their names on the back of their shirts. But there is one footballer that arguably transcends all levels of fame. It was once famously claimed by Coca Cola that everyone on the planet has tasted Coke at least once in their life. A modern version of that claim might be that everyone on the planet knows who Cristiano Ronaldo is. His jerseys, football boots, posters and even his personalised underwear collection have proved to be bestsellers. He is the most followed sports celebrity on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. His iconic celebration, known commonly as ‘si’, is reenacted by a billion people all across the globe. Every kid in the playground aspires to be him; every pressure free kick or penalty is taken in his stance; every minute in the gym is spent to look like him ...
Of course, such fame isn’t achieved overnight. Ronaldo has been terrorising defences at both club and international levels for over 14 years now. He climbed through the ranks at Sporting Clube in his native Portugal before earning a move to Manchester United. He won his first Balon d’Or and Champions League in his six-year stint at Old Trafford before smashing the world record fee and joining Real Madrid in 2009. Four Balon d’Or titles and Champions League trophies followed, as Ronaldo cemented his stature as one of Real Madrid’s greats and their top scorer of all time, netting an unprecedented 450 goals in 438 games. He led his country to glory in the 2016 European Championships and has since become the leading international scorer in Europe with 85 goals. This living legend who has become synonymous with the all-white of Madrid will be plying his trade in a different white this season.
Arguably the biggest surprise of the summer transfers in football is the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo is now the new face of Juventus … with a deal worth a whopping 105 million pounds
After winning a historic third-in-a-row Champions League title in May, Ronaldo hinted that he may leave Madrid in the summer. After dropping this massive bombshell, he joined the Portugal camp to get ready for the World Cup. Once the World Cup started (and he scored a hat trick against Spain, of course, including that free kick), everyone forgot about the situation. Some people even dismissed his statement as an attempt to steal the spotlight after an ineffective performance in the Champions League final. Portugal eventually lost to Uruguay in the Round of 16, and then the rumours started to circulate. There was the obvious one, the one that goes around every year, “Ronaldo to return to Old Trafford.” But there was another rumour, one that gained strength with every passing day. And then, a few hours before the semi-finals of the World Cup, the most famous person in the world stole the headlines. The world almost stopped as it unraveled, “Ronaldo. To. Juventus.”
The deal valued at £105 million makes Ronaldo the only player to feature twice in the top 10 most expensive transfers of all time. More importantly, it makes Juventus even stronger. The losing finalists of the Champions League in 2015 and 2017, and a record eight Serie A titles in a row, they were already a very decent side. The presence of the likes of World Cup winner Blaise Matuidi, World Cup finalist Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higauin, Juan Cuadrado, Douglas Costa, Miralem Pjanic, Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio and Emre Can on the team roster just underlines the incredible strength in their attack and midfield options. Throw Ronaldo into the mix and we can probably guess which team will score the most goals in Serie A next season. Lazio striker Ciro Immobile, who won the Golden Boot in the Italian top division last season, recently said he was glad he took his chance last year because no one stands a chance against you-know-who.
This fear of the name, which has only increased over the past decade, is quite extraordinary. After all, he is 33. In footballing terms that is grandpa age. To put into context how incredible banging in 50 goals per season consistently in a world-class league at this age is, his Manchester United strike force partner Wayne Rooney is playing in the United States. Ronaldo’s pace hasn’t deteriorated a bit, even if that means he makes less sprints now than he did in his prime. But to be clocking 39 km/h in the World Cup is no easy feat. He is still the most fearsome header of the ball, jumping higher than NBA superstars in the process. His physique, all the hours of tireless training and years of carefully picked diet, has prompted experts to say he still has the body of a 23-year-old. The way he has evolved his game to make sure he’s still successful, just showcases his desire to be the best. And that desire is on show again as he sets off to find a new challenge in a new league at the stage of his career when most players just tend to settle down and slowly bring the curtains down.
Juventus fans have already seen what Cristiano is capable of in recent times. He scored two goals in the 2017 Champions League final as Real beat them 4-1 to become the first team to retain their title since the competition was rebranded in 1992. Then, in the quarter-finals of last season’s competition, Ronaldo scored an outrageous overhead kick in the Allianz Stadium that made home fans applaud the greatness of the man. In the second leg, with the scores level at 3-3, it was him again who stepped up to convert a 97th-minute penalty and send Real through to the semi-finals.
And then, a few hours before the semi-finals of the World Cup, the most famous person in the world stole the headlines. The world almost stopped as it unraveled, “Ronaldo. To. Juventus.”
The arrival of Ronaldo in Turin has already been influential, to say the least. More than a million people had followed the Twitter account of Juventus within a day of the announcement of Ronaldo’s procurement. A record number of shirts were sold bearing Ronaldo’s name and the iconic number 7 in the 24 hours after the deal had been confirmed, reaping in a massive £48 million. Ronaldo’s “Forza Juve” Instagram post is the most liked ever by a sports celebrity. To say that Ronaldo is the new face of Juve is a massive understatement. He’s actually highlighting it on the footballing map.
As for Real Madrid, it will be a tough task to replace him. Manchester United have tried many times to find his replacement to instill some belief in the team and failed. Sergio Ramos has admitted that while the team has overcome the departures of various star players in recent times and continued to win trophies, the loss of Ronaldo has created a void too big to be filled. The good news for Real, however, is that Gareth Bale looks set to stay at the Bernabeu. And with Isco and Marco Asensio waiting to burst out of the shadows for a couple of seasons now, it might not all be dark for Madrid.
Liverpool spend big
Elsewhere, Liverpool have made a name for themselves as a side who are not afraid to splash the cash under Jurgen Klopp. Having reached the final of the Champions League last season thanks to a prolific front three, consisting of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane; Liverpool have pumped money into their midfield to announce themselves as serious challengers to Manchester City’s league title as their long quest for silverware enters a new season. Naby Keita joined from RB Leipzig in a deal worth £54 million while AS Monaco star Fabinho has been brought in for £45 million. Xherdan Shaqiri proved to be a bargain, costing just £13.5 million. They also addressed their goalkeeper situation, buying Allisson in a world record £67 million deal, the most expensive for a goalkeeper ever. Liverpool also hold the record for signing the most expensive defender of all time; Virgil van Dijk was brought in during the winter transfer window for £75 million.
League winners Manchester City acquired the services of former PFA Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez for a deal worth £60 million. Cross-city rivals Manchester United signed Brazilian midfielder Fred for £52 million. Chelsea’s new coach Maurizio Sarri has brought one of his star players with him, Jorginho joining the London club for £50 million. Arsenal have made a number of new signings under new coach Unai Emery including Stephan Lichtsteiner, Bernd Leno, Lucas Torreira and Sokratis.
The Premier League might be shaping up for a more competitive season after Manchester City’s brilliance blew everyone away last time around, but the biggest changes will most definitely be felt in Spain and Italy. El Classico will not have the same significance for a while, both teams losing a star player each in the form of Ronaldo and Andres Iniesta, who left for Japan. On the other hand, Italy can finally claim that the world’s best striker since Kaka, plays in their league.
The writer tweets @tahagoheer
Published in Dawn, EOS, August 12th, 2018