Portugal, England, Spain and now Italy. Cristiano Ronaldo has a new playground – the Allianz Stadium in Turin. Otherwise tranquil and sleepy, the city seemed to go into a frenzy when Ronaldo landed on the day of the World Cup final to complete formalities for a move to Juventus. A five time Ballon d’Or winner is now going to strut his stuff in a league which hasn’t even seen a player finish in the top three for the trophy since Kaka won it in 2007 playing for AC Milan. Imagine being a Juventus fan.
It’s not like Ronaldo isn’t used to attention and appreciation, especially from Juventus fans. The sheer audacity behind the bicycle goal against his current employers for Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League quarter-final first leg in Turin, was met with a response that is atypical of fans when their team has been scored against. As he wheeled away in celebration towards the corner flag after showing irreverence to the limitations of a 33-year-old human body, the crowd knew they had witnessed something special. Instead of boos, there were appreciative claps. He noticed.
The importance of that moment in Ronaldo putting pen to paper on a four year deal with the ‘Old Lady of Turin’ cannot be underestimated. Juventus sporting director Fabio Paratici has said that it was significant, because the “crazy” idea to sign him only started “after the crazy goal he scored against us.” The Portuguese superstar’s entourage too was surprised by the reaction to the goal. Paratici explained, “Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes told us (after the match) that Cristiano was stunned by the attention he received, he said that one day he would like to come to Juventus.” Romance in football is not dead.
At an age when footballers generally start thinking about what they want to do with their lives once their playing career is over, Ronaldo is moving from a giant club to a club of similar stature, seemingly at the peak of his powers. “I came here because this is a huge challenge for my career – players of my age generally go to other countries, with all respect to Qatar and China, so to join a club like this makes me happy. I’d like to thank Juventus for the opportunity they’ve given me.”
Sure, there had been problems between him and the board at Real Madrid in the recent past. Everyone, including Ronaldo was poised to end his playing career in Spain. But Spain’s loss is Italy’s gain. One of Turin’s most famous buildings, the Mole Antonelliana was almost lit up with a ‘CR7’ logo, just as there initially were grand plans to unveil Ronaldo to Juventus supporters in a ceremony at the Allianz before they were cancelled. Ronaldo’s signing meant that even the usually reserved Italians were at their wits’ end about how to appropriately announce the arrival of a footballing colossus like him. The most innovative of the lot was the confectioner at the local ‘gelataria’ in Turin conjuring up his own CR7 ice cream, with a tang of local, authentic Portuguese liqueur.
After scoring a mind-boggling 450 goals and providing 119 assists across a Real Madrid career that spanned 438 games, it’s time for Ronaldo to move on to a new challenge. “It was a well pondered decision,” he said at the press conference of his unveiling. “So it was easy to decide due to the strength of the club, they are the best club in Italy with an outstanding coach.”
With 520,000 jerseys with Ronaldo’s name emblazoned on the back sold on the first day of his signing alone, one can gauge the excitement this transfer his created. To put things in perspective, Juventus’ total jersey sales in 2016 were just 300,000 more.
The relatively slower pace of Italian football is apt for a player who now seeks to reinvent himself more as a centre forward than the bombarding winger of yore. In Italy, Ronaldo will lose neither relevance, nor following. His legend only continues to grow.