The Ronaldo Effect: Juventus, Real Madrid, and…the United States?

A few days have passed since Cristiano Ronaldo’s 100 million euro move from Real Madrid to Juventus; experts and amateurs alike have weighed in on the possible effects.

The big-money transfer of Ronaldo to the Italian giants is many things. Before I go over what those are, I’d like to mention a historical irony that I’ve been thinking of. It’s not the first seismic exchange between these two titans of European soccer–that distinction belongs to the transfer of Zinedine Zidane 17 years ago.

Zidane arrived in Italy from Bordeux on the heels of Juventus winning 1996 Champions League Final. One of the goals of his acquisition was that he’d help them repeat that feat of European glory, but he never did. He got back to the pinnacle twice more, but never won–notably falling to Real Madrid 1-0 in 1998. For his time in Turin, he won two Serie A titles and the Ballon d’Or. By 2001, he had sealed a move to Real Madrid for a then-world record fee of 77.5 million euros. And in his debut season with Madrid, he won the Champions League while scoring arguably the greatest goal in the competition’s history.

For Juventus fans, that transfer has left a bitter taste in their mouths for almost two decades. Real had swooped in and stolen their golden goose; a centennial talent who was meant to lead the way as they dominated Europe, only for him to cross over to continental rivals and stand atop the hill wearing a different crest. The memory of Zidane is now bittersweet, as they have brought Ronaldo in to bring them back to the summit.

The club would never admit it, but the parallels are too good to ignore. In the hearts of proud Juve fans, this could be interpreted as retaliation for the Zidane purchase. The Bianconeri have stolen Los Blancos’ golden goose. Only time will tell whether Ronaldo can emulate Zidane’s feat of winning in his debut season, avenge the 1998 final loss, and bring home the continental trophy that these fans have been coveting since 1996.

That bit of perspective is hardly on the tips of peoples tongues. Instead, the move has been parsed into pros and cons for all parties involved.


They receive an economic boon in the acquisition of the most marketable athlete alive. Seriously, this guy’s exposure is through the roof. There’s little point in even comparing his social media presence to other athletes, instead you have to look beyond sports: on Facebook he’s the most “liked” person (122 million), on Instagram he’s the 2nd most followed (135 million), and on Twitter he’s the 8th most followed (73 million). (But if we are comparing athletes, Lebron James comes in 2nd with slightly more than 100 million followers–total.)

In the days leading up to Ronaldo’s transfer, speculation of his arrival alone moved mountains. Juventus’ share price went up 33 percent, which is the equivalent of 231 million euros. They’re expecting a following increase equivalent or exceeding the 22 percent bump that PSG received when bringing Neymar onboard from Barcelona. In short, Ronaldo brings eyes, stock profitability, shirt sales, marketing, you name it. With his contract and the transfer fee combined, Juventus are expected to shell out 340 million euros over four years on one athlete. The question is now how quickly the books balance themselves with the CR7 brand in tow.

From off-field to on-field productivity, Juventus have acquired one of the game’s greatest players to ever grace the pitch. Ronaldo is known as a poacher guaranteed to bag a team around 50 goals per season across all competitions–a number that can only be rivaled consistently by one Lionel Messi. As mentioned before, he happens to be Mr. Champions League, having topped the individual scoring charts for the competition in each of the last six iterations, having won it three straight times, and four of the last five.

Juventus are the powerhouse of Italy; a team that has won Serie A seven years running. However, they are not the powerhouse of Europe–that title belongs to Real Madrid. It is their objective to dethrone Madrid using the pedigree of former player Ronaldo; yet, from these ambitions stems the only negative of bringing the Portuguese talisman in. If he doesn’t live up to his billing on the field, and at 33-years old there are genuine concerns of a drop-off in form, then this would all be for nought. But having watched Ronaldo throughout his career, I have learned not to bet against him rising to the occasion.


Real Madrid

The Champions League holders have lost arguably their greatest player of all time. Certainly, they have lost their most prolific goal scorer. The negatives here are exactly that: who can replace Ronaldo’s goals and impact? Answer: no one player. It will take Madrid a concerted effort in the transfer market, and a landing of multiple big name attacking players. Alternatively, they could decide to splash with one big signing and promote more playing time within the ranks, with the likes of Marco Asensio and Gareth Bale waiting in the wings for their shot at the limelight.

Either way, Ronaldo leaves a giant void in this squad, and I believe it will be dearly felt at the beginning of the season as this team struggles to adapt. When they lost Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez in the previous window, the team sorely felt the absence that their 20+ goals brought between them. Now imagine that adjustment multiplied as Ronaldo waves goodbye.

The positive that Real Madrid takes away from this is that they remarkably made a profit on a 33-year old player vs. when he was brought in 9 years earlier for 94 million euros. They shed the third most cumbersome contract in world soccer, behind Messi and Neymar. Additionally, Madrid and new boss Julen Lopetegui don’t have to worry about the soap-opera amount of drama that Ronaldo seems to kick up every year.

Considering the much more balanced number of pros and cons for Real Madrid, I would have to opt for the Spanish club being on the losing side of this transfer (if there is indeed one). While they save money, yes, they are also losing Ronaldo the brand, Ronaldo the goalscorer, Ronaldo the leader, Ronaldo the winner, and Ronaldo the identity. What most people fail to grasp is just how attached this historic club was to one player’s name, and now it will be fascinating to watch as they move into the next era–for the time-being, rather naked.


Cristiano Ronaldo

If there was such a thing as a “safe bet” in this scenario, he would be it. The Madrid legend is moving on after what seemed an annual dance of transfer market posturing, involving a myriad number of rumored clubs, to what always seemed the same end: a new contract and more money. While this move surprised many, including Madrid (who thought Cristiano was going to retire in the white kit), the motive didn’t for those who have been watching his career closely. The Portuguese star was brought to the Spanish club by former Real president Ramon Calderon; it just so happened that by the time his CR7 cleats touched the Bernabeu grass, a new man was at the helm–Florentino Perez. While a change in personnel at the top would seem innocuous, it was in fact a much more convoluted clash of egos. Ronaldo wanted to feel wanted, which he never entirely realized because the man who pursued him was ousted before he even got there. Perez wanted to be the man, which he never fully realized because he had to share power with the global image of Ronaldo. This dichotomy continued to rear its petulant head year after year, until the egos of both were satiated with a parting of ways.

Now that Ronaldo is in Turin, his task is simple, although it shouldn’t be. He will be expected to win Serie A and the Champions League, hit close to the 50-goal tally across all competitions, all while adjusting to a new team and new surroundings (something he hasn’t had to do in 9 years). For any other player–and I mean any other player–this task is daunting, if not impossible. But Ronaldo is a physical specimen, much like Lebron James, and he has (in my opinion) the most prevalent and enduring winning mentality in the history of the game. Never has soccer seen ambition so unassailable.

Ronaldo wants to be the greatest ever, and he measures his approach by stats: namely goals and accolades. He has already adjusted his role and performances to age with his body, so that he can continue to make an impact as a number 9. Now with Juventus he joins what many call a “slower league”–one with a reputation of tactical astuteness and pensiveness of play. As a generalization, this isn’t going to hold true 100% of the time–but assuming the pace of the game slows down a millisecond for a cerebral player like Ronaldo, then he’ll make the league pay. What I mean by that is (obvious), he is going to score goals; he may or may not even exceed last year’s tally, but Ronaldo will find the back of the net. He is betting on himself, but it’s an informed bet, with all attributes and statistics pointing towards an inevitably favorable stay in Italy. Even if he doesn’t win the Champions League, it’s less of a drawback for him than for Juventus–because in all likelihood he will come away with some silverware. As long as Ronaldo has something to show for his new endeavor, he can make the claim that he “conquered Italy” much like he conquered Spain and England before. And with that claim will be an addition to his CV has the greatest of all time.


United States

Here’s my curveball prediction: America wins big.

The long game is that Ronaldo eventually joins MLS in some capacity, preferably after his tenure at Juventus comes to a close in four years. The argument for this is he’s naturally working his way down the “levels” of soccer as he ages, assuming that Spain is a higher degree of difficulty than Italy, and Italy more difficult than the United States.

If Cristiano sees his contract out at Juventus, he’ll be 37. For a field player that’s old, even for MLS “star name” standards, but this is Ronaldo we’re talking about. His biological age might be a lot younger considering the shape he keeps himself in. Even then, it’s a similar thinking to Juventus’ now: you’re buying the brand as well as the player. Getting one half of arguably the greatest rivalry in soccer history on these shores would do wonders to the platform of the game. Think in terms of the star names that the NASL attracted back in the 70’s–Pele, Johan Cruyff, Gerd Muller, George Best, etc. Now consider how rapidly the game has grown since then, and how more expansive the visibility of star athletes like Ronaldo has become. It would be the second coming of David Beckham, as far as overall impact for the league is concerned, and then some.

The short game can be determined in how MLS will market Ronaldo’s latest move. The  transfer is quite fortuitous in that the league can now bill these normally insignificant games as the “debut of Cristiano Ronaldo.” The likelihood that Ronaldo actually plays in any of these games is slim, given his World Cup participation, but that certainly shouldn’t deter American soccer from squeezing as much profit from this transfer as they can. It will most certainly raise the attendance and rating of their All Star Game, since MLS’ opponent just happens to be Juventus. And the marketing cherry on top occurs on August 4 when Juventus play Real Madrid in the International Champions Cup: if MLS can’t still drag out Ronaldo’s debut, they can certainly promote the heck out of Ronaldo’s first ever return vs. his old club.

In looking at every variable affected by the Ronaldo transfer–and there are numerous (I’ve only touched on the largest)–only one seems to have no foreseeable downside. The big winner is American soccer.

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