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Cristiano Ronaldo for €100m at 33? Indulgence or Juventus masterstroke?

The Guardian logo The Guardian 10/07/2018 Paolo Bandini
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Cristiano Ronaldo described it in matter-of-fact terms as “the moment to begin a new cycle”. In Italy the headline writers went a little bigger as they hailed Juventus’s capture of the Portugal forward as “the deal of the century”.

Even the club’s most optimistic supporters might not have dreamed such a thing possible at the start of this summer. A five-times Ballon d’Or winner coming to Turin? No Serie A player had even finished among the top three vote winners for that award since Kaká won it in 2007.

So much has changed in the intervening years. The prestige of Spanish football waxed just as Italian football waned. When the Milan owner, Silvio Berlusconi, shared his “dream” of signing Ronaldo at the start of this decade, the player responded with a politician’s turn of phrase, saying that Serie A was “not the league I like the most”.

A Juventus supporter holds, after buying, the first original Juventus' jersey printed with the name and number of Cristiano Ronaldo after his transfer to Juventus in Turin, Italy July 10, 2018. © REUTERS/Massimo Pinca A Juventus supporter holds, after buying, the first original Juventus' jersey printed with the name and number of Cristiano Ronaldo after his transfer to Juventus in Turin, Italy July 10, 2018. Juventus supporters hold, after buying, the original Juventus' jersey printed with the name and number of Cristiano Ronaldo after his transfer to Juventus in Turin, Italy July 10, 2018. © REUTERS/Massimo Pinca Juventus supporters hold, after buying, the original Juventus' jersey printed with the name and number of Cristiano Ronaldo after his transfer to Juventus in Turin, Italy July 10, 2018.

Juventus were only just returning to the forefront of the domestic game. Dumped into Serie B in 2006 for their part in the Calciopoli scandal, they took six years to become champions of Italy once more. They have not looked back since, claiming seven consecutive league titles and four straight domestic doubles, as well as reaching the final of the Champions League in two of the past four years.

Such sustained success is no accident. Juventus developed a business plan and followed through, from the construction of Serie A’s first modern, club-owned stadium in 2010 to their rebranding with a new, social media-friendly logo last year.

How Juventus might line up next season

© Buildlineup.com

Above all, though, they have made superlative moves in the transfer market. Year after year Juventus have found value where others missed it. Andrea Pirlo, Sami Khedira and Dani Alves joined on free transfers. Carlos Tevez cost an initial €9m. Paul Pogba was signed and then flipped back to Manchester United four years later for a roughly €70m profit (once Mino Raiola’s agent’s fees had been deducted).

How does Ronaldo fit into this picture? The total cost of his transfer from Madrid – with taxes and player wages included – is being reported at €340m [£301m]. A €30m annual salary would be more than double what Juventus have been paying their previous highest earner, Gonzalo Higuaín, who might well be sold to help balance the books in a summer when several other additions have already been made.

On the surface that might seem like an impossible indulgence for a club that is expected to report a small loss on its accounts for the past season. The reality might be the exact opposite.

For all their impressive growth in recent years, the concern for Juventus has always been that they would be limited by the simple fact of competing in a league whose international brand continues to lag behind those of La Liga and the Premier League.

Despite reaching the Champions League final in 2017 the club are still ranked only 10th in Deloitte’s Money League, with revenues less than two-thirds the size of Manchester United, Real Madrid or Barcelona.

The signing of Ronaldo is designed to change that. You might even say that Juventus are taking a page out of Madrid’s own play book. There were plenty who scoffed at the Spanish club’s €37m outlay on David Beckham in the summer of 2003. Florentino Pérez knew he was getting a steal for a player who would bring far more than that into his club’s coffers.

Ronaldo had already transformed Juventus’s finances before he even agreed terms. As rumours of his impending arrival increased in recent days, the club’s share price soared. The newspaper Secolo XIX noted on Thursday that the club’s market valuation had risen from €665m to €815m – enough (notionally) to cover the player’s transfer fee. After a dip, those numbers have continued to rise.

Related: The transfer dominoes that Ronaldo's move could cause (Read Sport)

And while Ronaldo is older now than Beckham was then, he is also a more impactful player. Ronaldo might be slowing down but he still scored 44 goals last season, including two goals and an assist against Juventus in their own stadium in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

Do we even need to ask how he will fit into this Juventus side? Massimiliano Allegri is an arch-pragmatist who has adapted his team countless times already during his four years in charge, maintaining his team’s domestic dominance through the departures of Tevez, Pogba, Leonardo Bonucci and many more besides.

He is fond of telling reporters that managers can change a game by no more than 5%. The impact of a player like Ronaldo is an awful lot greater than that.

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