When Cristiano Ronaldo landed in Turin three years ago, the anticipation on his shoulders was immense for a city and nation intoxicated by its potential for greatness.
Just 12 months earlier, he had tormented Juventus in Cardiff in the 2017 Champions League final, scoring twice in a 4-1 win. The Old Lady looked grayer and more tired by the year as their bid for a first Champions League since 1996 went through.
Ronaldo, meanwhile perfectly tanned and ripped like a bodybuilder, looked as devastating as ever. Mr Champions League. That was his profile for many. The foolproof bet. The golden ticket.
Cristiano Ronaldo never got past the quarter-finals of the Champions League with Juventus
He scored 101 goals in 134 games and won five titles, but always fell short of playing in Europe
Cardiff was his third for Real Madrid. Kiev would be his fourth a year later.
And so when he made the €100 million to Turin, it was splashed in newspapers and TV ads as ‘Il colpo del secolo‘ (The deal of the century).
Seven consecutive Serie A successes prior to his arrival spoke of a well-oiled machine. Here was the missing piece. Mr Champions League. This would do it.
Only he didn’t. They didn’t. Ronaldo has agreed to leave Juventus 12 months earlier than his contract should have expired and they are now much further away from winning the Champions League than when he arrived.
It would be foolish to blame Ronaldo alone, but it is inescapable that the only goal – from a sporting point of view – to bring him in was European supremacy.
What they managed to do instead were painful exits to Ajax, Lyon and Porto, not exactly the Real Madrid and Barcelona sides of yesteryear that held them back.
It is pathetic not to progress beyond the quarter-finals in Europe since his arrival. Actually. Fans were angry and rightly so.
His crowning moment for the Bianconeri came with a one-man show against Atletico Madrid in Turin in 2018, a hat-trick that prevented an exit in the last 16, and in a way that best reflects why this was an all-or-nothing operation.
His arrival from Real Madrid in 2018 brought global attention back to Italian football
It was Europe where he was measured and he was beaten for turning the wall against Porto
Ronaldo would never be able to do it alone because of his global talent and yet there were times when it felt like the plan was to just ask him to let them win the game.
He got 62 million euros gross salary per year, given his career achievements – this is a man with more than 730 career goals to his name – but it was also limiting.
Mismanagement by those off the pitch left Ronaldo with a midfield unable to compete for top honours. The days of Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba as center gems in Turin were long gone. Now he had an injured Aaron Ramsey and a dismissive Miralem Pjanic to his aid.
Three managers in three seasons also shattered any hopes of continuity and building the biggest trophies while Massimiliano Allegri, Maurizio Sarri and Andrea Pirlo were all fiddling around to maximize Ronaldo’s strengths.
Allegri reportedly suggested selling Ronaldo before he left in 2019, Sarri’s rigid system of using Ronaldo as a fake number 9 brought limited success and Pirlo had some issues that went well beyond the Portuguese.
So yes, not winning the Champions League is a failure. The same will be said of Lionel Messi at Paris Saint-Germain, to an even greater extent given their super team. It’s Europe or bankrupt and in the end Juventus went bankrupt.
His last trophy for Juventus came in May 2021 under Andrea Pirlo in winning the Coppa Italia
Depending on how you value parts of a deal, you determine whether it failed or succeeded
But be wary of the lexis used around Ronaldo and Juventus. A European failure – yes. A flop – don’t be so ridiculous.
Any player who scores 101 goals in three seasons is not a flop. Those numbers are strange, erratic, incomprehensible, and to do that between the ages of 34 and 36 is unheard of.
All that in just 134 performances. He still has it.
There is an argument to argue that Ronaldo’s signing in 2018 breathed new life into Serie A in a deal that some compared to his Brazilian namesake who joined Inter Milan in 1997.
His presence alone sparked interest in the league, increased TV revenue, enabled Juventus to renegotiate many of their sponsorship deals and also did wonders for their social prominence.
When he arrived, Juventus had approximately 49 million followers on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.
The Ronaldo effect has more than doubled that to around €113 million and although he will leave without a sixth Champions League trophy, he will leave the club because he has made the club much more attractive to investors.
Commercially, Ronaldo brought tremendous value to Juventus and provided a huge boost to fame
Chairman Andrea Agnelli said in April he would redo the deal tomorrow if he could
And so off the field it has become a huge success. The saying that everything Ronaldo touches turns to gold and after millions of shirt sales, over a hundred goals and exposure that has benefited the entire league, there is a strong argument that Serie A is much better for Project Ronaldo.
“The life and career of every top player has its ups and downs,” he wrote on Instagram in May.
“Year after year we have fantastic teams, with extraordinary players and ambitious goals, so we always have to do our best to keep ourselves at the top level.
“We couldn’t win Serie A this year, congratulations to Inter for the well-deserved title. However, I have to appreciate everything we have achieved at Juventus this season, both collectively and individually. The Italian Super Cup, the Italian Cup and the Serie A Top Scorer trophy fill me with happiness, especially because of the difficulty they carry, in a country where nothing is easy to win.
“With these achievements, I achieved a goal that I had set for myself since the first day I arrived in Italy: to win the Championship, the Cup and the Super Cup, as well as become Best Player and Top Scorer in this great football country full of great players, gigantic clubs and a very unique football culture.’
That in itself simply cannot be true. There is not a Juventus fan in the world who believes that Ronaldo came to Turin to win the Italian Super Cup. It’s nonsensical. Juventus was in his eyes the best ticket to a sixth Champions League when he left Real Madrid.
There is a feeling that Ronaldo was the right player at the wrong time for a Juventus in decline
It was, in hindsight, a major miscalculation on his part.
Ronaldo’s impact will be felt at Juventus for many years to come, but perhaps now, with the circus returning to Manchester, they can finally move on.
It was as exciting as it was painful. Young players like Federico Chiesa and Paulo Dybala will no doubt look back fondly on learning from someone like Ronaldo to understand his incredible will to win, and United will hope something similar happens to Mason Greenwood and Jadon Sancho.
Likewise, Andrea Agnelli will be grateful. The pandemic was damaging and Ronaldo’s wages were a blow, but the five-time Ballon d’Or winner was only part of a process to make Juventus the destination again and his signing did just that.
Over 100 goals and five trophies to show for it, as it’s nothing to cover up and when asked if he would pull the trigger again with everything considered, Agnelli had no hesitation.
“If I could go back I would do it again in the morning,” the Juventus president told the newspaper La Republica in April.
Given what he knows now, it would be interesting to know if Ronaldo would do the same.