The greatest player in the history of the club has left. Where are the words? Gratitude comes to mind—what an honor to have Cristiano form as part of our club. Madrid fans all across the world are left to sit with this unfamiliar feeling. Maybe the simple yet prophetic words of Robert Frost provide the most comfort, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” There will be life after Cristiano, it’s the end of an era, but that does not mean it’s the end of Madrid’s success. Make no mistake, the Portuguese’s legacy matches that of the mythical Alfredo Di Stefano and there will be no replacing him. Given Ronaldo’s legendary status, why didn’t the club do more to stop his transfer? Why wasn’t he paid the same salary as Messi and Neymar? Ronaldo, at 33 years of age, is still other-worldly in terms of statistical measures. But those same measurements, show that he has been on a slight decline as he’s aged. Within any great organization, especially well run football clubs like Real Madrid, contingency planning is drawn up for any potential situation. The club have been preparing for this exact situation for years. As ruthless as it may seem, selling a 33-year-old Ronaldo for a profit after nearly a decade of unparalleled success makes sense from a business or “money-ball” perspective. The club have built a war chest of young talent that is bursting to etch their name into the history books, without Ronaldo there is far more flexibility in reconstructing the squad and truly beginning a transition.
Cold as it may seem, the club may view this as perfect time to sell Ronaldo. Over a $100 million for a player turning 34 in February and thus freeing the organization of the highest wage earner on the books—from a purely rationale and business perspective, it’s difficult to turn that down. An offer has to be evaluated for the potential impact on both immediate and long-term goals. Despite the well documented disciplined and detailed approach to Ronaldo’s physicality, not even he can beat father-time. Madrid are gambling that Ronaldo’s decline will steepen further over the coming years, a risky gamble, but one that is calculated.
The other underlying element behind the ease of Ronaldo’s transfer is the relationship between, Florentino Perez and Ronaldo himself. Reports suggest Ronaldo was promised a pay-rise after guiding the club to an unprecedented three Champions League titles in three years. A pay-rise was offered and yet to Cristiano’s dismay and probable disgust, it did not match the levels of Neymar or Messi. Florentino has been open about his admiration of Neymar and no one in the club hierarchy has ever written off his signing publicly. Spanish papers like Marca and AS suggested Florentino was willing to sign Neymar to a higher salary than he had offered to Ronaldo. These actions were duly noted by the five time Balon D’or winner who felt he had not been given the respect he deserved. Meanwhile, Florentino was always ready to cash-in as long as there was a desire from Ronaldo to leave.
It wasn’t always meant to be like this: “I’m going to retire at Madrid when I’m over 40. I’m very happy here and I work hard to achieve that.” Ronaldo had reiterated those words on more than one occasion. The dream was to retire at Madrid, but it’s a dream so very few achieve. Di Stefano left in a similar manner—a broken relationship with then President Santiago Bernabeu meant his dream of retiring at the club of his life was shattered. Ronaldo knows it would be difficult to achieve more at Real Madrid and to continue pushing himself under the fans expectations, he even stated as much in his farewell letter: “They (the fans) have been absolutely wonderful for nine years. These nine years have been unique. It has been an exciting time for me, full of consideration but they have also been hard because Real Madrid have very high demands”. At Juventus, it’s likely that the domestic title will be theirs for an eighth consecutive season and he has a good chance of winning the CL with three different clubs, cementing his status as one of, if not the, greatest of all time.
The fairytale ending was not meant to be, but Ronaldo leaves on good terms with the fans and his immortal status will never be tarnished as he leaves on the high of winning three Champions League titles in a row. The club make a profit and begin a new transition in a post-Cristiano Era. Ronaldo journeys to a new league with new challenges. We part ways now, but Ronaldo will always be a Madridista. “I have thought a lot and I know that the moment has come for a new cycle. I am leaving but will always feel that this jersey, this badge, and the Santiago Bernabeu are mine, no matter where I am.”