Last Saturday, Cristiano Ronaldo officially played a match wearing the jersey colours of a club other than Real Madrid for the first time since August 29, 2009. There is no going back. There was no going back when the announcement was made and the transfer was complete. But seeing the face of the 13 time Champions League winners fighting the cause of another outfit in Europe confirmed the separation. A separation that just was. To be true, it was earth-shatteringly shocking.
The transfer shook every corner of the Madridismo universe and had reverberations that reached far outside the walls of the Bernabeu. But when all is said and done, Ronaldo walked away from the castle he helped rebuild without too much commotion. It was a professional exit as was so much about the Portuguese’s stay in the Spanish capital. The gravity of his presence and the undeniable motives of his home for nine years meant there was never any doubt about what we were about. We were about winning.
[We] lifted three successive Champions League crowns and won the competition four times in the space of five years. Alongside these successes, on an individual level, I’ve had the satisfaction of having won the Ballon d’Or four times and the Golden Shoe on three occasions. Everything during my time at this club has been amazing and extraordinary. - Cristiano Ronaldo
Real Madrid’s 4-2 loss to Atletico Madrid in the European Supercup was the club’s first foray into the new post-Ronaldo world. The first day of the rest of our lives if it is put in more sentimental terms. And almost fatefully, Los Blancos couldn’t record a win to mask the gaping hole that Ronaldo left behind. The result wouldn’t have changed anything at the end of the day. Whether they had strolled to a confident victory, just edged out a close win, or lost following a catastrophic extra time display — Ronaldo still wouldn’t be by their side.
This is not something that we just remark upon for a second and continue with our affairs. And there is no prescribed timeline for fully accepting the colossal shift in the club that was precipitated by the departure of an icon. Every player deserves this level of consideration and reflection but this goes beyond a player. Real Madrid bid farewell to the man that registered the most goals since the club was founded. In 116 years — one century and change — no player has placed the ball in the back of the net more times than Cristiano Ronaldo. That’s 450 memories for each Madridista that had the pleasure of taking in the incredible era he spearheaded. At least 128 more memories, 128 more bursts of joy, 128 more moments of solace, than any other player has given Madridistas.
I believe that the time has come to embark on a new chapter in my life and that’s why I asked the club to allow me to move on. This is how I feel and I would ask everyone, in particular our fans, for their understanding. - Cristiano Ronaldo
There is rationalizing. There is revisionism. There is theoretical shielding. But there is no understanding. Many say Father Time is undefeated and all will wither away before him. But Ronaldo still had the upperhand. Ronaldo’s back was not against the ropes. The Portuguese was still shining and at the peak of his evolved powers. The reigning best player in the world by many measures, most prominently the Ballon d’Or trophy, and the favourite as it stands to claim the 2018 prize on the back of another stunning season (further accentuating his uncontested domination of perhaps the most important competition in European, if not world, club football). The best performer, in the eyes of most, for both his club and country.
This isn’t about assigning fault or responsibility to any one party. A decision of this magnitude doesn’t just happen out of the blue. There were likely many conversations, many analyses, many negotiations, many thoughts, and many actions behind the scenes very few are privy too. It is futile to delve into a discussion about something we’re plainly not qualified to have. But what must occur is an acknowledgement of one of the greatest chapters in our team’s story. A chapter punctuated by perhaps its most significant protagonist. A magnetic protagonist who left gigantic footprints in Madrid and should still be doing so. There needs to be an appreciation for the seismic effect of Ronaldo’s sejour on Spanish shores.
I’ve had nine absolutely marvellous years here. They’ve been nine unique years. It has been an exciting time, full of success, although they’ve also been tough years because the demands at Real Madrid are extremely high, but I know very well that I’ll never be able to forget how I’ve enjoyed my football here in such a unique way. - Cristiano Ronaldo
However, this recollection shouldn’t and certainly can’t be only about mourning. The loss strikes the heart but that will heal eventually. Remembering Ronaldo is not about the summer and the devastating news that it brought. Remembering Ronaldo should be an eternal celebration of inhuman feats. It should be the cheerful memorialization of the impossible made possible. The intensity of the fight he led, the compounded adversities he overcame, and the delivery of Los Merengues to the promise land.
And every loss we suffer will be a reminder of the wonderful times with Ronaldo. Every win will be a reminder of the wonderful times with Ronaldo. Every draw will be a reminder of the wonderful times with Ronaldo. Everything we do for the foreseeable future (and ultimately forever) will be viewed in the context of pre-Ronaldo, Ronaldo, and post-Ronaldo for better or for worse. That does not however diminish nor enlarge what he did for Real Madrid. The light will dim or grow on his legacy depending on the state of the club but his legacy will always be. It does not need to be validated or verified or legitimized. It stands on its own distinguished podium in the Madrileño football pantheon.
Despite me now leaving the club and regardless of where I am, I’ll forever continue to feel an allegiance towards this shirt, this badge and the Santiago Bernabéu. - Cristiano Ronaldo
So Ramos, Casemiro, Marcelo, Carvajal and every player can release statements indicating that the world keeps spinning. They can tell the fans that the club is bigger than the player and will march on. That’s their right and their duty as professionals. But the reality is that our world is not spinning at the same pace and rhythm. The truth is that the club is every bit the player that dons its emblem. And so Real Madrid with Ronaldo is not Real Madrid without Ronaldo. It’s a new chapter with its own narrative and its own plot. We’re not ready to close the page on the last chapter just yet however. And by the sound of it, neither is Ronaldo. May the future reconnect us.