The best player in the world now belongs to “the strongest team in the world” after Juventus lured Cristiano Ronaldo to Turin – but should we believe the hype?
There were hints that Ballon d’Or holder Ronaldo, the 33-year-old goalscoring machine from Madeira, was finally ready to leave Real Madrid following nine prolific campaigns at the Bernabeu.
But when it emerged in early July that Juve were the front-runners for his signature, one question was repeated across Europe: what can he achieve in Italy that he has not already mastered in Spain?
Ronaldo left Madrid as a five-time Champions League winner – including one from his Manchester United years. With Real he won both LaLiga and the Copa del Rey twice and toasted European Championship glory with Portugal as his predatory powers peaked in 2016.
Was it his record in front of goal that convinced Juve to spend 100 million euros – an Italian record – on a player who will be 37 when his four-year contract at Allianz Stadium reaches its end?
Most likely yes, as conquering Europe for the first time since 1996 remains the main target for Juve, and Ronaldo – arriving in Turin on the back of three straight Champions League triumphs – looks like the missing piece for the Bianconeri, who have lost in the final twice in four years.
He is the all-time top-scorer in Europe’s premier club competition with an eye-watering tally of 120 goals and, with seven Champions League hat-tricks, he is matched only by his great rival Lionel Messi. In 2015-16, he became the first player to register three hat-tricks in a single European season.
Under former boss Zinedine Zidane, Real often seemed unstoppable on Tuesday and Wednesday nights but more often than not they were dug out of difficult positions by the relentless Ronaldo.
For example, without his goals last season, Real would have earned only five points in the group stage.
Juve, meanwhile, have lacked that edge. When they did display grit in their remarkable quarter-final rally at the Bernabeu in April, they were undone by none other than Ronaldo, with a last-gasp penalty.
He also offers unbridled star power to ambitious Juve, who want to capture some of the international adulation afforded to the likes of Barcelona, who boast Messi, and the Premier League’s top six.
So enthused by the opportunity Juve now have to go all the way in Europe, Leonardo Bonucci clamoured to return to Turin following his disappointing year with AC Milan. Argentinian marksman Gonzalo Higuain had to make way for Ronaldo as a swap deal was completed for the Italy centre-back.
Ronaldo’s move did not, however, kick-start a chain of big-money transfers across the continent and, heading into the opening weekend of the LaLiga season, Real have resisted the urge to make big moves.
An omen suggesting the power dynamic in Spain might shift in the post-Ronaldo era was Atletico Madrid’s Super Cup victory over Real – without him, Los Blancos lacked killer instinct in extra-time.
Ronaldo’s Italian adventure starts at unglamorous Chievo on Saturday, and the cavernous Stadio Bentegodi will be packed out as fans flock to get a glimpse of Serie A’s new marquee man.
Indeed, the media have been advised to arrive at the Verona venue at least three hours before kick-off, such is the level of interest in a fixture which last term drew only 23,700 supporters.
Ronaldo has already appeared in black and white, featuring at Juve’s traditional pre-season friendly in Villar Perosa, where he delighted those assembled with the opener in a 5-0 victory over Juventus ‘B’.
John Elkann, the Italian industrialist with a controlling stake in Juve, said of Ronaldo afterwards: “Now he’s on board, the strongest team in the world has the strongest player in the world.
“It gives me great pleasure not just to see the ease with which he wears the Bianconero shirt, but to see how perfectly he’s integrated with the group.”
Ronaldo may not have the time – or the legs – to contribute even a quarter of the 450 goals he plundered for Real to the Juve cause, but his strength of will should lift the Italians to new heights.