Cristiano Ronaldo flew home from Russia and the World Cup on Monday, but he didn't stay out of the headlines for long, as evidenced by the massive headlines Tuesday linking him with a move to Juventus.
As with all things involving Cristiano and Real Madrid, nothing is quite straightforward. Here's an attempt to make sense of it.
Q: So Juventus have made an offer, have they?
A: Easy there. Juventus haven't confirmed anything, and it's worth noting who pushed this story initially: Marca, the Madrid-based paper close to Real Madrid, and A Bola, the Portuguese daily.
Q: Why is that relevant?
A: Well, they come out at the same time with the same story, and Ronaldo happens to be Portuguese. So is his agent, Jorge Mendes, who also happens to look after (together with Carlos Bucero) the new Real boss, Julen Lopetegui. They might or might not be the source of the story, but it's pretty obvious that the story serves their interests. It serves Real Madrid's interests too.
Q: How so?
A: For a start, it's always nice to be wanted if you're Ronaldo and to have your prize asset coveted by others if you're Madrid. Beyond that, both Mendes and Madrid benefit, each in different ways. Ronaldo, you'll recall, talked about moving on from the Bernabeu just minutes after the Champions League final, despite the fact that he has a contract through 2021. It might be that he really wants to go or, more likely, that he'd like a new deal, especially given that both Neymar and Lionel Messi earn substantially more than he does.
Or, and I think this is just as important to him, a clear sense of what the future holds of him at Real Madrid. There's a new manager, there's likely going to be a rebuild, folks coming and going ... where does he fit? An offer on the table -- real or not -- gives him some leverage.
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Q: But I thought Real Madrid had offered him a salary bump?
A: That's what was reported, and it amounted to a raise of nearly 50 percent plus bonuses that could take him beyond Neymar. But like I said, I don't think it's just about money with Ronaldo.
Q: You said it benefits Madrid too? How so?
A: Ronaldo is a freak of nature who had another monster season. But they're on the hook for him until June 2021, when he'll be 36 years old. This is already a veteran squad, and the last thing you want is a situation in which everybody gets old all of a sudden. They haven't made a Galactico-type signing since Gareth Bale, and that was five years ago.
If you bring in another superstar, they're going to want assurances about where they stand vis-a-vis Ronaldo. Then there is the financial aspect. It's purely a numbers game, but there's obviously a price at which you would let him go.
Obviously, Florentino Perez doesn't want to be remembered as the Real Madrid president who sold Ronaldo, but if he himself wants to go and the price is right, I don't think he'd mind. At all. In that respect, it's probably not coincidental that in addition to Ronaldo's official release clause of a €1 billion ($1.1B), there's talk of a private agreement between Florentino and Mendes whereby he could go for €100 million ($110M). That's obviously a far more realistic price, and like I said, if Ronaldo wants to leave, then Florentino could argue there was nothing he could do about it ... which, funnily enough, is exactly what Juventus supposedly offered. Win-win.
The other big benefit to Mendes and Real Madrid is that it effectively sets a price (at least psychologically) in the eyes of potential suitors, and it sends the message that both Ronaldo and the club are willing to entertain offers. There's a very limited number of clubs that could afford him, so you can read this as a wake-up call to them.
Q: You said it has been a while since Real Madrid signed a Galactico. I've seen them linked to Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
A: Yeah, this happens time and again, though PSG insist neither is going anywhere. But there are two things that could change that. One is a mega-offer of the sort Real Madrid used to put together. I'd imagine they'd need to sell a prize asset to get it done, whether it's Ronaldo or maybe Bale.
The other is Financial Fair Play.
Q: Oh, that again. I thought PSG were cleared?
A: This is where it gets complicated, so bear with me. They were cleared for the three years leading up to June 30, 2017, which is before the Mbappe/Neymar deals. The following three-year period, in which those deals kicked in, have yet to be reviewed, and on top of that, the "green light" they got for the original three-year period is under review, with the head of UEFA's Club Financial Control Body asking the Adjudicatory Chamber to take a look at it.
It's sort of double jeopardy there. If UEFA crack down, they might have to sell one of them, but we're in the realm of hypotheticals.
Q: Back to Juventus. You don't believe their interest is real?
A: I'm sure Juve would love to have him, and it's entirely plausible that he was discussed when Beppe Marotta met Jorge Mendes a few weeks ago to sign another Mendes client, Joao Cancelo. But the numbers have to work, and I'm not sure those numbers do.
Per season, €30 million net works out at €60 million ($68M) gross. That's around 40 percent of Juve's current wage bill. Then you'd need to amortize the fee over the duration of his contract, plus, given his age, there would be very little resale value.
Therefore, Juve would need to shed a number of players (not just Gonzalo Higuain) and increase their revenues substantially to manage it without falling foul of Financial Fair Play. They already sell out their stadium regularly and can't squeeze more out of the box office. Serie A rights for the next three seasons have already been sold, too, while their Champions League income is already almost fully maxed out.
The only area where they could grow significantly in revenue is commercially. Ronaldo would help that, sure, but could his presence alone bring them another $80 million-plus (wages and amortized fee) per season? I'm not sure.
I'm also not sure how Max Allegri, who is only Juve's coach, feels about this. Like I said, at the right price, they'd jump all over Ronaldo, but he would have to be the one to want to leave. And it has to be the right price.
Q: Are there other clubs who can afford Ronaldo?
A: Yes, but then you'd need to look at clubs who can both afford him and might plausibly want him to the point that they tie themselves up for another three-plus years. And that's not a long list. In fact, it's basically Manchester United, and thus far, we haven't heard anything. Although, of course, given that Mendes happens to represent both Ronaldo and the United manager, if they were to push for it, they could make it work.
Q: What's going to happen?
A: It's purely a guess, but I think the most likely scenario is Ronaldo gets a raise (and maybe some assurances from Lopetegui) and stays at Madrid. They sell Karim Benzema and, if they can, Gareth Bale, and they make a serious run at Neymar and Mbappe. Whether they succeed with will depend on FFP as much as it does on PSG.
What I don't see happening, frankly, is Real Madrid losing Ronaldo without signing a Neymar, an Mbappe or someone of that caliber.