Sports Pulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Martin Rogers breaks down the ramifications of Cristiano Ronaldo leaving Real Madrid for Juventus.
MOSCOW — Cristiano Ronaldo knew what he was doing, have no doubt about that. He knew all about the timing, all about the message it would send. He knew what people would say about it. He had a pretty fair idea that some would love the brazenness of revealing his move from Real Madrid to Juventus hours before the first World Cup semifinal, and that others would hate it.
It wasn’t one of those things that just got announced as soon as possible after the deal was done and the press release was written. It was an orchestrated work of art, structured to give Ronaldo the one thing he craves more than any other.
As a soccer player, Ronaldo is both special and unique, so much so that he might not just be the greatest of this era, but perhaps also the best of all time. Yet as a person, he seems to have a chronic need to feel it, live it and be reminded of it — all the time.
It manifests in arrogance, self-obsession and the need to be at the front and center of the global game’s news cycle as much as possible.
Having the details of his stunning switch to Italian Serie A champion Juventus slip out precisely when it did allowed him to feel, for a little while at least, bigger than the game, and bigger than its most meaningful tournament.
But here is the thing – it didn’t work. While Ronaldo’s revelation bumped the build-up to France v. Belgium in St. Petersburg down a couple of notches on soccer’s collective attention span, once the game actually started, that’s what was back on people’s minds.
As magnificent a player as Ronaldo is, and as important as his club destination might be, he’s not bigger than the game. No one is. Not him, nor Lionel Messi, nor Pele or Diego Maradona before them, not Sepp Blatter or his odious former FIFA cronies. No one.
If Ronaldo had been able to get over himself, to resist the need for a touch of the spotlight’s warmth for a week longer, then he could have bathed in it to his heart’s content. The period between the end of the World Cup and the start of the new European season is a dead zone, where fans salivate over speculation, let alone an inked, blockbuster move like this one.
But it had been too long. It had been 10 days since Ronaldo’s Portugal had been knocked out of the tournament by Uruguay in the round of 16, 10 days of having soccer’s worldwide following talk about other things and other players.
Players such as France’s Kylian Mbappe, a possible heir apparent to Ronaldo, who played in the semifinal. Was part of Ronaldo’s timing a message to show that for all of Mbappe’s incredible potential, he is still the boss? Don’t rule it out.
We should be partly grateful that Ronaldo’s need for significance is as heavy as it is. It drives him, compels him to still work at his game with ferocious intensity, even at the age of 33. He wouldn’t be the player he is without it.
Yet it is also a little sad that being a modern day icon and a true, historic extraordinaire, is not enough. A large part of joining Juventus and heading to Italy, where there is no Messi to steal some of his shine, and no Barcelona to sneak away with the league title most years, is a desire to be the primary focus of attention.
Ronaldo will be the main man in Italy, and not just on his team. He will be the overarching boss of the league, at least among the playing ranks. He will get less heat from the Italian taxman than he did in Spain, and the style of play may help extend his career by an extra year or two.
A couple more years to make more money, collect more trophies, upstage whoever crosses his path and, most of all, to remain significant.