Italy

World Soccer - - Contents - Paddy Agnew

At the end of a trau­matic, non World Cup sum­mer, Ital­ian football could not have asked for any­thing bet­ter. Cris­tiano Ron­aldo, “the great­est player on the planet”, joined the coun­try’s most fa­mous club, Ju­ven­tus, in what was mod­estly en­ti­tled “the deal of the cen­tury”.

At the very mo­ment France were wrap­ping up their 4-2 Fi­nal win over Croa­tia in Moscow, Ron­aldo was fly­ing into Turin air­port. He ar­rived on a Sun­day af­ter­noon in or­der to be ready for his first full day as a Juve player the next morn­ing, which was marked by the rit­ual med­i­cal and an ea­gerly awaited first Ju­ven­tus press con­fer­ence.

Speak­ing at the club’s Al­lianz Sta­dium, the new boy said all the right things. For those who were wor­ried that he had come to Italy just for the well-paid ride, he pointed out that he could have cho­sen other op­tions, ex­plain­ing that play­ers of his age, 33, usu­ally go to places like Qatar or China.

He also un­der­lined the point that he had ac­cepted the chal­lenge of a move to the Ital­ian cham­pi­ons be­cause it would take him out of his com­fort zone.

“I am go­ing to prove that I am [still] a top player,” he said. “I am go­ing to work hard in train­ing...I am very am­bi­tious and I like chal­lenges.”

Asked whether he talked to his for­mer Real Madrid boss and ex-Juve player Zine­dine Zi­dane be­fore agree­ing to the move, he an­swered: “No, I didn’t speak to him. There was no need for any­one to tell me just how good a team Ju­ven­tus is. Ev­ery­one knows that.

“In the last four years they have twice played in the Cham­pi­ons League Fi­nal, while in the last seven years they have won seven league ti­tles.

“This is one of the strong­est teams in the world.”

Of course, all Juve sup­port­ers wanted to know if their stand­ing ova­tion af­ter his over­head-kick goal in the Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter­fi­nals in Turin last spring in­flu­enced his de­ci­sion.

Again, his an­swer was well cal­i­brated, re­ply­ing: “I don’t re­mem­ber ex­actly how I felt, but I was very happy.

“Not just be­cause we had won that night, nor be­cause I had scored a great goal, but a de­tail that re­ally made the dif­fer­ence was the re­ac­tion of the Ju­ven­tus fans, the way they ap­plauded me, that was a huge sur­prise. I did not ex­pect that.

“I have al­ways liked Ju­ven­tus, but af­ter that mo­ment I cer­tainly liked the club even more.”

If there is any prece­dent to the ar­rival of Ron­aldo in Ital­ian football it would be the sign­ing of Diego Maradona by Napoli in 1984. The ever-pas­sion­ate Napoli fans des­per­ately wanted the Ar­gen­tinian su­per­star to re­vive the club’s for­tunes so they might just win a first-ever Serie A ti­tle. And he did just that, win­ning not one but two league ti­tles with Napoli.

Now, the sim­i­larly en­thu­si­as­tic wel­come af­forded by Juve fol­low­ers to Ron­aldo would sug­gest that they too have a press­ing wish-list. Namely, to win the Cham­pi­ons League.

“I don’t see the Cham­pi­ons League as an ob­ses­sion,” said the Por­tuguese. “Things need to hap­pen nat­u­rally. A football team has a lot of play­ers and vic­tory in a cup com­pe­ti­tion de­pends on a whole host of fac­tors. It is what the pres­i­dent [An­drea Agnelli] said to me: ‘It’s not an ob­ses­sion, it’s a dream.’

“I hope to help Ju­ven­tus win a Cham­pi­ons League tro­phy in the next four years. I know that will be very dif­fi­cult, but I think it is pos­si­ble”

So what prompted this largely un­ex­pected move? In re­al­ity, there are a num­ber of fac­tors.

Firstly, as al­luded to by the player him­self, rather than go play heav­ily

“There was no need for any­one to tell me just how good a team Ju­ven­tus is...this is one of the strong­est teams in the world” Cris­tiano Ron­aldo on his new club

re­mu­ner­ated, but less-chal­leng­ing football in China, USA or Qatar, he has opted for one of the few non-Span­ish and non-English clubs that can of­fer him a re­al­is­tic crack at the Cham­pi­ons League. Put sim­ply, at Ju­ven­tus he is still in the game and at the very high­est level.

Hav­ing al­ready won ti­tles with Real Madrid and Manch­ester United, it is hard to be­lieve that some­one with his fierce pride, de­ter­mi­na­tion and am­bi­tion was not tempted by the idea of adding a Serie A ti­tle, or even bet­ter a Cham­pi­ons League medal, to his per­sonal tro­phy haul.

Some have spec­u­lated that the move could help his com­plex tax sit­u­a­tion. In July, a Span­ish news agency con­firmed Ron­aldo had “re­solved” his out­stand­ing tax debts to the Span­ish state, by mak­ing a pay­ment of € 18.8m. Could it be that he will now move his fis­cal res­i­dence to Italy, in the hope of ar­riv­ing at a more favourable agree­ment with the Ital­ian In­land Rev­enue?

While that con­sid­er­a­tion may or may not be true, ro­man­tics still cling to the hope that the stand­ing ova­tion at the Al­lianz Sta­dium last April counts for some­thing, too. Cer­tainly, Juve’s sport­ing di­rec­tor, Fabio Paratici, made much of the mat­ter on “CR7 Day”, telling Sky Italia: “This mad idea be­gan af­ter that game in Turin... af­ter his over­head kick goal. In the week af­ter that, his agent, Jorge Men­des, told us that Ron­aldo had been ‘re­ally struck’ by the over­all re­ac­tion, so much so that one day he would like to play for Ju­ven­tus.”

Juve pres­i­dent Agnelli told Paratici to pur­sue the idea and in a rel­a­tively short time the “deal of the cen­tury” was up and running.

While many have sug­gested that this was an im­por­tant fil­lip for Ital­ian football, Roma cap­tain Daniele De Rossi was per­haps more ac­cu­rate when he said: “The ar­rival of Cris­tiano Ron­aldo is a huge boost for Ital­ian football but, above all, it is a huge boost for Ju­ven­tus, the club that has bought him.”

And not just on the pitch. The ar­rival of Ron­aldo prompted an im­me­di­ate hike in the club’s share price with the club’s mar­ket val­u­a­tion ris­ing from € 665m to € 815m in a mat­ter of days.

What seems cer­tain is that Ju­ven­tus will have thought long and hard about the sound­ness of a busi­ness plan which, re­port­edly, in­volves a to­tal cost of more than € 300m, when taxes, wages and the like are in­cluded.

If Ju­ven­tus feel that Ron­aldo is worth this level of out­lay it can only be pre­sumed that they have got their sums right. Time will tell, but the ini­tial rush on CR7 shirts sug­gests that this move could yet notch Ju­ven­tus one more rung up the in­ter­na­tional lad­der of fame and in­flu­ence, cer­tainly in mar­ket­ing, mer­chan­dis­ing and pub­lic­ity terms.

Re­mem­ber, too, that this is the club which in the last decade has emerged from the Cal­ciopoli scan­dal and a year in Serie B to reach un­par­al­leled do­mes­tic dom­i­nance, pulling off some very handy trans­fer deals – such as the free-trans­fer signings of An­drea Pirlo, Sami Khedira and Paul Pogba, who was sub­se­quently sold back to Manch­ester United for € 105m.

De­spite their suc­cess, Ju­ven­tus are still ranked only 10th in Deloitte’s Money League, with the first three in the rank­ing – Manch­ester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona – all earn­ing 50 per cent more in an­nual rev­enues. Ac­cord­ing to La Gazzetta dello

Sport, in­ter­na­tional au­di­tors KMPG have es­ti­mated that Ju­ven­tus could in­crease their an­nual turnover by € 100m in the next two or three years in the wake of the Ron­aldo deal.

All of that will be­come much cleared in due course. What is clear is al­ready that Ron­aldo ar­rival has been warmly wel­comed by Ital­ian football.

Cur­rent na­tional coach Roberto Mancini prob­a­bly spoke for many when he said: “This is ex­cel­lent news.

“You can only learn from great play­ers like him and our young play­ers, the ones who have al­ready been called up to the Italy team, will only get bet­ter if they have the chance of play­ing against him.

“All in all, a player like him is a bless­ing for Serie A.”

“The ar­rival of Cris­tiano ron­aldo is a huge boost for ital­ian football but, above all, it is a huge boost for Ju­ven­tus” Roma cap­tain Daniele De Rossi

Stun­ning...Ron­aldo’s goal against Ju­ven­tus

In de­mand...sign­ing au­to­graphs for fans

Train­ing...with his new team-mates

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