Having collected trophies in England and Spain, Cristiano Ronaldo arrived in Turin nearly three years ago to take on another country and league. Yet from Juventus’ perspective, the Portuguese forward was signed to help deliver a title he’d won no fewer than five times before.
Two Champions League final defeats in the space of just three seasons prompted Juventus to look for a figure who could help them take the final step and in Ronaldo they appeared to have found that figure. After all, nobody has won more European crowns in the Champions League era than the Portuguese forward.
However, Ronaldo has now had two attempts at achieving continental glory as a Juve player and has failed to take the Old Lady past the Champions League quarter-finals. If anything, the Turin club have regressed with the 36-year-old leading the line, falling further away from their ultimate goal.
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At Real Madrid, Ronaldo was supported by a team built around him. Everything at the Santiago Bernabeu was geared towards getting the most out of the Portuguese forward. At Juventus, however, Ronaldo has struggled without the same sort of support system.
Karim Benzema was the perfect foil for Ronaldo as a Real Madrid player. The Frenchman’s responsibility in Zinedine Zidane’s team was almost entirely to serve his Portuguese teammate, whether that be in the playing of a final pass or the occupation of an opposition defender to create space. Alvaro Morata just isn’t as effective at this.
The midfield trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric provided Ronaldo with the perfect platform in the Spanish capital. Juventus’ midfield, however, is currently a mishmash of different ideas and playing styles that have come to define the clouded ideology of Andrea Pirlo’s tenure to date.
And yet despite all this, Ronaldo has almost single-handedly, through sheer will power, kept Juventus in the Serie A title race, scoring 16 goals in 18 league appearances this season. Four goals in four Champions League goals also add to the sense Ronaldo has never been more potent for the Old Lady than he is now.
Ronaldo finds himself in Turin at a peculiar time in Juventus’ recent history. The club is currently at a juncture, stuck between the generation that won the Scudetto nine times in succession and a new generation the club hopes will establish them as a European superpower. Ronaldo was signed to bridge the gap and set a new precedent.
The gamble on Ronaldo was an expensive one, with Juventus paying Real Madrid a transfer fee of €100 million and the player himself €31 million a season. In today’s depressed market, such figures seem almost irresponsible, but the bet was this outlay would take Juve to the next level not just in terms of their on-field performances, but their off-field stature.
Paris Saint-Germain were motivated in a similar way when they signed Neymar and the parallels are strengthened even further when factoring in how the French champions, as well as Juventus, have failed to make the continental breakthrough they’d hoped for. And without this the mission cannot be considered a success, no matter how many shirts and merchandise has been sold.
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Another failure to deliver the Champions League trophy for Juventus would raise questions over Ronaldo’s purpose in Italy. This is a club that increasingly appears to be building for the future rather than the here and now - see the signing of players like Federico Chiesa, Dejan Kuluvsevski and Matthijs de Ligt as well as the appointment of Andrea Pirlo.
Now 36, Ronaldo might only have the here and now to further bolster his case that he, and not a certain Argentine in Catalonia, should be considered the greatest of all time. Juventus might also start to question what they are getting for their money if their €100 million strikes out for a third time.
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