Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus future has been cast into doubt over the past week, yet a Turin exit is far from certain.
While the general fall-out from Juve’s latest Champions League exit has led to a wide opinion that his transfer from Real Madrid has been a massive disappointment, officials at Juve do not necessarily see it that way.
Before last week’s headlines, in fact, there had been consideration among senior figures at the club that it might be time for talks over an extension to his contract.
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Ronaldo is tied to Juve until 2022, yet adding one more year to his stay has not been considered out of the question. The terms of his deal would have to change, sure. But the qualities he has brought to the team are going to be extremely difficult to replace.
His experience as one of Europe’s most reliable scorers continues to shine through. He is Serie A’s goalscoring leader with 23 goals this season - only Robert Lewandowski has a better record in Europe’s big leagues.
Juve have already been contemplating a new forward for next season and Arkadiusz Milik has been targeted as the prime candidate for that opening. He joined Marseille from Napoli on an 18-month loan as recently as January but has hinted he has bigger ambitions.
Yet a Ronaldo exit would mean looking for another striker too, one capable of scoring more than 20 times a season.
It seems difficult to imagine how Juventus would manage such a situation, even if they did offload Ronaldo’s 31 million Euros salary.
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At this moment, from the club's perspective, it is pure speculation that Ronaldo will not play in Turin beyond this season. There is also plenty of doubt about who could actually afford to take on his wages right now.
Real Madrid are not publicly dismissing the idea of a Ronaldo return, yet as we discussed in Tuesday’s Transfer Notebook, the situation so far has been driven by agent Jorge Mendes to get an idea of whether a return would be possible. Sources around Madrid remain very sceptical of the potential signing.
A more immediate need for Juve is to restructure the squad around Ronaldo to help boss Andrea Pirlo, rather than move him on.
There is a core that they plan to build around for the future: Matthijs De Ligt, Federico Chiesa, Dejan Kulusevski, Weston McKennie and Arthur. And there are figures that could be moved on, like Aaron Ramsey, Adrien Rabiot or Federico Bernadeschi as the side evolves.
Ramsey is often touted as one of the first names expected to be heading through the exit door, but sources say there has not yet been any discussion with the Juve hierarchy over how they see his future.
On top of all that is the case of Giorgio Chiellini, such a key and inspirational player over the past decade, whose contract expires in June. There is no news yet either on a new contract for Gianluigi Buffon, their 43-year-old goalkeeper.
Juve are eager to ensure the squad is full of next generation talent, but that needs to be balanced by experienced heads. It’s another reason Ronaldo is viewed as so important. Behind Chiellini and Buffon he is the eldest player at Juventus and he is also the most decorated - thanks to the Champions League, Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and Ballon d’Or titles he has won.
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Then there is the marketability of Ronaldo. When he was signed for £99.2 million almost three years ago, it was in line with turning the team into European champions but also to set them on a path to become the biggest club in the world off the pitch by 2024.
It was a strategy laid out that was supposed to rocket their club's value and global following, yet the impact of Covid-19 has meant that will now be almost impossible, given a year so tough on income avenues.
Ronaldo as a poster boy is a nice asset to have up the sleeve when it comes to bouncing back.
In the past week, Juve director Fabio Paratici has laughed off talk of Ronaldo leaving. In fact, he has gone as far as to say he is the “future of Juventus”. These are not empty words.
As a five-time Ballon d’Or winner and global icon, Juve know they can hold on to a player that remains one of the most valuable gems in the sport.
It might be that Ronaldo’s representatives are beginning to think of his next club, and they may even be wondering whether it is time to move on as soon as possible. But Juve have not been given any such message from him so far along those lines. If that is the case, Ronaldo and his representatives will have to drive conversations to show he is ready to leave because, otherwise, a transfer is not going to be spoken of.
There will be general discussions at the end of this campaign between the parties - but as it stands we should lean towards the expectation that Ronaldo will still be in Turin next season.
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