Over dinner on Wednesday evening with Mrs Football Nerd and my Dad the conversation, as it always tends to, turned to football. Specifically, the main thrust of our debate centred on the summer transfer of uber-Galactico Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus and whether this might signal a new era for Serie A to regain its status as one of the world’s top leagues?
On the face of it the €100 million acquisition of inarguably one of the best players in the world, and football history, can be seen as a significant statement of intent from the Turin giants in terms of their determination to win the Champions League to crown their domestic dominance of seven consecutive Scudettos. However to judge the deal in full it is vital to consider why a club of Real Madrid’s standing with untold financial resources would allow the five-time Ballon D’Or winner to depart? Surely if the hierarchy at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu wanted to keep a player who has been a key part in their winning four Champions Leagues and two domestic titles in his nine seasons in the Spanish capital, they would have found a way.
There were rumblings amongst the Spanish media last season that Ronaldo was on the wane: his goal return wasn’t quite what we are used to seeing and his role in the team has noticeably changed from the effervescent, dynamic, marauding winger that exploded onto the scene under the tutelage of Sir Alex Ferguson to that of a more traditional number nine.
Already this summer Real have splashed the cash reaped by the sale on the acquisition of: Thibaut Courtois, Alvaro Odriozola and Vinicius Junior; and if rumours are to be believed, then depending on UEFA’s verdict on Paris St Germain’s breach of Financial Fair Play regulations and the extent of any sanctions imposed, a last minute swoop for French sensation Kylian Mbappé or even the long-coveted Neymar, may not be beyond the realms of possibility. Can we therefore judge Ronaldo’s departure as a strategic move to create room within Real’s budget to rejuvenate the squad with younger talent?
At the same time, it is also vital to consider the implications of Ronaldo’s departure for a certain Gareth Bale, the Welshman having made it crystal clear after the Champions League Final that he was far from happy with his restricted playing time last season saying: “Obviously I need to be playing week in, week out and that hasn’t happened this season”.
There is an accepted wisdom in Madrid that Bale is seen as the future by all-powerful Real President, Florentino Perez, might the transfer of a player who has, if not overshadowed him completely, then certainly acted as an impediment to Bale being part of the first choice line-up, be seen as a deliberate move to keep the younger player at the club and to build a new team around him? A theory given more credence when considered in tandem with the surprise departure of manager Zinedine Zidane, who had appeared reluctant to rely on Bale.
Even if it is the case that Ronaldo was pushed rather than pulled, it seems a fairly certain prediction that he is bound to have an impact with Juventus. The club themselves will be rubbing their hands together not only at his influence on the pitch but also the potential benefits to be reaped in terms of merchandising, other commercial revenues and the heightening of their profile across the globe. Whether he can catapult the team and the club to the level of his previous employers and their eternal rivals Barcelona however remains to be seen.
While Ronaldo’s arrival feels inevitably a good thing for Juventus can the same be said for the league in which he will now be plying his trade? Once upon a time Serie A was the place to be for world football stars but much of its lustre was lost amongst the ‘Calciopoli’ match-fixing scandal that rocked the football world back in 2006. Since then the league has become a one-horse race with Juventus dominating the competition and their traditional rivals, for the most part, trailing in their wake.
With last season’s valiant challengers, Napoli, having lost their inspirational manager, Maurizio Sarri to the Premier League and the eighteen point gap to third-placed Roma it is difficult to see how anyone will dethrone the reigning champions this time out.
For any club to truly match Juventus and generate a level of meaningful competition would require a level of investment seen previously at the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and PSG; but such has been Italian football’s fall from grace that it lags far behind the attractiveness of the Premier League, La Liga and even the Bundesliga in terms of commercial appeal to major overseas investors. It is highly unlikely that the one dominant team becoming even more dominant is likely to change that any time soon.