Arguably the best month of every four years has come and gone. It was one amazing World Cup, France came away deserving winners while Croatia inspired us all and earned their place in the final. But football never sleeps and while the tournament was going on, one of the biggest transfers unfolded in a surprisingly casual way. Cristiano Ronaldo left Real Madrid for Italian champions Juventus.
ESPN tabbed Ronaldo as the most famous athlete in the world from 2016-18, yet he was surprisingly gracious in the way he let the transfer happen without making a huge deal out of it. Unlike France’s Antoine Griezemann who felt it necessary to have a thirty-minute video made about his decision to re-sign with Atlético Madrid. Everybody’s reaction was to look at one another with confused expressions and say, Uh…OK? Griezmann seemed to feel as though he were as important as LeBron James as he tried to mimic his Decision saga from 2010.
Ronaldo’s transfer is a sign of his unbelievable hunger to continue playing at the top level for as long as possible. At 33, he shows no signs of slowing down and just this last week he said that most players at his age are moving on to teams in China or Qatar for one final grandiose paycheck. Juventus has been the best team in Italy for the past several years but now they look set to absolutely dominate.
When Ronaldo completed his move from Madrid to Turin, Italy, one of the most remarkable pieces of football business in history was completed. Madrid signed Ronaldo from Manchester United in 2009 for what was then a world-record transfer fee of €94 million. He played for Madrid for nine seasons and became their all-time leading goal scorer, not to mention all the titles and trophies he helped them win which are too many to even begin naming them all. Then, on July 10th, 2018, Real Madrid allowed Ronaldo to join Juventus for €100 million. He came to Madrid, he scored 450 goals, he left, and his value appreciated by €6 million. It’s astonishing.
Juventus will likely recoup their money on jersey sales alone so they are by no means spending foolishly and Ronaldo still has several years left playing at the very top of world football. His own move to China or Qatar can wait.
His departure has left a big question for Real: Who do they sign to replace him? Let’s first be clear, there is no replacing Ronaldo, but they have to sign a player who can best add to their squad. There are three obvious candidates. Eden Hazard, Neymar or Kylian Mbappé. Neymar is the least likely to happen for now. He would become the most hated person to have ever stepped foot in Barcelona and although he will eventually move on from Paris Saint-Germain, it doesn’t seem plausible that he would move straight back to Spain and Madrid. One bit of transfer business that Madrid has already completed is the signing of another young Brazil “super-talent”, Vinícius Júnior. He will blossom with time but was absolutely not signed as a Ronaldo replacement.
Kylian Mbappé would be ideal but he’s only just completed his permanent signing in Paris and they have no reason to sell him. Eden Hazard is the most likely candidate and if I had to guess, I would say that he would take the chance to play at the Bernabéu this summer. Chelsea FC has just appointed Maurizio Sarri as manager and unless he can convince Hazard to stay, we will probably see him in all white next season.
The last option is…sign nobody. Madrid under-utilized and somewhat marginalized super star Gareth Bale while Zinedine Zidane was coach but he has stepped down and new coach, Julen Lopetegui, will use him much more. Attacking midfielder Isco was always a central figure for Real but Lopetegui is an admitted fan of Isco and will focus on letting him pull the strings.
Regardless of who Madrid sign (or don’t sign), like I said before, there is no replacing one of the greatest players the world has ever seen. Cristiano Ronaldo.