There is only one match sold out at the Confederations Cup. It’s Russia against Portugal and it’s for one reason and one reason only. Cristiano Ronaldo. The brand new Spartak stadium in Moscow’s north will be full to the brim on Wednesday evening as locals rush to catch a glimpse of the Real Madrid superstar.
He is bigger than his national team; bigger than his country. He is a transcendental presence in this team – in any team – and is one of only two players in the world who can garner this kind of Bieber-esque fandom. You can probably guess the other.
If Real Madrid end up losing him due to the current furore over his tax case then it would be an epic act of self-harm. The reports which emerged over the past few days that Ronaldo was unhappy and ready to quit Spain were shocking – even more so because they were not denied. Clearly Ronaldo or somebody with his consent wanted those stories to be read.
The Spanish Public Prosecutor alleges that Ronaldo evaded €14.7m in tax on his image rights from the period covering 2011-2014. The authorities would like to hear from Ronaldo and have invited him to sit in front of them to explain himself on July 31.
Whether Ronaldo gets off, faces a fine or a criminal trial will be decided then.
There is a suggestion that Ronaldo is unhappy with the way in which Real tried to distance themselves from this story when it first broke. According to Spanish media their first response was to ensure no pictures of Ronaldo in a Real Madrid shirt appeared on any story commenting on the tax case brought against him by the Spanish tax authorities.
It is also being reported that Ronaldo would like the club to take care of the fine he might owe – some €35m. If that is the case then that is a small price to pay. Sure, clubs take care of their players' income tax and their image rights are another thing all together. That is very much a player’s own responsibility. But if it’s a case that he ends up owing that amount then Real should immediately step in and pay it.
Give the man what he wants. Pay his tax bill. Move him into a palace. Build him another statue if you have to. Just make sure he’s happy.
Manchester United found out the hard way that it’s better to have Ronaldo and £84m less in the bank than have the money but no Ronaldo. Nobody can score goals like him; nobody can draw attention – on and off the field – like him. He is a one-man industry; the greatest player in the history of the club and Real should consider themselves lucky to have him. Whatever price he fetches will be cheap.
If it comes down to the matter of €35m? Ronaldo makes that for Real Madrid – and plenty more.
Real Madrid probably know how to make this go away but the interview with Florentino Perez on Monday night brought more questions than answers. He was non-committal, referred to Ronaldo’s €1bn buy-out clause and refused to say with absolute certainty that he would be at the club next season.
Although the reports say the player’s mind is made up there should still be hope and plenty of it. We’ve been here before. It was about five years ago and he had refused to celebrate either of his two goals during a league match against Granada. The message was that Real Madrid knew why he was sad and knew how to make him happy. A world-record contract later and Ronaldo was all smiles. This is probably nothing a good old pay rise wouldn’t cure. He deserves it.
Ronaldo has resolved to put his Madrid future on hold until Portugal’s interest in the Confederations Cup ends. His national team coach Fernando Santos – not the warmest personality in front of the press at the best of times – is already sick of answering questions about an issue which is now lingering over the Portugal team like a bad smell.
Whatever is happening inside the camp – and Ronaldo looks happy and at ease – remains out of the reach of the media but the external perception is that something is going to have to give in this row before we can move on.
If CRexit happens then Madrid would regret it for eternity. This is not just any player; this is Cristiano Ronaldo. You don’t sell Cristiano Ronaldo… ever.