A waste of Ronaldo's time and Juventus' money: Agnelli's 'CR7 Project' was an abject failure
Merely mentioning Cristiano Ronaldo's name is a perilous proposition.
Even within the divisive and increasingly tribal world of football, the Portuguese polarises opinions like few other personalities.
His followers are as passionate as they are plentiful. Any perceived slight is jumped upon by his staunchest supporters. Some are even willing to go so far as to seek out private social media accounts to personally insult the alleged perpetrator and his partner...
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It is important, then, to begin an analysis of Ronaldo's Juventus legacy with the following statement: Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the greatest players of all time.
That is beyond dispute. As he so often says himself, the numbers don't lie: he has scored 783 goals in senior football.
But while his status as a living legend has long since been sealed, it is perfectly fair to question the success of his transfer to Turin.
Remember, Juve president Andrea Agnelli admitted that for the first time in the club's history they had signed a player for more than sporting reasons. Commercial considerations had also played a significant role.
Ronaldo did what he was paid to do, of course: score goals. In three seasons in Italy, he netted 101 times in just 134 appearances. And he also delivered off the field.
Before his €100 million (£86m/$117m) signing, Juve had just over 49 million followers across their social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram). That figure has now more than doubled (112.7m), and the resulting boom has, unsurprisingly, made the club far more attractive to investors.
In January 2019, the Bianconeri signed a new, improved, seven-year sponsorship deal with their kit manufacturer, Adidas, worth €357m (£308m/$395m) – twice the value of the previous agreement – and that partnership has since been extended until 2026-27.
In addition, Juve have benefited from a €28m (£21m/$30m) increase in the annual value of their contract with shirt sponsors JEEP, from €17m (£15m/$19m) to €45m.
However, the Bianconeri still aren't even close to being the richest or most popular club on the planet. Ronaldo hasn't magically made all of Juve's dreams come true; and they didn't expect him to either.
He was always viewed as a hugely significant stepping stone. The plan was always to use his enormous global appeal to propel the club to another level.
As Agnelli explained at the time of his arrival from Real Madrid, the idea was that Juve would end up in a position where they would be able to sign the next Ronaldo at 23 – rather than 33.
The acquisition of the much-coveted centre-half Matthijs de Ligt from Ajax two years ago bode well, but it was clear even before Covid-19 hit that Juve were living beyond their means.
The club posted a €40m (£34m/$48m) loss at the end of Ronaldo's first season in Serie A. It was already clear that he alone wasn't going to bridge the gap between the Bianconeri and Europe's elite.
In October 2019, after asking the club's shareholders to approve a €300m (£340m/£260m) capital increase in October, Agnelli stated, "These numbers seem enormous when compared to the Italian reality, but our point of reference is the great European clubs.
"Our current level of turnover, excluding the transfer of players, is about the level of turnover that Real Madrid had when I took over the presidency of Juventus in 2010.
"It is clear that the growth rates we have developed have been higher than those of Real Madrid but there is still a gap, which we must obviously fill."
But their desperation to close that gap to Europe's elite, coupled with a speculate-to-accumulate approach, was ruthlessly punished by the pandemic.
Any hope Juve had of the 'CR7 Project' realising its twin objectives – commercial growth and Champions League glory – were obliterated by the financial crisis caused by Covid-19, which resulted in losses of €113.7m (£97.4m/$134.1m) during the first half of last season alone.
The Old Lady got off more lightly than others, primarily because of the continued support of EXOR – the holding company with a 63.8 per cent stake in the Bianconeri – which has just invested a further €75m (£64m/$88m) "to strengthen the equity and financial structure of the club pending the execution of" another imminent capital increase, this time worth €400m (£340m/$470m).
But, again, like every other major European club affected by pandemic, Juve only have themselves to blame for ending up in such a dire situation by relying on a fragile financial framework.
They may have got desperately unlucky with the outbreak of a pandemic but the Old Lady essentially gambled €340m (£290m/$400m) on Ronaldo, in transfer fees and wages, and it hasn't paid off. In fact, in Champions League terms, Juve's returns were pathetic.
They have failed to make it beyond the quarter-finals once since his arrival and it's not as if their runs were ended by the European game's super heavyweights: Ajax, Lyon and Porto were their continental conquerors.
Questions, then, began to be asked as to whether Ronaldo was worth the €87m (£74.5m/$103m) he was costing the club on an annual basis. The argument was that such a colossal amount of money would have been better served strengthening the squad.
Certainly, Juve were caught up in a vicious cycle: they were paying Ronaldo to win them the Champions League but his wages prevented them from surrounding him with the level of talent he required to fire them to glory.
Nowhere was this more obvious than in midfield. But while Juve wanted either Paul Pogba or Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, they could afford neither.
It was a similar story with goalkeeper Gigi Donnarumma, who was available on a free transfer this summer and willing to move from Milan to Turin. Juve, though, simply couldn't match the wages on offer at Paris Saint-Germain.
Again, it is important to state: Juve's economic problems are not Ronaldo's fault. Nobody forced them to pay him a gross annual salary of €60m (£51m/$71m).
Furthermore, it wasn't he who squandered millions in transfer fees and wages on the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Danilo and Arthur, or sanctioned the sales of Joao Cancelo, Leonardo Spinazzola or Moise Kean, who, rather damningly, could now return to Turin to replace Ronaldo.
The blame for all of those disastrous deals falls on former sporting director Fabio Paratici, who proved nowhere near as competent in the transfer market as mentor Beppe Marotta and paid for poor recruitment with his job.
He has since been replaced by Federico Cherubini, while Massimiliano Allegri has returned as coach, underlining that this is a time of transition at Juve, but also great change. They are trying to implement the overhaul that Allegri was requesting before being forced out in 2019.
The brutal bottom line is that they have wasted the past two years. They made a mistake by firing Allegri, and compounded it by failing to give either Maurizio Sarri and, to a lesser degree, Andrea Pirlo sufficient time to implement their ambitious ideas.
Ronaldo, then, could be forgiven for not wanting to partake in yet another rebuilding job at 36 years of age.
Indeed, while he remains in excellent physical condition, he is running out of time at the very highest level and we are talking about a club that is undeniably further away from winning the Champions League than it was when he arrived in 2018.
In a sporting sense, then, Juve's 'CR7 Project' cannot be considered anything but an abject failure. It has been terminated prematurely, one year before the end of his contract, and neither the player nor his employers have a Champions League trophy to show for their efforts.
Worse still, their run of nine consecutive Serie A titles has been brought to a brutal end by bitter rivals Inter, with Juve finishing fourth last season.
It is not in the least bit surprising, then, that the ruthless Ronaldo, one of the game's great competitors, felt his prospects of winning a sixth Champions League would be better served by a return to big-spending Manchester United.
Juve, for their part, were willing to let him go – so long as they got the fee they needed to avoid making a capital loss on their investment – as it means that they can now focus fully on the future.
This is an undeniably unsatisfactory end to the Ronaldo-Juventus love affair, which started with a goal in Turin all the way back in the spring of 2018. Neither party really got what they wanted out of the relationship, so it now makes sense for them to go their separate ways.
When the man himself was asked about his future in June, he replied, "Whether I stay at Juventus or leave, whatever happens will be for the best."
And his exit now suits everyone concerned. Surely not even his staunchest supporters could argue with that?...