A Hall of Fame baseball executive by the name of Branch Rickey once said, “trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late”.
The parallels between baseball and football aren’t numerous, but in allowing Cristiano Ronaldo to leave for Juventus, Real Madrid have abided by Rickey’s ethos.
Ronaldo agreed to join Juventus on Tuesday in a transfer reported to be worth €105million.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has been a sensation at the Santiago Bernabeu since his then world-record move from Manchester United in 2009, contesting a seemingly endless battle with Barcelona great Lionel Messi for the title of best player on the planet.
In doing so he has helped deliver four Champions League titles – Madrid becoming the first team to win the competition in its current guise for three successive seasons – while also winning LaLiga and the Copa del Rey twice, as well as the Club World Cup on three occasions.
But, as he has moved into his thirties, Ronaldo has had to evolve, with the disappearance of the pace that made him such a threat from the flanks on the counter shifting him into a central role in which he exists almost entirely in the penalty area.
He has been able to flourish in that role while surrounded by Madrid’s veritable array of talent and should continue to do so in Serie A, which, save for tests from the likes of Napoli and Roma, is likely to offer a more sedate challenge than what Ronaldo is used to in LaLiga. It is an environment in which Gonzalo Higuain, who boasts a similar prowess in the box, has enjoyed great success.
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Ronaldo has consistently silenced any doubters and there is little evidence to suggest he would not continue to be prolific for Madrid next season.
Yet, watching him cut a relatively isolated figure as Portugal exited the World Cup while the younger and fleeter of foot Kylian Mbappe and, to a lesser extent, Neymar, lit up Russia 2018, it is easy to see why Madrid have come to this decision.
Ronaldo, still capable of the spectacular but no longer at the absolute peak of his powers ahead of his 34th birthday in February, cannot be considered a long-term option for Madrid, and his sale enables them to somewhat balance the books ahead of a potential move for one of Neymar or Mbappe, if not approaches for both.
The Paris Saint-Germain pair are each clinical inside the box and fearsome in space on the break, with their success on the world stage evidence of their value as the kind of attacking focal point Madrid will require if they are to continue to dominate at the highest level of club football.
Ronaldo has served with incredible distinction as Madrid’s centrepiece and their decision to part with him will undoubtedly raise eyebrows, with observers sure to claim that it may be a year too early for such a move after his 15 Champions League goals fired them to more European glory in 2017-18.
However, Ronaldo gets to bid farewell on a historic high and before any kind of decline starts to become obvious. In that respect, the timing is just right.
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