Juventus meets Ronaldo

Portuguese striker living up to hype

by Salim Vaiji

In his latest chapter in Italy, footballer Cristiano Ronaldo is continuing to cement his legacy. The Portuguese striker’s next career move was the subject of intense speculation this summer following his country’s exit from the World Cup, where he tallied four goals (including three in a memorable match versus Spain). Ronaldo had spent the previous nine seasons playing with Real Madrid, amassing a spectacular career in La Liga. In the Spanish league, one of the top football circuits in the world, Ronaldo scored 311 goals in 292 games, while adding an additional 139 in Copa del Rey and UEFA play.

On July 10, his record-breaking €100 million transfer was completed with Juventus of the Italian Serie A league. As part of the agreement, Ronaldo signed a four-year contract with the club worth a reported €30 million per year. With a great payday, however, comes a great responsibility to deliver for a club that hasn’t won European football’s top prize since 1996. Juventus was knocked out in the quarterfinals last year by Ronaldo’s old club Real Madrid, who went on to win the title. “The expectation is that he’ll deliver the Champions League,” says Greg Caltabanis, a writer with Italian Football Daily. “No ifs, ands or buts about it. Considering his wealth of experience in the competition, it comes as no surprise to me they took this gamble.”

So far, Juventus has gotten what they paid for – even though Ronaldo was sent off in the 29th minute of the club’s first Champions League match on September 19 versus Valencia, and it took him four matches to finally score a goal. He then heated up, scoring three times and adding four assists in the next four matches. Caltabanis explains the “Ronaldo Effect” has been visible in other areas as well, notably off the pitch. “Since joining Juve, Ronaldo’s picked up from where he left off in Madrid and immediately established himself as a leader in the locker room,” he says. “With him on the team, you can tell Juve’s got more belief in their abilities than ever before.”

Still, there are differences in the gameplay between the Spanish and Italian leagues that the 33-year-old pro has had to adjust to. La Liga presents a more free-flowing and offensive style, while defence is more prevalent in Serie A. “In Spain they play to entertain, where intricate passing and movement reign supreme,” Caltabanis says. “In Italy, it’s all about structure and organization. While it may be harder to score in Italy, it’s only a matter of time before Ronaldo starts finding the back of the net with the same regularity again.”

Brazilian football legend Cafu has a similar view. While speaking at a United Nations event this fall, the Special Olympics ambassador didn’t mince words. “He will suffer a little in the Serie A,” Cafu said. “It’s a lot more difficult than La Liga because of the higher level of football and increased physical contact.”

Then there is the external pressure that may be ratcheted up a few notches in Italy. “I may be biased but I do find the pressure put on Italy by the media and the fans [is] among the highest in the sport,” Caltabanis says. “The population lives and breathes calcio and expects the absolute most from these superstars.”

Despite career earnings north of €100 million, sponsorships with the world’s most iconic brands and a mantle full of trophies, Ronaldo doesn’t seem to have lost his moxie in this latest chapter of his football career. “A champion like Ronaldo is never satisfied,” Caltabanis says. “Even though he’s won

everything at the club level, he’s as hungry as he’s ever been and appears to be ready to go. Obviously, it would be nice if he somehow managed to add a World Cup to his repertoire, but it’s unlikely.”