Reports in Portugal on Friday morning suggesting that Cristiano Ronaldo has decided to leave Real Madrid this summer were quickly picked up by the Spanish press, with this in turn leading the paper that made the claim to run a second story under the headline “A Bola’s report on Cristiano causes alarm bells to ring.”
That, of course, may have been entirely the point. During the summer recess a sensational headline is always handy for generating a few clicks. And an uncredited, online report running to 100 words should always be taken with a pinch of salt large enough to cover a prize-winning bacalao. The A Bola story was based purely on a quote attributed to the Portugal captain in the wake of a fresh slew of accusations about his tax affairs, with the Spanish authorities pursuing a claim of €14.7 million against Ronaldo for alleged offences relating to income generated overseas through his image rights.
In reality, the tax man is just the latest in a long queue of people against whom Ronaldo has taken umbrage. He fired an out-of-character broadside at the Spanish press after Madrid wrapped up the Liga title and has consistently admonished the Bernabeu for whistling at him when the fancy strikes his home crowd.
But there is no smoke without fire, and a Portugal training camp is certainly a useful place for a veiled threat to find its way to a sympathetic ear in the press. Ronaldo also knows all the tricks of the trade when it comes to getting his way, as proved by his infamous “I’m not happy” aside in September 2012, which eventually led to a bumper new contract.
The issue may run deeper on this occasion through a combination of matters not aided by the latest probe into his tax affairs, but the latter is hardly anything new for Ronaldo or Spanish football in general. A who’s-who of Liga players to have been accused of some fiscal infraction or another would make a world-beating XI, with plenty of talent to spare on the bench. Ronaldo also signed a new deal last November up to 2021, and while there are clubs that could offer more financially he is hardly struggling to get to the end of the month at the Bernabeu.
If there is any truth behind A Bola’s story it is likely to revolve around the simple dynamics of a footballer’s employment. Ronaldo has little left to achieve at Real Madrid, breaking every scoring record and winning every major club trophy going at least once.
It could be that he is looking to earn a longer-term deal somewhere else down the line, with the huge financial package that would guarantee. Before signing his five-year extension, Ronaldo suggested — tongue somewhere between cheek and a more central role — that Florentino Perez should offer him a 10-year contract and that his current deal would not be his last. With Marco Asensio waiting on Ronaldo’s wing, that is the sort of assurance the Real president is too wily to be drawn into. Others may find themselves more starry-eyed.
PSG could probably meet Ronaldo’s financial demands and submit to his predictions of longevity purely with the prospect of a merchandising bonanza in mind. Chinese investors weighing into Serie A and the petrodollars swilling around the upper reaches of the Premier League will always find a natural bedfellow in the world’s most marketable player.
There is also the consideration that the three Portuguese amigos have finally been broken up at Madrid. Pepe is out of contract, Fabio Coentrao out of form and both are out of favour. The effect of that on a player who identifies so fiercely with his native land should not be lightly dismissed. In any case, Ronaldo is currently where he is most at ease, with Portugal preparing for an international tournament.
Winning the European championship was a cathartic moment for Ronaldo, who was finally anointed the greatest player ever to represent his country in the wake of victory at Euro 2016. Unbridled adoration ensued, Madeira airport was named in his honour and further questionable busts were commissioned.
Perhaps Ronaldo simply feels it is time he was afforded the same distinction by Real Madrid.
Rob Train covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.