Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus – success or failure?

Operation Cristiano Ronaldo was all about winning Juventus the Champions League and it failed. He won five trophies, scored 101 goals, brought huge exposure but leaves them further from Europe’s biggest prize than when he arrived

  • Cristiano Ronaldo has agreed to join Manchester United on a two-year deal
  • It brings an end to his story with Juventus following three seasons in Italy
  • He was bought to help them end their Champions League drought since 1996
  • Ronaldo alone cannot be blamed but from that sporting angle he has failed
  • Off the pitch he has brought immense wealth and exposure to the Italian side 

When Cristiano Ronaldo touched down in Turin three years ago the expectation on his shoulders was immense for a city and a nation intoxicated by his potential for greatness. 

Only 12 months prior he had tormented Juventus in Cardiff in the 2017 Champions League final, striking twice in a 4-1 win. The Old Lady were looking greyer and wearier by the year as their bid for a first Champions League since 1996 rolled on. 

Ronaldo, meanwhile, perfectly tan and ripped like a bodybuilder, looked as devastating as ever. Mr Champions League. That was his profile to many. The sure-fire bet. The golden ticket. 

Cristiano Ronaldo never made it beyond the Champions League quarter-finals with Juventus

He scored 101 goals in 134 games and won five titles but always fell short playing in Europe

Cardiff was his third for Real Madrid. Kiev would be his fourth a year later. 

And so when he made the €100million to Turin it was splashed across newspapers and TV adverts as ‘Il colpo del secolo‘ (The deal of the century).

Seven straight Serie A successes prior to his arrival spoke of a well-oiled machine. Here was the missing piece. Mr Champions League. This would do it. 

Only he didn’t do it. They didn’t do it. Ronaldo has agreed to leave Juventus 12 months earlier than his contract had left to run and they are much further away from winning the Champions League now than when he arrived.

It would be foolhardy to pin the blame solely on Ronaldo but it is inescapable that the sole purpose – from a sporting perspective – of bringing him in was for European supremacy. 

What they managed in its place was agonising exits to Ajax, Lyon and Porto, not exactly the Real Madrid and Barcelona sides of old that stopped them in their tracks.

Not making it beyond the quarter-finals in Europe since he arrived is pathetic. Truly. Fans were angry and rightly so. 

His crowning moment for the Bianconeri came with a one-man show against Atletico Madrid in Turin in 2018, a hat-trick preventing a last-16 exit, and in a way that best encapsulates why this was something of an all-or-nothing operation.

His arrival from Real Madrid in 2018 brought worldwide attention back to Italian football

It was Europe where he was measured and he was slammed for turning in the wall vs Porto

Ronaldo, for his all-worldly talent, was never going to be able to do it alone and yet there were times where it felt like the plan was simply to ask him to win them the game.

Being paid €62m gross salary a year was earned given his career achievements – this is a man with more than 730 career goals to his name – but it was also restrictive. 

Mismanagement from those off the pitch left Ronaldo with a midfield incapable of competing for top honours, long gone were the days of Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba as gems in the centre in Turin. Now he had an injured Aaron Ramsey and declining Miralem Pjanic at his aid. 

Three managers in three seasons also destroyed any hope of continuity and building for the biggest prizes with Massimiliano Allegri, Maurizio Sarri and Andrea Pirlo all bungling how to maximise Ronaldo’s strengths.  

Allegri reportedly suggested to sell Ronaldo before he left in 2019, Sarri’s rigid system using Ronaldo as a false No 9 brought limited success and Pirlo had a number of issues that went far beyond the Portuguese.

So, yes, not winning the Champions League is a failure. The same will be said of Lionel Messi at Paris Saint-Germain to an even greater extent given their super team. It’s Europe or bust and ultimately Juventus went bust. 

His final trophy for Juventus came in May 2021 under Andrea Pirlo in winning the Coppa Italia

Depending on how you value areas of a deal determines whether he failed or succeeded

But be wary of the lexis used around Ronaldo and Juventus. A European failure – yes. A flop – don’t be ridiculous. 

Any player who hits 101 goals in three seasons is no flop. Those numbers are alien, freakish, incomprehensible, and to do so between the ages of 34 to 36 is unheard of. 

All that in just 134 appearances too. He’s still got it.  

There is an argument to be made that Ronaldo’s signing in 2018 breathed new life into Serie A in a deal some likened to his Brazilian namesake joining Inter Milan back in 1997.

His mere presence rocketed interest in the league, brought increased TV revenue, allowed Juventus to renegotiate many of their sponsorship deals and also did wonders to their social exposure.

When he arrived Juventus had around 49 million followers across Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. 

The Ronaldo Effect has seen those more than double to around 113m and while he leaves without a sixth Champions League trophy he does leave having made the club far more attractive to investors. 

Commercially Ronaldo brought immense value to Juventus and massively boosted exposure

Chairman Andrea Agnelli said in April that he would do the deal again tomorrow if he could

And so off the pitch it has been a monumental success. The saying that everything Ronaldo touches turns to gold and after millions of shirt sales, more than a hundred goals and exposure that has benefitted the whole league, there is a strong case to be made that Serie A is far better for Project Ronaldo.  

‘The life and career of any top player are made of ups and downs,’ he wrote on Instagram back in May.

‘Year after year, we face fantastic teams, with extraordinary players and ambitious goals, so we always have to give our best to keep ourselves at excellence levels.

‘This year we couldn’t win Serie A, congratulations to Inter for the well deserved title. However, I have to value everything that we achieved this season at Juventus, both in collective and individual terms. The Italian Super Cup, the Italian Cup and the Serie A Top Scorer trophy fill me with happiness, mainly due to the difficulty they carry with them, in a country where nothing is easy to win.

‘With these achievements, I reached a goal that I had set myself since the first day I arrived in Italy: to win the Championship, the Cup and the Super Cup, and also to be Best Player and Top Scorer in this great football country filled with tremendous players, giant clubs and a very own football culture.’

That in isolation just cannot be true. There is no Juventus fan in the world who believes Ronaldo came to Turin to win the Italian Super Cup. It’s nonsensical. Juventus, in his eyes, were the best ticket to a sixth Champions League when he left Real Madrid.

There is a sense that Ronaldo was the right player at the wrong time for a Juventus in decline

It was, with the benefit of hindsight, a major miscalculation on his part. 

The impact of Ronaldo will be felt for many years at Juventus but maybe now with the circus rolling back to Manchester can they finally move on.  

It was as thrilling as it was agonising. Young players like Federico Chiesa and Paulo Dybala will no doubt look back grateful to have learned from someone like Ronaldo, to understand his incredible will to win and United will hope something similar rubs off on Mason Greenwood and Jadon Sancho.

So too will Andrea Agnelli be grateful. The pandemic was damaging and Ronaldo’s wages were a drain but the five time Ballon d’Or winner was merely part of a process of making Juventus the go-to destination again and his signing did that.

More than 100 goals and five trophies to show for it is nothing to gloss over and asked if with everything considered would he pull the trigger again, Agnelli did not need to hesitate.  

‘If I could go back, I’d do it again tomorrow morning,’ the Juventus chairman told newspaper La Repubblica in April. 

Given what he knows now, it would be interesting to know if Ronaldo would do the same. 

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