Why did Cristiano Ronaldo leave Juventus? Explaining star’s transfer move to Manchester United

Just a few weeks after Lionel Messi, now it’s Cristiano Ronaldo’s turn to switch clubs. The two biggest stars in global football are joining new teams in the same transfer window after Manchester United confirmed that it had acquired Ronaldo from Italian giant Juventus. 

The club announced the move just hours after Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri confirmed that Ronaldo told him he would not be playing for Juventus again. The player cleaned out his locker and said farewell to his teammates, before hopping on a plane. 

And just like that, with a year remaining on his contract at Juventus, the 36-year-old Ronaldo will be returning to the club where he experienced his breakout during six seasons from 2003 through 2009. It’s an incredible turn of events given that earlier in the same day it was believed that Manchester City was still in pole position to sign the Portuguese star, only for the Red Devils to beat them to it.

Why did Ronaldo leave Juventus?

Juventus is once again the favorite to win the Italian league title in the season that just started and the club is also expected to make a deep run in the UEFA Champions League competition. So why would Ronaldo leave one of the most storied clubs in Europe?

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Although Ronaldo has delivered in a big way since arriving at Juventus — both on and off the field — his departure works out for both the player and club.

Why a move makes sense for Ronaldo: Although Juventus has elite talent, it’s clear that the club is not on the same level as Chelsea, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich in the race to win the UEFA Champions League. Ronaldo is a five-time Champions League winner and with two more titles he would set the all-time record for European club championships for a player. At 134 goals and counting, he already has the most goals of any player in history in the competition.

Ronaldo cares about his brand and legacy and he wants to go down as the greatest of all time. If he can spend the next two or three seasons with a team that can help him win the big trophy and outshine Messi and PSG, he could yet shape the narrative about how he will be remembered. It wasn’t going to happen at Juventus.

The Juventus perspective: Ronaldo is a goal-scoring machine and he was the top scorer in Serie A last season. His 101 goals in 134 games for Juve — the fastest player to 100 goals in club history — helped Juventus win all three domestic titles during his time at the club. But the Turin-based side didn’t acquire Ronaldo for $120 million in 2018 to win in Italy.

The Bianconeri were hoping Ronaldo would get them over the hump to win their first UEFA Champions League title since 1996. It hasn’t happened — three different coaches in three seasons did not help — and Juventus has suffered shock knockout round exits in each of his three seasons, never reaching the semifinals. Reports suggest that Ronaldo took the Round of 16 elimination to Porto in March especially hard, and less than six months later he’s on his way out.

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There are also off-field considerations. Given the revenue challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated $235 million budget deficit this season and Ronaldo’s $100 million-a-year cost to the club between his salary and the amortization of his transfer fee, moving on also makes sense from a financial standpoint.

The Ronaldo acquisition in 2018 no doubt helped elevate the Juventus brand: The club has a higher international profile, double the social followers, and it leveraged Ronaldo for significant increases in revenues and partnerships. But the pandemic has changed the financial outlook for the club, and on the field Juventus is resetting and going younger. The timing for a Ronaldo transfer works across the board.

What happens now?

There were early indications that a summer move was a real possibility since before Euro 2021. That’s when reports began to surface about Juventus needing to transfer Ronaldo to balance the budgets, there were images of moving trucks transporting his cars away from his home in Turin, and there was also the Instagram post that really felt like a goodbye.

As the summer weeks went by, new rumors surfaced of potential interest from Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, depending on how the dominoes fell with the potential transfer of young French star Kylian Mbappe. Ronaldo’s indignant Instagram post in response to all that transfer chatter conspicuously left out mention of his commitment to spending his final season with Juventus.

But on the day of the club’s first Italian Serie A match of the new season, Juventus brass and its head coach indicated that Ronaldo wasn’t going anywhere, seemingly putting an end to the drama. Juve head coach Allegri said Ronaldo told him at that time that he was staying. But then “the transfer market happened,” as Allegri put it. “The situation changed and we need to accept it.”

That change likely relates to Manchester City missing out on No. 1 forward target Harry Kane, who opted to stay at Tottenham Hotspur this summer. Man City was reportedly targeting Ronaldo to fill the role of center forward that Kane would have occupied. The reigning English champions managed by Pep Guardiola have often operated without a true central striker, with a host of attackers filling the role last season and midfielders also picking up the goal-scoring slack. Ronaldo could prove a great fit with the number of scoring chances that Manchester City generates. And Manchester City, a Champions League finalist in 2021, is hungry to win its first European title. So the ambitions line up, too.

But the latest reports indicate that Manchester United is not about to allow that to happen and the Red Devils are now the ones seeking a deal to bring him back to Old Trafford. Ronaldo became a global star and Manchester United icon during his six seasons at the club. Joining Man City would have been considered a betrayal by the United fans. Former teammate and current Man United head coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer talked about his club’s interest.

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“He is a legend of this club, the greatest player of all time if you ask me,” Solskjaer told media Aug. 27 in the wake of the news that Ronaldo was leaving Juventus. “He knows what we feel about him. If he was ever going to move away from Juventus, he knows we’re here.”

It’s a move that could be the storybook ending for Ronaldo’s European career. Manchester United will also feature in the UEFA Champions League, competing in a group that doesn’t appear to be as tough as Manchester City’s on paper. With Ronaldo, the Red Devils would be a serious contender to win their first Champions League trophy since 2008 with Ronaldo. Their last Champions League final came in 2009, Ronaldo’s last season with Manchester United before a transfer to Real Madrid. 

The question will be the transfer fee for the soon-to-be 37-year-old Ronaldo, with reports pegging that number at $30 million, though Juventus are apparently hoping for $35 million in order not to lose money on the Ronaldo operation. It’s not much of a discrepancy to scupper a deal. Now that Ronaldo has already said his goodbyes and has apparently hopped on a plane out of Italy, a resolution appears a formality. The only question is whether Ronaldo will be wearing a red or blue jersey.

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