Ken Early: PSG would be sensible final move for Ronaldo

Portuguese star could win another title and concentrate on Champions League

 Cristiano Ronaldo shows his frustration during the Champions League round of 16 second leg  between Juventus and Lyon at the Allianz stadium in Turin, Italy. Phototraph: Antonio Calanni/AP

Cristiano Ronaldo shows his frustration during the Champions League round of 16 second leg between Juventus and Lyon at the Allianz stadium in Turin, Italy. Phototraph: Antonio Calanni/AP

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Lisbon will miss Cristiano Ronaldo this week. For the first time in a decade, the Champions League quarter-finals go ahead without him.

On Friday night against Lyon, Ronaldo scored twice from nine shots but his team mates mustered only seven shots and no goals between them. Afterwards Ronaldo’s sister paid tribute to him on Instagram. “You did everything you could... unfortunately you can’t do it all by yourself. You are still the best.”

Still the best, but for how much longer?

Ronaldo was born on February 5th, 1985. Of the 690 players who saw action in the 2019-20 Champions League, only 12 are older than Ronaldo – and five of those are goalkeepers.

The only forward older than Ronaldo in this season’s Champions League was Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, and he played just 37 minutes over four substitute appearances for Ajax. Ronaldo, meanwhile, played more minutes than any other forward in the competition except Mohamed Salah.

Buying Ronaldo always seemed a strange move for Juventus. Historically they are the most unsentimental of superclubs, always taking the long view, always prepared to sell superstars if the price was right. Their consistent success has been based on attention to process at all levels of the club, not on signing the world’s most famous players.

Their sudden conviction that a then-33-year old Ronaldo could come in and transform them into Champions League winners seemed an uncharacteristic episode of magical thinking.

More in character was the ruthlessness with which they reacted to the Lyon defeat, sacking Maurizio Sarri and appointing Andrea Pirlo within 24 hours. They thus replaced the awkward former banker, who had worked his way through 20 coaching jobs on his 30-year journey to the top, with a prince of Italian football, a cult hero and style icon whose hands-on coaching career began all of 10 days ago when he was appointed manager of the Juventus Under-23 team.

What are Juventus saying with this appointment? Is it a tacit admission that they see the position of coach as a virtually ceremonial role, best entrusted to someone who will look good and transmit a stylish image for the club? If so, then Pirlo is probably an improvement on Sarri.

Or is this a genuine statement of confidence that Pirlo is an exceptional football mind, whose lack of experience will soon be proven irrelevant? If so, he will already have noticed some problems with how Ronaldo fits into the team.

At half-time of the first leg against Lyon back in March, a camera in the tunnel overheard Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala moaning about the uselessness of the Juventus midfield.

“We’re alone out there, the midfielders are giving us no support,” Ronaldo complains.

Lack quality

“Nobody is getting the ball,” says Dybala.

“I know,” says Ronaldo. “Not even the second balls. Nothing.”

Their diagnosis of what was going wrong actually sounded a little bit like Pirlo’s, when he talked last year about why Juventus hadn’t won the Champions League despite signing Ronaldo.

“I think we need an Isco,” Pirlo said. “You need midfielders to win the Champions League. Juventus lack quality in the middle. They have signed Ronaldo, but they don’t know how to get the ball to him.”

Hearing all this lacerating criticism of the Juventus central midfield must have been hard on Juventus’ main central midfielder, Miralem Pjanic. Thankfully Pjanic has now signed for Barcelona, so this time next year it might be Lionel Messi bitching about his failure to win any second balls in midfield.

In Pjanic’s defence, chasing second balls has never been his game. He’s not a physical player, he’s skilled, intelligent, elegant, maybe even ‘languid’... and that’s fine – as long as your forwards aren’t players like Ronaldo, Dybala and Gonzalo Higuaín.

Every team needs a few players to do the running. Ronaldo is not going to do it, and neither is Dybala or Higuaín, so a bigger burden falls on the midfielders. If Pirlo thinks the problem could be solved by adding a player like Isco, another who likes to play at walking pace... let’s hope it was something he just threw out there for the sake of having something to say.

It makes no sense that Juventus are committed to paying the oldest attacker in the Champions League more than €60 million over the next two seasons, when his arrival in the team two years ago coincided with the start of a slow decline. They would not be Juventus if they were not already considering ways to cut their losses.

As luck would have it, this weekend saw reports that Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes is trying to negotiate a transfer to PSG. Seldom can there have been a transfer that made more sense for all parties.

Ronaldo could become the first player to win the title in England, Spain, Italy and France. Of course, Ligue 1 is not a serious competition compared to the Premier League or La Liga, but at Ronaldo’s age the last thing he wants is serious competition.

The ideal team for him is a kind of high-end gym and country club where he can concentrate on getting in optimum shape for the handful of Champions League matches on which he knows his legacy depends. Alone among the superclubs who could afford his salary, PSG can give him that space.

As for Juventus, selling Ronaldo would let them get back to what they do best: not flinging money at aging superstars, but diligently tending a sports-industrial complex that produces trophies like a Fiat factory produces cars. It might not be sexy but it is the Juventus way.

The PSG way is transfer market shock and awe. By signing Ronaldo, they would bring together the three biggest football stars in the Nike stable. They would have succeeded, however briefly, in becoming the biggest show in the game.

The thought of Ronaldo with the Jumpman on his chest is a vision of ecstasy for sports marketing people. From the technical point of view, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé have the mobility to complement Ronaldo, and his arrival could even take some of the pressure off their relationship. Two superstars is a rivalry, but three could be the makings of a team.

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