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Cristiano Ronaldo’s Dilemma at Juventus: Capocannoniere or The Old Lady’s Fantasy?

Andy Mukolo
ANALYST
Feature
2.00K   //    24 Aug 2018, 23:17 IST

Chievo Verona v Juventus - Serie A
What will Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus' priorities be this season?

In the opening round of the 2018/19 LaLiga, when Jose Bordalas’s Getafe visited the Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid were without a Ballon d'Or winner for the first time in two decades.

And while Gareth Bale and Dani Carvajal got Lopetegui’s reign underway with a 2-0 win, coming to terms with the loss of a guaranteed 40-50 goals per season could take some time.

Cristiano Ronaldo will never score another goal in the imperial Real Madrid white but, while Spanish football gets used to life without CR7, the rest of the world will focus on how the Portuguese ace adapts to life in Calcio.

For nine years; a period during which the Ballon d’Or race, as well as Barcelona and Real Madrid’s successes, was primarily based upon Lionel Messi and Ronaldo’s performances.

The Pichichi became a two-horse race with the GOATs plundering almost 600 goals between them. But in Italy, the Scudetto and Capocannoniere winners are hardly ever under the same roof.

In England, Ronaldo won the Golden Boot once, finishing ahead of Arsenal’s Emmanuel Adebayor. Six seasons after the £80m switch that revolutionized LaLiga, and brought Real Madrid more returns than they ever imagined, the wizard of Madeira picked up his third Pichichi, before relinquishing the prize to Barcelona duo Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi.

However, in the wake of a historic continental triumph with Portugal in France, the Lisbon legend struggled to keep up with the Pichichi race, or perhaps simply chose to save his best for the business end of the season – starting slowly only to burst into flames, tearing teams apart as Real Madrid’s memorable campaign(s) reached the finish line.

The UEFA Champions league became a priority and even when the great Zinedine Zidane guided Los Merengues to their 33rd La Liga title, Ronaldo’s 25 league goals came 23 short of his best tally in a Spanish top-flight campaign. Yet in Europe, he remained head and shoulders above everyone else.

Ronaldo’s game is now built on patience, ingenious movement off the ball, and selecting the perfect moment to strike in the final third. Coincidentally, the Italian Serie A operates on the same wavelength.

The aforementioned is the formula upon which Juventus’s Scudetto monopoly runs and, although Bianconeri forwards have always had a say in the Capocannonierre race, the fact that no player in black-and-white stripes has won it in the last decade, is indication that the Turin club prioritizes a defensively knit unit over individual brilliance – a harsh reality that could influence how Ronaldo adapts on the peninsula.

Serie A clubs have recruited players to compete with Juventus

The Calcio renaissance suggests an even more intriguing Scudetto and Capocannoniere race is upon us. Inter’s recruitment of Lautaro, Keita, Radja Nainggolan, and Milan’s Higuain deal has been matched brilliantly by AS Roma’s acquisition of Pastore and Kluivert.

Meanwhile, Napoli and Lazio have remained low-key, but their fascinating run last season is proof that even low budget sides are difficult to contain when the stakes are high – think Ciro Immobile and Dries Mertens.

Real Madrid v AC Milan - Pre-Season Friendly
Juve's previous record signing Gonzalo Higuain has moved to AC Milan

Gonzalo Higuain will have a lot to prove in those Milan stripes and, while Ciro Immobile and Mauro Icardi could continue from where they left off last term, Roma’s investment in youth potentially means more goals for Edin Dzeko. There’s Fabio Quagliarella too, who racked up 19 Serie A goals for Sampdoria last term, so don’t write off the blue-circled wizard.

Will Ronaldo be able to win the Serie A Golden Boot?

On paper, Il Bianconeri’s 4-2-3-1 line up with Federico Bernadeschi, Paulo Dybala, and Douglas Costa behind Ronaldo puts the fear of God in defenders. The Portuguese forward is more than capable of bossing a number-nine role, and the creativity of his exceptionally blessed partners suggests created chances will not be in short supply.

During his much anticipated debut against Chievo, the chances did come as expected, but the Portuguese ace failed to find the back of the net with any of his eight attempts on goal. Yet, Ronaldo looked busier and helped Juventus more once he switched to the left following the introduction of Mario Mandzukic.

In a nutshell, the 2018/19 Capocannoniere race will be the most eagerly anticipated scoring chart in Europe. While the Scudetto remains Juve’s to lose, the real surprise will be Ronaldo finishing ahead of Immobile, Icardi, Dzeko or Higuain.

Udinese Calcio v FC Internazionale - Serie A
Mauro Icardi could be a strong contender this season

Lazio, Inter, Roma and AC Milan rely heavily upon these poachers, but domestically, Juventus will not do the same with their record signing.

Massimiliano Allegri doesn’t need to be reminded how Ronaldo’s goals helped Real Madrid in the knockout phases of Real Madrid's back-to-back European titles, but the 51-year-old equally knows that it is in Juve’s best interests if Ronaldo's unmatched brilliance in Europe is replicated in the black-and-white stripes of the Old Lady.

Portugal's captain possesses the psychological make-up to succeed beyond the peak of his powers, but Allegri’s rotation policy suggests Ronaldo’s genius will be employed more in Champions league football.

Even though it jeopardizes his chances of finishing as Serie A top scorer, Ronaldo may have to rest more if Juventus are to get the best out of him. In line with this context, Napoli President Aurelio de Laurentiis expressed his doubts over Ronaldo’s £99m switch to the capital of Calcio.

“I wonder if it will be more of a commercial success than a sporting one.” De Laurentiis on Ronaldo's move to Juventus

After Champions League final heartbreaks to Barcelona and Real Madrid, The Old lady finally boasts the services of the best in the business. While she wouldn’t mind an eighth successive Scudetti with an all-time great, only a third European cup will heal the wounds of La Madama.

Can Ronaldo and Juventus achieve their goals?

For six years, Real Madrid’s dazzling superstar averaged 50+ goals per term. While LaLiga remains two steps ahead of Serie A, the harsh reality of Italy's top flight suggests the pattern of play on the Peninsula doesn’t bode well for Ronaldo's individual brilliance.

The former Real Madrid forward is already repaying his employees, selling a shirt every minute, netting just eight minutes into the 5-0 mauling of Juve’s Primavera, and contributing immensely in the 3-2 win vs Chievo.

But he will know that it is in Europe that his expertise will be appreciated more. Juve can take care of domestic business. Yet, there are better ways to measure a man’s season and only when winter comes can we begin to talk about Ronaldo's performances.

This is Serie A, where the last time Scudetto winners produced the Capocannoniere was in 2008/09 when Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 25 goals helped Inter Milan lift their 17th league title.

Chievo Verona v Juventus - Serie A
Massimiliano Allegri will rest Ronaldo off and on so that he is fully fit for Champions League fixtures

In Italy, you win titles by out-defending your rivals, not outscoring them, but in the Champions League, your chances are higher when you have Ronaldo in your corner - a man whose name has become synonymous with the competition.

15 years ago, in a 4-0 desolation of Sam Allardyce’s Bolton, the Manchester adventure of an all-time great took flight and, at club level, he went on to win everything on display.

But in the twilight years of Ronaldo’s spell-binding career, and at a time when Serie A is returning to the pinnacle, it is the exciting challenge of helping Juventus end a 22-year quest for European success - not outscoring Immobile, Higuain, and Dzeko – that remains a top priority for one of the all-time greats.

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Andy Mukolo
ANALYST
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