Why Cristiano Ronaldo Could Leave Real Madrid This Summer
One would have expected Cristiano Ronaldo to be celebrating his fifth Champions League triumph in Kyiv on Saturday rather than bringing up his future. It is what one would expect when a player becomes the greatest player in the history of the competition.
No player has won the title five times. Clarence Seedorf had won it four times (with Ajax, Real Madrid, and AC Milan) as had Andres Iniesta (with Barcelona). Players such as Xavi, Lionel Messi, and Gerard Pique have won it four times too although they did not play in the final in 2006.
Ronaldo stands alone. Having won it once with Manchester United in 2008 and four times with Real Madrid in the last five years, the Portuguese stands at the pinnacle of the competition, even suggesting they "need to change the name of the Champions League to the CR7 Champions League."
Nobody has scored more goals in Champions League history. With 120 goals, he is 20 ahead of Lionel Messi and 65 ahead of Karim Benzema (the only other active player close to his tally).
He has been the top goalscorer in the competition for seven seasons now. Messi has been top scorer only five times.
And yet, here we are. Talking about Ronaldo's future at Real Madrid.
Does Ronaldo want to leave?
Here's what Ronaldo said after the final when asked about his future. At first, he did not want to ruin the moment but then said something that may have caused irreparable damage.
"I don't want to overshadow this top moment for Real Madrid fans that have always supported me and have always been alongside me. [They're] always in my heart forever.
"This is not the moment to talk about me or the future of other players. I am going to talk in one week... I will join up with the national team on 4 June and I’ll say something... This is not the moment." - Ronaldo
It was a strange thing to say after a commendable and unprecedented achievement. After all, Real Madrid are the first team to accomplish the 'three-peat' in the Champions League era (since 1992).
Of course, Ronaldo's future is debated every summer with a host of clubs lining up for his services. Former club Manchester United are almost always linked as are the nouveau riche elite such as Paris Saint-Germain. Who else can afford his eye-watering wages?
“What do you want me to say? I can’t change what he said." - Zinedine Zidane
But every year, club president Florentino Perez shoots them down like a mafia boss pulling out his concealed sawed-off shotgun. After the win over Liverpool, Perez commented on Ronaldo's quote and nonchalantly brushed it aside.
“The same thing is heard every summer and then nothing happens.” - Florentino Perez
However, there was something quite stark and direct with the way Ronaldo has approached the subject this year. Every summer has seen him say the same thing that almost all footballers are now accustomed to saying; along the lines of "enjoying their time here" but "in the future, you never know..."
It frustrates fans and journalists alike until the player signs that damned contract extension. But Ronaldo, aged 33, still has three years left on his current contract - one that will arguably see him finish his career at the Bernabeu.
So why the sudden change of heart?
Real Madrid fans respect Ronaldo but what about the club?
As Real Madrid celebrated their title back in Madrid, the fans had only one thing to say to Ronaldo.
So why would he leave if he is loved by the fans?
This is where Ronaldo's relationship with Perez comes in. One must remember that Ronaldo is not a Perez signing. He became club president only after the deal to sign the Portuguese winger for a record £80m was made in the summer of 2009.
Although Perez understands Ronaldo's importance to the club and was more than happy to reap the benefits of his prolonged goalscoring form - even though he is now on the wrong side of 30 - relations between the two have been strained.
Ronaldo isn't the only player who wanted to leave at one point. Club captain Sergio Ramos was close to leaving the club and moving to Manchester United too before the skipper and president slugged it out for hours to come to an understanding that saw Ramos eventually extend his stay at the Bernabeu.
The public pursuit of Neymar has also seemed to have unsettled Ronaldo. He is the alpha dog, and rightly so, considering the long list of achievements the club's top goalscorer has. And he sees the 26-year-old Brazilian as a legitimate threat to his throne at Madrid.
Ronaldo has also publicly admitted that he never really received any help from the club when he was tried in court for tax fraud, all the while maintaining his innocence. At the time, a number of players from Barcelona and Real Madrid were caught up in similar cases.
The club had distanced themselves from the legal process, leaving him quite isolated as he stood alone to face the barrage of criticism that followed.
Will Real Madrid let Ronaldo leave?
This is quite literally the €1 billion question. No club in the world will pay that 10-figure release clause to secure Ronaldo's signature. If Ronaldo is to leave, it will most likely be on the club's terms.
For Perez, it would be a straightforward business decision. Sell Ronaldo now while he is still at his peak rather than wind his contract down. Many would consider the trophies won since the £80m they spent in 2009 to bring him to Spain as arguably the best return on investment in football.
However, if Perez wants to make Neymar his next Galactico signing, Ronaldo's sale would be the key. Los Blancos haven't really made a big-money signing since James Rodriguez in 2014. They are probably long overdue.
But one thing that could throw a spanner in the works is Gareth Bale considering his own future. Bale, like Benzema, is one of Perez's pet projects and is still Real Madrid's most expensive signing at £86m.
The Welshman has struggled for form amidst a number of injuries and has not played as much as he would have liked under Zidane. He was even benched for the Champions League final, eventually thrown on as a substitute to grab a brace and win the game for Real.
"I need to be playing week in, week out, and that's not happened this season. I have to sit down with my agent in the summer and discuss it." - Gareth Bale after the final
Selling both their star forwards would be suicidal for Real, especially considering Karim Benzema hasn't exactly been in fine form either. Should Bale leave, and it looks very likely that he will return to the Premier League, Perez will have no option but to pander to Ronaldo's wants and needs.
What one can say with absolute certainty is that Ronaldo has nothing left to achieve with Real Madrid. 450 goals, 15 trophies, and taking his tally up to five Ballons d'Or are a testament to what he has achieved in the last nine years.
As he has said before, staying at Real Madrid is not about the money anymore. It is about respect. While he gets that in abundance from fans, he probably feels short-changed by the club in that regard and that is probably why he is considering his own future.
But the club are also allowed to think about their own future. Ronaldo will not last forever. Real Madrid must. Nevertheless, Ronaldo still has a few good years left in him.
Ultimately, it may be business sense that prevails over egos in a battle for supremacy at the biggest club in Europe. It is the price they pay for an obsession with winning trophies.
Do you think Ronaldo will leave Real Madrid this summer? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.