In the end, it was over within a matter of days.
After years of flirting with the possibility of leaving the Santiago Bernabeu, Cristiano Ronaldo’s €105 million move to Juventus following nine seasons at Real Madrid still came as a huge shock to the world of football.
There was an official statement, a video tribute and yet somehow this didn’t feel real. As if it would all turn out to be an elaborate practical joke devised by Florentino Perez, Jorge Mendes and Ronaldo himself. But this time the rumours gathered more and more steam until they were impossible to ignore.
It is hard to quantify the impact of a player so intrinsically linked with a club. Ronaldo is Real Madrid in the 21st century. So how will he be remembered at the Bernabeu?
Ronaldo’s numbers at Madrid have been parroted by every sports media organisation in Europe but they are worth revisiting if only to acknowledge how they highlight the fact we may never see someone of the Portuguese star’s ilk again in the Spanish capital.
Since joining from Manchester United in 2009, Ronaldo scored 451 goals in 438 games for Real Madrid, averaging more than a goal a match and overtaking Raul as the club’s all-time top scorer. In amongst those goals were 44 hat-tricks. On top of this, 105 goals came in the Champions League and the 33-year old became the competition’s most prolific player during his time in the Spanish capital.
That amounts to 70 headed goals, 298 goals with his right foot, 82 with his left and one other with 'another part of his body' as Marca put it, intriguingly. 338 were from open play, 34 from free-kicks and 79 from the penalty spot – the latter earning him the unwelcome ‘Penaldo’ moniker from critics.
There were also the collective achievements with Madrid: four Champions League trophies, two La Liga titles, two Copa del Rey trophies, three Club World Cups, three Uefa Supercups and two Spanish Supercopas.
And then there are the individual honours, the ones which many would argue spur Ronaldo on the most: four European Golden Shoes, Champions League top scorer six times, three Pichichi trophies in Spain, five Ballon d’Or awards.
Those stats demonstrate his superhuman consistency. He is unlikely to better his 61-goal season of 2014-15 but he has adapted his game to become even more lethal in the crucial stages of the year. Last season he stuttered at first, but went on to strike 22 goals in La Liga from January to May.
Perhaps the most intriguing fact is that he has scored ten Champions League goals against his new club Juventus: more than any player versus a single opponent in the competition’s history.
As Marca said on their brilliant front cover displaying the badge of every club side Ronaldo has scored against for Madrid, No habrá otro igual - there won’t be another like him.
Even so, those are mere figures. Given the perceived normality of the Portuguese forward's brilliance, we have arrived at a point where they just wash over us, becoming little more than numbers on a page. Perhaps a more effective way of measuring Ronaldo’s impact at Madrid is by looking at the countless significant moments he provided.
At the centre of Marca’s front page was the image of Ronaldo hanging in mid-air as he scored that bicycle kick against Juventus in the Champions League quarterfinals. The sight of Juventus fans applauding the Real number seven for that effort in Turin now seems almost prophetic.
Of course, there are plenty of other goals to choose from. The towering header against Barcelona in the 2011 Copa del Rey final. When he silenced the Camp Nou by rounding Victor Valdes and telling the crowd to calm down. His various long-range strikes which flew past an array of hapless keepers in La Liga.
Goals against Schalke, Dortmund, Bayern, Roma, Wolfsburg and Paris Saint-Germain which set Madrid on their way to four Champions League titles in five seasons. His winning penalty against Atletico in the 2016 Champions League final in Milan, dispatched coolly past Jan Oblak. His brace versus Juventus a year later in Cardiff.
The celebrations, too. There was the one hand raised at the Camp Nou, the crouch and hard stare into the camera after scoring a hat-trick in the last derby against Atletico at the Vicente Calderon. Most of all there was his go-to power pose which we tired of but only because he used it so often.
Yet that overhead kick stands out as it represents everything Ronaldo strived for at Madrid: perfection. The few brisk steps Ronaldo makes to get to the ball, the leap, the connection with his right boot – everything about the goal is technically excellent. He has never stopped in that quest for perfection and he cannot now.
Nothing will be the same
So what next for Madrid? The honest answer is nobody knows, probably not even Florentino Perez himself. The phrase ‘end of an era’ is bandied about too often but this feels like one. Nothing will be the same after this.
That is not to say that Los Blancos won’t continue to be hugely successful but that the club’s second most important player of all-time has left. If Alfredo Di Stefano built up the legend of Madrid with those five consecutive European Cups in the late 1950s, then Ronaldo consolidated it with four in five seasons.
Ronaldo embodied everything about the club in the 21st century: the success, the arrogance, the obsession with greatness. And that is why he leaves a gaping hole as he leaves Madrid for Turin.
The same is true for Spanish football: his move to Serie A represents a massive blow for La Liga. If Neymar’s departure to PSG seemed like a big loss last summer, this is seismic.
A few seasons ago it was branded as ‘La Liga que mueve al mundo’ – 'the league which moves the world' – but that was largely because of Lionel Messi and Ronaldo’s Clasico rivalry. The battle between the two to be the best player in world football will not end but it will shift onto a different stage.
Ronaldo won everything there was to win in the Spanish capital and Serie A represents a fresh challenge and a new league for the insatiable number seven to conquer. Both Real Madrid and La Liga will look very different without him.
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