“I am sad. The club knows why.”
So said Cristiano Ronaldo back in September 2012, explaining his refusal to celebrate two goals in a victory over Granada.
Ronaldo never fully explained his sadness, but his apparent depression probably dissipated the following year, when he signed a new contract to become the best-paid player in the world.
Three years later, a constant drip feed of leaks from within Madrid implied the Portuguese was unhappy with all aspects of his life at the Bernabeu, from then manager Rafael Benitez to Florentino Perez’s apparent favouritism towards Gareth Bale, while apparent links with PSG were allowed to fester with little sign of denial.
Just over 12 months later, Ronaldo was signing another new deal, this time until 2021.
Is that what these latest rumours are all about? Is CR7 really demanding a move away from Real Madrid simply because he wants a new contract?
Maybe. After all, his reputation has never been higher following a stunning conclusion to the season which saw lead the club to their first league and European double since 1958, scoring 18 goals in his last 11 games.
Aided and abetted by super-agent supreme Jorge Mendes, Ronaldo has always been acutely aware of his worth. And right now, even though he is 32, the Portuguese is worth an awful lot – both on the pitch and in terms of marketing, which in modern football inevitably plays a key role in major contract decisions.
Furthermore, don’t forget that Ronaldo’s arch-rival Lionel Messi is in the latter stages of his own drawn-out contract negotiations with Barcelona. The likelihood is that Messi will finally reach agreement with the Camp Nou hierarchy in the next few weeks, with his new deal likely to see him jump above Ronaldo to become the game’s top-earner.
How very apt it would be, considering the season he has enjoyed, if Ronaldo then gazumped Messi by immediately announcing he has signed an even more lucrative deal to stay at Madrid.
However, before we dismiss the reports of Ronaldo’s impending departure as mere political gamesmanship, we should also consider the possibility that it is true.
Ronaldo is an extremely proud man and he almost certainly does feel genuine outrage at the accusations of serious tax fraud that have been levelled against him.
Cristiano Ronaldo has been accused of tax fraud less than a week after Forbes named him the #5 highest-paid celebrity 😳 pic.twitter.com/XmJknju4CE— Complex (@Complex) June 15, 2017
If he believes the club have not sufficiently supported him in the case, it’s feasible to imagine that he really has decided to leave both the club and the country in protest.
From a footballing perspective, leaving Madrid would make a certain amount of sense. They say you should quit while you’re ahead, and even Ronaldo can never hope to match his incredible achievements of the last few weeks.
Departing the Bernabeu would assure his place in the history books with no danger of him suffering a slow decline before leaving in relative ignominy, in the manner of the sorry exit endured by his predecessor as Los Blancos’s biggest icon, Iker Casillas.
So perhaps, due to a combination of personal outrage and legacy protection, Ronaldo really is determined to leave.
If that’s so, the club should pull out all the stops to keep him. As well as being by far their most marketable asset, drawing in millions of Euros in shirt sales and sponsorships, he is obviously still a major match-winner and Zinedine Zidane’s rotation policy gets the very best out of him, allowing him to stay fresh and decisive.
Their task in maintaining domestic and European supremacy would be much harder without him – Ronaldo comes guaranteed with 40 goals per season, and it’s far from certain any potential replacement would match that.
If Madrid can’t keep Ronaldo, though, it would pose a fascinating question of where he would go. And taking into account the transfer fee he would command, only a very small number of clubs could even be considered.
The most romantic, of course, is Manchester United, whose global legion of fans are beside themselves with the notion their former hero could be ‘coming home’.
A word of warning, though. Shortly after his “I am sad” outburst five years ago, and before he had signed a new contract, Ronaldo claimed he had become happier at the club because “something has changed”. That “something” remains a mystery, but is widely believed to be private confirmation that then-manager Jose Mourinho, with who he endured a poor relationship, would be leaving the club.
Would Ronaldo want to work with Mourinho again? Probably not. So if he’s leaving Madrid, it could well be a case of, “adios Real, bonjour Paris.”