All roads lead to Turin for Cristiano Ronaldo, who is threatening to actually make good on his oft-repeated threat to leave Real Madrid.
But if the arrival of a footballing icon is supposed to put Serie A back on the map then someone hasn’t being reading the signposts clearly.
Some English folk will talk wistfully of an era when the national team was reassuringly dreadful and the Premier League was little more than 11-a-side mud wrestling.
For cultural enlightenment and foreign mystique there was always Football Italia (Saturday mornings, Channel Four) which seems so unlike our own brand of calcio as to be a different game entirely.
This was the domain of Roberto Baggio and Gabriel Batistuta, Zinedine Zidane and Paolo Maldini. Players from our own isles, such as Paul Gascoigne and David Platt, were slightly fortunate if esteemed guests.
Then the millennium came and with it the power drain of Italian football, left behind in the money grab and sustaining self-inflicted wounds ranging from complacency with its global appeal to the chaos of match-fixing scandals. There have been good sides – Champions League winning sides – in the years since but Serie A’s footprint as a product had been trampled over long ago.
FROM THE ASHES
Over the last few years, though, the league has picked itself back up. Ronaldo won’t be the handsome mask for its deficiencies – he’ll be merely drawing attention to the quality which has already returned.
The 33-year-old will be joining a Juventus side seeking their eighth Serie A title in a row yet only secured its seventh by winning a rare hard-fought race in Europe.
Manchester City, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich were all more or less on the winners’ podium in their respective leagues by the first breaths of spring.
Though a close-run thing is no indicator of quality in and of itself, Juve’s Serie A rivals have all subtly made a series of small steps which now should be seen as a collective giant leap.
Napoli pulled up just before the finish line last season powered by a core of top-notch talent in Kalidou Koulibaly, Jorginho, Lorenzo Insigne, Marek Hamsik and Dries Mertens.
Some will inevitably depart but the Neapolitans are not going to watch their team be picked apart by the vultures. Udinese’s Alex Meret, one of the top goalkeeper prospects in Italy, has just signed and 22-year-old Real Betis midfielder Fabian Ruiz has been cherry-picked from La Liga.
A shrewd former La Liga operator in Monchi is also transforming Roma. Hope has not just come in the form of reaching the Champions League semi-finals but also their transfer policy, as the former Sevilla mover-and-shaker has hoovered up Ajax young gun Justin Kluivert and Atalanta tyro Bryan Cristante.
Roma have departed with Radja Nainggolan but his talent will stay in the league with Inter Milan, who are poking their heads above the parapet and then some backed by Chinese monoliths Suning Corp.
Nary a transfer rumour story goes by without the mention of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, but he will command a monster fee should he leave an upwardly mobile Lazio – and it will likely be reinvested to the betterment of the league.
AC Milan’s FFP breach and the cloudiness surrounding the club’s prospective sale is worrying but in truth, it is one of the few black marks against Serie A’s return to prominence.
Serie A bosses are also beginning to open themselves to innovation, too, with streaming service DAZN now holding the rights to games in Italy.
It is a blow that the international rights are locked up for the next three seasons for €370 million a year – Ronaldo could feasibly have doubled that by himself – but the commercial and advertising appeal is there to be exploited.
So when the whole world tunes in to see CR7 in black and white, don’t be surprised by the colourful bigger picture.
That move is yet to be confirmed, despite Juve’s Chinese social media handle ‘accidentally’ uploading a video confirming the 33-year-old’s arrival.
However, the anticipation of the transfer is so strong that Italian jeweler Circuiti has unveiled a commemorative piece of jewellery celebrating Ronaldo’s iconic bicycle kick against Juventus in the 2018 Champions League quarter-final.
According to Circuiti, “Goldmsith Gianfranco Quartaroli has created a unique jewel that perfectly matches the phenomenon in the Champions League against the Bianconeri.”
The piece of jewellery comes in three varieties – one with black diamond for €99, with white diamond for €149 and without any diamond for € 49.
Watch the video of the memorable goal below.
Ronaldo has been heavily linked with a €100million move to Juventus in recent days, with speculation in Spain and Italy that an agreement between the clubs could be struck soon.
Mendes refused to confirm whether or not Ronaldo has decided to leave the Bernabeu, but said it would be a “new challenge” if the Portugal superstar did move on.
He told Portuguese newspaper Record: “If this happens it will simply be a new stage, a new challenge in his brilliant career.
“If Cristiano Ronaldo leaves Real Madrid, he will be eternally grateful to the club, the president, all the directors, the medical staff, all the staff without exception, as well as all the Madrid fans around the world.”
Ronaldo has regularly been linked with a move away from Madrid, but speculation has intensified in the wake of comments he made after the team’s Champions League final win over Liverpool in May.
Speaking to beIN Sports, Ronaldo said immediately following the 3-1 victory in Kiev: “In the coming days there will be an answer about my future for the fans, who have always been by my side. It has been very nice playing for Real Madrid.”
Despite suggesting he would reveal more soon, the 33-year-old, who has been on World Cup duty with Portugal, has not publicly commented on his future since that match.
However, the last couple of days has seen increased media reports of an impending divorce between Madrid and their all-time record goalscorer, who joined the Spanish giants in a then-world record £80million move from Manchester United in 2009.
Various clubs had been linked with Ronaldo, but Juve have seemingly emerged as front-runners in a deal which could see the Italian champions splash out £88m on the five-time Ballon d’Or award winner.
That would smash Juve’s existing record transfer record, which was the £75m they spent to sign Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli in 2016.
While Ronaldo’s Madrid future remains in the air, the LaLiga powerhouses have continued their preparations for next season with the signing of Spain defender Alvaro Odriozola from Real Sociedad.
The 22-year-old right-back will put pen-to-paper on a six-year contract with Madrid, subject to a medical, the club announced on Thursday.
Reports in Spain say Madrid have paid in the region of 35 million euros (£31m) for Odriozola, who becomes the club’s first new signing since Julen Lopetegui replaced Zinedine Zidane as head coach.
Lopetegui included Odriozola in his Spain squad for this summer’s World Cup, but the San Sebastian-born full-back did not feature in any of the team’s four matches as they were knocked out at the last-16 stage.
Lopetegui was sacked on the eve of the tournament after accepting the Madrid job, with Fernando Hierro taking charge.