Cristiano Ronaldo’s unhappiness in Spain has led to a certain sense of deja-vu around Real Madrid — and a look back at his last declaration of “sadness” almost four years ago helps understand how this present impasse with club president Florentino Perez might now play out.
Ronaldo has so far stopped short of commenting directly on the investigation which sees him due in Spanish court on July 31 accused of a €14.7 million tax fraud, but close associates have been talking on his behalf.
“[Cristiano] is truly saddened with all that is happening at the moment,” Lille director of football and close Jorge Mendes associate Luis Campos said this week. “He feels hurt by everything that is going on. He is going through a difficult moment.”
The language recalled the last time the sensitive superstar was “saddened.” Back in September 2012 he opened his heart in the Bernabeu mixed zone, after he had declined to celebrate a goal during a 3-0 La Liga win against Granada.
“I’m sad, and the people at the club know it, that’s why I did not celebrate the goals,” the Portugal international said at the time. “There are professional issues. I cannot say any more. We’ll see what happens.”
Back in autumn 2012 Ronaldo had plenty of reasons for feeling low. The post-Granada comments came just a few days after he had stood by as Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta received UEFA’s Best Player in Europe Award for the previous season. Blaugrana talisman Lionel Messi had also just taken the official La Liga player of the year 2011-12 trophy, despite Madrid having won that year’s title.
Most importantly [perhaps] Ronaldo was then still on the same contract he had signed when joining from Manchester United in 2009. Messi had since been given regular pay rises by Barca’s board. Reporters close to Mendes’ camp were soon filing stories claiming huge and attractive offers had been received from suitors including Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and even Anzhi Makhachkala — that year’s perceived super-rich outsider threat to Europe’s traditional elite, now more commonly the Chinese Super League.
Blancos president Florentino Perez did not immediately cave to the pressure. Even after it became clear that money was the main issue he continued to play hardball. Interestingly given the details of various Gestifute clients’ tax problems, reports back in 2013 claimed that a major sticking point was the sharing of image rights income between player and club. However more than 12 months after the “sad” revelation a deal was done, and Ronaldo became the world’s best paid footballer again.
There was not quite as much drama around his most recent Madrid contract, just last November, when he memorably spoke about wanting to play for the club until well into his 40s. And everyone was still smiling as the 32-year-old underlined his continuing relevance with 16 goals in the last 10 games as Zinedine Zidane’s side won both the 2016-17 La Liga and Champions League trophies.
That makes his sudden apparent stubbornness to never play for Madrid again seem even stranger now. His tax problems are not new, charges have been looming for a long time, well before the issue was made public by Football Leaks last December. Ronaldo himself had seemed pretty relaxed about the situation before, even joking about the FIFA The Best trophy coming “tax free” in January.
But something has changed. Maybe it is the growing realisation of just how many millions it will cost to regularise his tax situation in Spain. Or a feeling that his bargaining position is now stronger following his superb personal end to the season. Perhaps Messi’s expected new deal at Barcelona will again see them leapfrogged at the top of the salary stakes. The Portuguese group may also expect former politician Perez to lean more strongly on the Spanish court system on his player’s behalf.
The situation is not the same as 2012 however. It is only eight months since a big pay-rise stretched the budget at the Bernabeu. While Ronaldo’s big-game contribution was undoubted, Zidane’s rotation policy last season showed the team was less reliant on one star player week to week. Perez is also in a much stronger personal position following back-to-back Champions League successes, and has already lined up Monaco teenager Kylian Mbappe as the team’s next big thing and has another emerging superstar in-house in Marco Asensio. And despite his reputation in some quarters, he cannot realistically just order Spain’s tax authorities to look the other way now.
Ronaldo’s last public declaration of sadness saw him eventually get what he wanted — in the form of more money and respect from his boss. But this time things look quite different — and Florentino is definitely a man who enjoys getting the final laugh himself.
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