In the nine seasons Cristiano Ronaldo played for Real Madrid, he scored 450 goals from 435 games — becoming the club’s record scorer in the process. His move to Spain from England started a rivalry the footballing world has loved to debate on. He helped the club to two La Liga titles and four Champions League trophies, apart from 10 other cup victories.
Does Real Madrid miss his presence? At this point, that question is just rhetorical. The right question would be to ask what his absence means for the club.
It was a summer of change at Real Madrid in 2018. Ronaldo was sold to Juventus not long after Zinedine Zidane took everyone by surprise by announcing his resignation. Julen Lopetegui succeeded the Frenchman but there were signs of ‘doom’ right from the start.
Lopetegui’s first La Liga game (against Getafe) saw just 48,866 fans come to the Santiago Bernabeu — its lowest figure in a decade. This record was broken again in January when only 44,000 turned up to watch the Copa del Rey tie against Leganes.
There are a host of other dismal records that were set since Ronaldo’s sale, but the following two highlight his absence the best: the team failed to score for the first time in 29 Champions League matches and for the first time in 11 years it has gone goalless in three consecutive matches in all competitions.
The Spaniard has since been sacked, and Santiago Solari was hired and fired before Zidane returned to the club. But problems persist, on and off the pitch, and most can be linked to the departure of the Portuguese forward.
Of shirt sales, finances and the social media game
Shirt sales, it is generally believed, pay for a player’s transfer. While that is not true — a club makes an average profit of €12 per shirt — a recent Der Speigel report based on the documents obtained from Football Leaks shows that the Madrid club has an agreement with Adidas where it will receive 22.5 percent of all sales of Real Madrid-branded merchandise.
Apart from that, the club will get €2.5 million, rising to €3.5 million after 2020, for a La Liga triumph and a Champions League win will see a windfall of €5 million, reaching €7 million after 2020.
Ronaldo’s last game for the club was the UCL final win against Liverpool, meaning a third straight year of €5 million being added to the club’s coffers. This year there will be no bonus coming in as the club exited the competition in the round of 16, something it has not done since Ronaldo’s first season in Spain.
Real Madrid’s loss has been Juventus’ gain. Within 24 hours of the Italian club’s merchandise being released since his signing, the club sold 5,20,000 shirts bearing his name. To put that into perspective, Juventus sold just 8,50,000 shirts in the entire 2016-17 season.
Paris Saint-Germain, after paying a world record €222 million to sign Neymar, sold around 10,000 of the Brazilian’s jerseys within the first 24 hours and 1,20,000 in the first month. Juventus also saw its value on the stock market rise even before the transfer was made official. At the time of Ronaldo’s signing, its value had reached €0.88 (which was a gain of 8.6 percent then) and as of March 28, the stock has reached €1.46.
Ronaldo has a massive fan base on social media, with more followers than any other footballer. On Twitter, he has more followers than Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus combined. In the hour after his move, Real Madrid lost almost a million followers on Twitter and Juventus gained close to 1.1 million.
While players are not hard to replace any more, especially at a club like Real Madrid, how does a team replace someone who has scored an average of 50 goals per season, for nine seasons straight?
There are two options. Either it gets a replacement, if available, or it changes its style of play to ensure the goalscoring burden gets shared between the players.
While Real Madrid did not get a replacement — the re-signing of La Fabrica product Mariano Diaz was never about replacing CR7 — its forwards have struggled to reach those scoring figures combined. Lopetugui tried to have a fluid front three of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio to even out the attack but the players failed to live up to the expectations.
The lack of options off the bench, along with the sidelining of Isco, has seen Los Blancos score only 49 goals in La Liga — 24 less than what Barcelona currently has. During Ronaldo’s time in Madrid, the club scored more than 100 goals in all but one season, and its goal difference during those years was more than what the club has scored this campaign.
Ronaldo is a unique player, someone whose style is difficult to replicate even in parts. He is good on and off the ball, is a sharpshooter and can score with any part of his body and from any part of the pitch. Of his 450 goals, 298 have come with his right foot, 81 with the left and 70 via headers. Of those, 62 have come from outside the box.
Before Cristiano came into the picture, the name belonged to a certain Brazilian superstar, also once of Real Madrid, who made ‘Ronaldo’ a household name — long before the Portuguese came knocking — by winning titles in five countries and two World Cups, apart from a host of other honours. It’s a testament to Cristiano’s genius that he has managed to match, if not mask, those achievements since breaking on to the scene and own his name.
Clubs often go through transition years where changes are made to usher in a new era, and Real Madrid is not new to that. It has seen several successful eras: Di Stefano and Puskas, the Ye-ye, Quinta del Buitre, the Galacticos and Cristiano-Zidane. The club went into transition and decline after each of those periods, sometimes recovering quickly and sometimes taking time. But the drop-off has never been as dramatic as we are seeing now.
When the club couldn’t replace Zidane, they rehired him. But such luxuries do not exist when it comes to Ronaldo. The club scrambled to bridge the gap, on and off the pitch, caused by his departure and will continue to do so for a while.
Like Keylor Navas said, “Cristiano left the bar very high at Real Madrid. You cannot cover the sun with a finger.”