Does the Cristiano Ronaldo Signing Make Juventus Champions League Favorites?

by Taylor Smith
on July 10, 2018
15

Minute Read

On Tuesday, Italian giants Juventus announced the signing of superstar striker Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid.

Despite having a release clause worth €1 billion, Madrid sold the player to Juve for €100 million. Real will now invest the funds in the squad with the hopes of getting younger while remaining arguably the most talented side in European football. Ronaldo signed a fresh 4-year pact with Juventus that will pay him about €30 million per year.

Ronaldo is now 33, but this move does alter the landscape across Europe. Real Madrid are the 3-time defending European champions, and now the face of their club is gone. There is certainly no shortage of talent still on the roster, but it will be interesting to see how Los Blancos fill the hole left by their former talisman.

Some wondered whether Ronaldo is still as good as he was in his late-20s, but his track record speaks for itelf. While Juve may not be acquiring a player in his athletic prime anymore, Ronaldo is pretty clearly still a massive difference-maker on the pitch. He has been dominating La Liga, arguably the best league in the world, for nearly a decade.

Now, he will be bringing his massive talents to Serie A, a considerably less competitive league. Juve figure to have little issue storming their way to an eighth consecutive Italian top flight title, but Ronaldo was signed with European success in mind. Will the acquisition of Ronaldo lead Juventus to glory? Or will Real Madrid continue to reign?

Juventus Rising?

While Juventus have not claimed a European title since 1996, it’s not like they haven’t come close in subsequent seasons. In fact, since defeating Ajax in the ’96 final, Juve have appeared in the Champions League Final another 5 times. In that span, they have been beaten by Borussia Dortmund (1997), Real Madrid (1998, 2017), AC Milan (2003) and Barcelona (2014). Close, but nothing but a few silver medals to show for it.

The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook raised Juve’s odds of winning next season’s Champions League from 12-1 to 7-1 after the news of Ronaldo’s signing broke. Real Madrid, meanwhile, saw a slight dip from 6-1 to 7-1. As of this writing, Manchester City and Barcelona are the favorites at 6-1 apiece.

So, the Ronaldo news has impact for both parties.

Clearly, Juve are not getting complacent despite the fact that they have 7 straight Serie A trophies in the bag. They have been active in the transfer market. In addition to the big-money move for Cristiano, Juventus has also secured the rights to dynamic Brazilian winger Douglas Costa and workmanlike defensive midfielder Emre Can, who just enjoyed a successful stint with Liverpool. Juventus also signed right back Joao Cancelo, another Portuguese international, away from Valencia.

Juve aren’t exactly Real Madrid when it comes to funds. They’re only the 10th-richest club in the world, but they have been excellent in terms of targeting value transfers over the years. You could compare them to the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA or the New England Patriots of the NFL in that regard. Exploiting things like free transfers and targeting out-of-favor players has worked well, and it has helped keep the club on top of Italy for nearly a decade.

On Tuesday, they paid the largest amount of money any club has ever paid for a player of Ronaldo’s age. The €100 million figure blows the previous high – the €15 million Manchester City paid for goalkeeper Claudio Bravo in 2016 – out of the water completely. While that proved to be a disastrous move for the Citizens, Juve’s move for Ronaldo is obviously vastly more impactful.

If Ronaldo is declining, he’s not declining quickly. Last season, Ronaldo trailed only Lionel Messi and Neymar in terms of expected goals-plus-assists per 90 minutes played. Ronaldo is now pretty entrenched as a traditional striker after serving as a free-ranging attacker for most of his prime, but he’s still incredibly dynamic in front of goal.

Juve recently saw first-hand that he’s still got plenty in the tank. Just look at this ridiculous overhead goal he scored against him in the Champions League last season.

Not every 33-year-old is capable of that.

Juventus haven’t had a player score at least 20 goals in the league in about 2 decades, while Ronaldo is coming off a campaign in which he bagged 26 in La Liga. If Ronaldo isn’t able to eclipse that mark against substantially worse competition in Italy, it will be a massive surprise.

The club haven’t really lost many players of note so far this summer, either. Iconic goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has left for Paris, but the 40-year-old figures to be easily replaced, with Polish keeper Wojciech Szczesny waiting in the wings. Juve have also lost defensive midfielder Tomas Rincon and left back Kwadwo Asamoah.

We obviously have no way of knowing how Juve will look with Ronaldo until we actually see it play out, but you have to believe this helps their chances at finally achieving European glory next season. At 7-1, the Italians are absolutely worth a punt bet.

What About Real Madrid?

While Juve are bringing a world-class player into the squad, Real Madrid will now face the challenge of replacing their most iconic player. That’s no easy task. Still, we know Madrid have a way of getting what they want. The most popular club in the world has no shortage of expendable cash, and the line will form to the left if they are open for business.

Ronaldo may not be the last to leave, either. Gareth Bale, who scored twice in the Champions League Final win over Liverpool, also spoke about wanting to start week-in and week-out, which is something he wasn’t doing last season with Los Blancos. There haven’t been any concrete rumors as of yet suggesting Bale will be sold, but it wouldn’t be a big surprise if he made his way back to England.

Spending big money over the summer is something Madrid just haven’t been doing in recent years. They have pretty much retained the same core for each of their 3 Champions League wins, though that obviously changes now with Ronaldo out of the picture. Madrid spent about £70 million to sign James Rodriguez after the 2014 World Cup, and they haven’t spent more than £45 million on any one player since.

So we can expect Madrid to dive deep into the transfer waters. One of the earliest and juiciest rumors centers around Chelsea star man Eden Hazard. Hazard has become one of the world’s best attackers during his time in England, and he has essentially accomplished all he can accomplish with the Blues. It is probably time for a new challenge, and joining Madrid in La Liga would definitely fit the bill.

While Hazard is great, he’s not exactly a carbon copy of Ronaldo. Ronaldo took nearly 7 shots per game last season, while Hazard attempted about 2.6 per 90 minutes. Hazard is more impactful cutting into space and generating opportunities for others than he is scoring himself. Real would do exceptionally well to sign Hazard, but he can’t be the lone Ronaldo replacement.

Another idea that has generated some buzz is the notion that Real will come for one or both of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, who ply their craft for Paris St. Germain. Of course, why would PSG sell their 2 best players just one year after signing both? The only possible reason for that would be to comply with FIFA’s Fair Play rules. PSG are currently under investigation for potential violations after last summer’s spending spree. So, if there is fire near that smoke, perhaps they will actually be motivated to sell at least one of them.

Madrid may sniff around for someone like Tottenham’s Harry Kane or Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, but it would take an insane offer to pry either player from their current situations. Both players are more comparable to Ronaldo than Neymar, Mbappe or Hazard, but I imagine they’ll stay in England for now. Juve will likely sell one of their attackers – Paulo Dybala or Gonzalo Higuain – with Ronaldo now in the fold. Dybala would seem like the more likely player to wind up in Madrid, but we’ll see what happens.

We know Real won’t come out of the summer empty-handed. The most likely scenario here is that multiple big  names will make their way to the Santiago Bernabeu to replace Ronaldo. We don’t know who yet, so predicting how Madrid will look next season is impossible at this stage.

Let’s also not forget that  Zinedine Zidane, the man that has coached Madrid during their current run, resigned in May. He was replaced by ex-Spain manager Julen Lopetegui. Teams tend to take time to managerial changes, so there could be some growing pains here as the team adapts to life under a new coach and without Ronaldo in the fold.

2018-19 Outlook

As of now, it’s almost impossible to fairly project how Real Madrid will fare next season. There are a ton of question marks, especially since we don’t know who will be coming in to replace Cristiano. Obviously, Juventus are on the winning side of this deal considering they’ve just added a world-class player to an already world-class squad.

So, you’d have to say that Juve at 7-1 to win next season’s Champions League currently looks like a smarter bet than Real Madrid to do so at the same odds. Plenty of familiar faces will still return to the Bernabeu, but there’s an awful lot of unfinished business through which the team will have to sort before the season begins in August.

Barring some sort of catastrophe, Juventus look like a near-lock to win an eighth consecutive Italian league title. Real Madrid, fresh off a disappointing third-place finish in La Liga, will face serious challenges from both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid once again. They’ll vault right back to the top if they spend the Ronaldo money wisely, but that remains to be seen.

So, Juventus at 7-1 look like a much safer play. Stay tuned, however. We’ll surely be hearing plenty from Real Madrid over the next several weeks.

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