At Juventus, no player can ever be bigger than the club. It was true for Gianluigi Buffon, for Zinedine Zidane and for Roberto Baggio; true, even, for Alessandro Del Piero, Turin's favourite son who arrived at the club as a teenager.
That is, until Cristiano Ronaldo. In his three years here, he was the only show in town. Ronaldo had a bigger global fanbase, more commercial appeal, more titles. Even, with *CR7*, a more profitable nickname. No surprise, then, that the marriage did not work.
For three years, Ronaldo probably knew, deep down, that the team was not good enough to win the Champions League, his utmost desire. The Juventus of 2018-19, the best of the Ronaldo era, was knocked out in the quarter-finals against Ajax. Ronaldo left the pitch that night making a crude gesture; the family-friendly interpretation was that he believed the team was afraid and played too defensively.
If we want to understand why Ronaldo felt compelled to leave Italy , we have to go back to that day. Ronaldo respected Juventus, and liked Turin, but never fully fitted in. He had three managers in three seasons but never built a relationship with them, in the way that he did with Alex Ferguson, Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane.
The year with Maurizio Sarri was the most dysfunctional. As any Chelsea fan will know, Sarri believes that teamwork comes first. The players are simply his chess pieces; tactics first, ego second. Sarri is a disciple of Arrigo Sacchi and has developed complex training routines with a focus on tactical drills, with hours spent modelling the movements of the defensive line.
Ronaldo would sometimes skip these team tactical training sessions. Sarri, of course, still admired Ronaldo but, in this environment, his biggest player was not his ideal one. That strange season, disrupted by coronavirus, ended with elimination from the Champions League in the last 16 by Porto.
Things did change in the 2020-21 season, his last dance in the *bianconero* dress – but only for the worse. Andrea Agnelli, the Juventus president, replaced Sarri with Andrea Pirlo, who had never coached a team in his life, and Juve lost their first scudetto in 10 years.
As usual, Ronaldo played with maximum effort, and it was his intervention that was crucial in helping the team qualify for the Champions League. He won his first Serie A golden boot but more than ever he appeared to be an island.
His team-mates respected and, in some way, admired him but Ronaldo had only had one true friend at Juve: third-choice goalkeeper Carlo Pinsoglio.
It is no great leap to believe that Lionel Messi's transfer to Paris Saint-Germain sealed his decision to leave. In the past, Ronaldo has said that Messi helped him raise the level of his football and it is easy to imagine how he felt, seeing his great rival sign for football's Harlem Globetrotters and start the path towards his seventh Ballon d'or.
So, better get going, Cristiano – and Manchester United were there waiting for him .
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