What started over the weekend as another laughable Tuttosport headline — who could figure out a way to report that Juventus was on the verge of signing Jesus Christ come transfer time — has become the landslide story of the soccer world during the World Cup’s brief time off.
Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus. Damn.
If it were to go through — and frankly, until he is on a treadmill at J Medical with wires hooked up to his chest I won’t believe that it will — it would be a seismic change for Juventus. The team would instantly become far more likely to finally win their first Champions League title since the 1995-96 season. The immediate marketing prospects of the Portuguese superstar would be mouth-watering.
But as incredible as a move for Ronaldo looks on paper, there are some things about this move that, if you look at them a while, are enough to give one pause. I’m here to present a Devil’s advocate’s view of the prospect of signing CR7 — and why it might not be the greatest idea in the world.
This all, of course, has to do with money. That’s been the biggest question ever since people started taking these reports seriously: How in the world is Juventus going to pay for all this? I’m sure Fefu’s calculator of choice has been begging for mercy since this all became a Thing.
The financial numbers involved in this potential deal are gargantuan. Apart from a team-record transfer fee of €100 million, Ronaldo would reportedly see a net salary of €30 million — and twice that before taxes. To put that in perspective, that means between the transfer fee and his wages, a single season of Ronaldo would cost Juventus more money than it cost to build the J Stadium.
Considering the fact that only two weeks ago we were haggling over the whether to pay €15 million or €20 million for likes of Aleksandr Golovin, the idea of Juventus spending that kind of money is more than a little far-fetched.
There have been a lot of solutions posited as to how this might be achieved. Mostly they center on the idea of a sponsor taking up the majority of his wages. The reports have gone from Adidas — highly unlikely given the player’s $1 billion lifetime deal with Nike — to more plausible options like FIAT or Ferrari, which are connected to the FCA Group and by extension Exor, the Agnelli family holding company that is also the parent of Juve.
While this seems well and good on the surface, it’s worth noting that that kind of arrangement is one of the things UEFA created Financial Fair Play to discourage. Using sponsors to pay transfer fees or wages is a favorite tactic of Paris Saint-Germain (see: Neymar), and UEFA has just announced that it is reviewing the decision to clear the nouveau-riche French giants of FFP violations. The recent exclusion of AC Milan from the Europa League, a punishment a few degrees above what that club’s situation actually warrants, was most likely an example of UEFA taking a club with pedigree and posting them on a stake in front of the Parc des Princes — a warning that if they continue to flout the rules they’ll finally get physical, regardless of PSG’s financial clout.
Juventus have never come close to running afoul of FFP before, but a deal so out of character is bound to at least attract UEFA’s attention. If it doesn’t happen on its own, it probably won’t be long before the likes of Aurelio De Laurentiis start moaning on television as to why an investigation hasn’t been opened.
Even if Juventus can cover a move for Ronaldo under FFP guidelines, he’s not the only thing that could trigger problems for the club’s finances. His presence could create a knock-on effect that could cause issues.
Signing Ronaldo at the salary widely quoted in the press would detonate the club’s wage structure. No one at Juventus makes even €10 million, let alone €30 million. The highest-paid player on the team is Gonzlao Higuain. He makes €7.5 million — four times less than what Ronaldo would allegedly be paid of the deal goes through.
The effect on wages for the rest of the team isn’t hard to imagine. It probably wouldn’t take very long for the agent of another of the team’s important players — Miralem Pjanic, for example, or perhaps Paulo Dybala, whose brother has clearly developed the opinion that he’s hot stuff since taking over as his agent — to show up in Beppe Marotta’s office with a simple message: “There’s got to be more where that came from.”
Here, perhaps, is the biggest danger of any move for Ronaldo. It doesn’t matter that Ronaldo is a generational talent with more trophies than God. He’ll have reset the market in terms of the club’s wage scale, and the enterprising agents of other players will begin to seek that their clients are compensated accordingly. They won’t get €30 million, of course, but could easily make half that a starting point in negotiations. Any high-profile transfer targets could likewise begin negotiations at eight figures.
If enough players start demanding wages more in proportion with what Ronaldo gets, things could start getting dicey. The club would be faced with three choices:
- Leaning more and more heavily on the rest of Exor to prop them up financially, which isn’t likely to be countenanced by the rest of the Agnelli family empire for very long.
- Coming up with more and more creative ways to use sponsorships to prop up wages — at the potential risk of running FFP issues.
- Selling off the club’s better players not named Ronaldo, or if their demands become untenable.
A counterargument to this doomsday scenario is that the marketing opportunities around Ronaldo will offset any future costs. While it’s certainly true Juve could end up making a decent amount of money in some areas, the biggest source of revenue that Ronaldo could affect — television — unfortunately can’t be touched. Serie A’s broadcasting rights were only just renegotiated last month and won’t reopen again until he would only have a year left on his four-year deal. At that point there would be little clarity as to whether or not he’d remain — nor would there be a guarantee that the inevitable decline of time won’t have finally robbed him of what made him so special. While there certainly is hope that Ronaldo’s presence will catapult Juve’s international brand into the stratosphere, it’s worth noting how short his time is likely to be in Turin as opposed to his tenure in Madrid. Real Madrid and Manchester United were also better positioned as brands long before Ronaldo got there. Whatever gains Juve may end up getting over the length of his contract, will they be permanent enough to be sustained once the Ronaldo fanboys shift their attention elsewhere?
Obviously, no scenario involving Ronaldo is guaranteed — least of all his arrival itself. But if the move does go through, it’s worth recognizing, through all the celebration, the risk that it actually is. It could catapult the club into a new era of sustained success and growth. But if things go differently than everyone plans, it could very well undermine the work that has been done to painstakingly build the this team up ever since Andrea Agnelli took over as president in 2010.
At the end of the day, a serious question has to be asked: would it be worth the immediate fireworks if we wake up in five or six years to realize the house has been knocked off its foundations?