Juventus and Cristiano Ronaldo, three years into their marriage and sitting in the wake of yet another disappointing Champions League exit, are like that married couple that began their nuptials with glitzy fanfare and a vivacious afterparty only to, a few years down the road, plod along in their matrimony with such disappointing lifelessness that the union exists only in name.
This is, in essence, a failed marriage. It did not fail with a bang or with a legal brouhaha, but a whimper and a sputter.
After these three years, Ronaldo as an individual and Juventus as a club have both seen their reputations diminished (unless, I suppose, your idea of a good reputation is the number of Instagram followers one has ... in which case I’ve got great news for you). No. 7 came to Turin ostensibly to prove that he can still score and dominate at the highest level while leading a club to European glory; he’s seen mixed success. The Old Lady, in what has been repeated time and time again, was trying to get to that next level after two UCL finals appearances ended in failure; instead, though, she has regressed in the competition.
This is just where we are. It’s not pretty, and there’s a lot of blame to go around. Rather than dole out that blame — I’m certain the post mortems will occupy decades of discourse and debate — I want to look at where these individual parties are in terms of damaged legacy.
Cristiano Ronaldo: the GOAT who couldn’t climb the mountain
Even by his relatively lofty standards, Ronaldo has performed fairly well in his time with Juventus. CR7 has continued to bag goals at a high rate, and he has continued to do things every now and then that are completely mind-blowing.
But the thing that Cristiano hasn’t done, or at least hasn’t done with any degree of consistency, is single-handedly take over games and drag his squad to victory, especially on the Champions League stage. Ronaldo’s defenders will point to the Juventus midfield over and over again, but that doesn’t change the fact that Cristiano, while not receiving a high number of chances, hasn’t done much with the chances he has had. In the second tie against Porto, CR7 had several opportunities with the ball at his feet, and he squandered essentially all of them — perhaps aside from the “assist” to Federico Chiesa, which was obviously something that just happened so fast it was devoid of any real intention.
Ronaldo is not good enough to drag Juventus to Champions League glory. Perhaps no single player is, and that’s fine. This is soccer (or whatever you’d like to call it), and there are 11 people on each side; it’s not basketball, in which one player can impose his will on both ends of the court to an astonishing degree.
I still think, though, that many people believed Ronaldo actually was that good, no matter how much you rationalize the difficulty of a single player not being able to hold too much sway in this sport. For those people, and perhaps for many of Ronaldo’s most devoted fans and apologists, his tenure at Juventus, whether it ends this summer or next summer, will probably be not much more than a footnote, just a bit more proof that he could still score goals in a top European league even if his Champions League glory was well behind him. Ronaldo is human.
Juventus: a club in total rebuild
There’s a strange dissonance right now to following Juventus: Cristiano Ronaldo is on the side, the team’s social media accounts are bubbling with followers and posts, the club is expanding its footprint across the globe, yet the team, tactically and compositionally speaking, is not good. There are gaping roster holes and uneven performances. This isn’t the best team in Europe, arguably not even a top-10 team, and it’s not the best team in Italy. The run for 10 straight Scudetti is all but over. The Champions League seems like a pipe dream for the foreseeable future.
The reality is that Juventus is in a rebuild, a pretty thorough one. We’ve rehashed the timeline again and again with the UCL finals appearances to this current stretch, but no matter how you spin it the Old Lady has now lost three consecutive Champions League matchups she probably should’ve won, even in her somewhat slipshod state. But not at any point in any of those three failed campaigns did I really feel like the trophy was actually within reach, and the feeling lessened each year.
This is a club that loses to Porto, Ajax, and Lyon in the Champions League and has now, for all intents and purposes, relinquished the league title. This is Juventus, and pretty soon we won’t be able to call ourselves “champions” of anything but, maybe, the domestic cup.
The club, of course, isn’t just in need of rebuilding on the pitch. Juventus are in somewhat desperate need of restructuring financially as well. The Old Lady’s risky move to acquire Cristiano Ronaldo has not worked by any standard of measurement. He might yet stick around for one more go, but all parties involved ought to realize the reality of the matter.
To put the cherry on top of the rebuild cake, a handful of long-tenured players, club-defining players, are winding down their careers. The impending losses of Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini, and perhaps Leonardo Bonucci and even Juan Cuadrado, hurt on the pitch but hurt much more for the hurt of this club. There are new and exciting players to carry this club into the future — perhaps none more so than Federico Chiesa — yet the feeling of loss lingers all the same.
What is next is unknown for Juventus. The horizon is filled with decisions about Ronaldo, decisions about finances, decisions about contracts, and decisions about pursuits on the transfer market. For now, though, we lick our wounds — one trophy gone, another almost out of reach. You can write “fino alla fine” in all caps all you want, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a diminished club led by a fading, perhaps faded, star.