Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo returns this week in the Champions League to Old Trafford
The ways Italy has found to prove that its new adoptive son must be innocent of the rape allegations being levelled against him appear to know no bounds.
A commentator for Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by the Berlusconi family, concluded on the basis of an analysis of Cristiano Ronaldo‘s signature that he was ‘ambitious and determined but in harmony with himself’.
Corriere della Sera has written of ‘leftist feminist militants’. Natali Aspesi said in the Huffington Post that she could not see someone as rich and handsome committing such a crime.
The huge images of Ronaldo modelling underwear currently adorning sites in Turin give the impression of a club convinced that none of this mud will possibly stick. He is ‘più forte del fango’ (‘stronger than mud’) said Tuttosport recently.
But, as Ronaldo returns this week in the Champions League to Old Trafford, where he first made his name, many in the wider world are uncomfortable about him, the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) he admits he signed with Kathryn Mayorga and the tone of his response to her claims.
‘Fake, fake news. I am a happy man,’ he said, smiling into his smartphone and sounding dangerously like Donald Trump.
Juventus’ shares have fallen by 37 per cent since Las Vegas police said they would reinvestigate the alleged crime. One of Ronaldo’s principal sponsors, Nike, have said they are ‘deeply concerned’.
Privately, this would be a worry for any club, although the significance is magnified by the near quarter-of-a-billion-pound bet Juventus have taken on the individual in question.
Factoring in the £87.8m transfer fee paid to Real Madrid and four years of an annual £47.7m wage, the Italian champions may ultimately pay out a colossal £278m on the player.
Huge images of forward Ronaldo modelling underwear currently adorn sites in Turin
There is a logic behind the monumental spend. The club whose colours he now wears trail way behind United, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich — the powerhouses of European football. Juventus’ £146m sponsorship and merchandising revenue comfortably eclipses any other club in Italy, yet is still way behind United’s £285m. The club’s average home attendance is a mere 38,500, only the fourth highest in Italy. United earn £1.6m more than Juve at every home game.
Ronaldo is the ticket to something better, a seat at Europe’s top table.
‘He brings us worldwide profile,’ the club’s president Andrea Agnelli said last week.
‘Children all over the world want to see the super-heroes and he is one of those. He makes it possible to fill something missing in Italy — the global broadcast of our football. Global TV rights for our matches.’
He was articulating what the Financial Times described last month as the ‘Ronaldo effect.’ Rather than waiting for lucrative TV deals and big audiences to draw sponsors, Agnelli is staking everything on one player to bring in sponsors and waiting for the TV money to follow. The comparison is made with David Beckham’s arrival at Real from United in 2003 and PSG’s signing of Neymar last year.
From London to Turin, there has been an uplift in numbers.
Juventus’ shares have fallen by 37 per cent since Las Vegas police said they would reinvestigate rape allegations against Ronaldo
One marketing firm, Sports Events 365, reports a 17 per cent lift of ticket sales for Serie A games on the back of Ronaldo’s arrival, while even the London Juventus supporters’ club, Londra Bianconera, says that membership has increased by a third this season.
‘Suddenly you see people walking around London in Juventus tops,’ said Londra Bianconera director Marco Bagni. ‘You rarely saw one before this summer.’
But it is some punt the Italian champions are making. Beckham was 28 when he made the comparable move, Neymar 25. At 33, Ronaldo must deliver in a hurry if he is to have the required effect.
A detailed study by football business analysts Swiss Ramble last week showed that his new club incurred £8.7m losses before tax in their last financial year and would have been even further in the red without making £80m profit on player sales. United made £80.8m profits in the same period. Juve’s £350m revenues are the 10th highest in the world, yet still way behind the big four.
United and Real Madrid’s are almost 70 per cent higher at nearly £600m. Serie A TV money is lousy compared with other European leagues.
But this is not the only reason why the player’s new black and white shirt looks heavy. His arrival has coincided with Juventus putting up season ticket prices by an unprecedented 30 per cent, with replica Ronaldo shirts retailing for up to nearly £90.
Ronaldo is the ticket to something better for Serie A champions, a seat at Europe’s top table
Away teams are also inflating their price when Juventus arrive, such is the demand to see him play. AC Milan are charging away fans 75 euros for the match in San Siro next month, compared with 40 euros last season.
The Londra Bianconera are boycotting that match. ‘The Milan seats are already what we call ‘piccionaia’ — far from the pitch,’ said Bagni. ‘There is a huge resistance.’
Ticket price increases on the Juventus Stadium’s Curva Sud have also been a source of anger, with fans wearing black T-shirts and even carrying coffins. Many fans believe that price hike is designed to eradicate ultras, although paying for Ronaldo clearly comes into the equation.
‘We believe the owner wants to eradicate the ultras and make the stadium available only for the elite, transforming the atmosphere into a theatre,’ said Bagni. ‘People are struggling to keep up with all this cost to follow Juve. Wages are not great in Italy.’
So far, most would agree that the player has been worth it. There was a miss on his debut in a 2-0 win over Turin and his departure, in tears, after what was widely agreed to be an unjustified sending off against Valencia in the Champions League.
The 33-year-old has five goals following Saturday’s strike in the 1-1 draw at home to Genoa
Yet Juventus are now in the global spotlight and all 29,300 season tickets have been sold. He has scored five goals following Saturday’s strike in the 1-1 draw at home to Genoa.
£35m to £40m
Ronaldo’s current annual estimated endorsement endorsement income from a range of deals, with Nike, EA Sports, TAG Heuer, and Egyptian Steel among others, as well as his own underwear range
The NDA which he admits she was signed up to may simply not be valid under English common law, said Simon Leaf, a sports lawyer with Mishcon de Reya. ‘You can’t enter into a legal agreement that seeks to cover up a crime or is against public policy. If the legal advisers were doing their job, they should have been advising that from the start, although in this case Ronaldo strongly denies that a crime has been committed.’
The profile of the case could quite conceivably snowball, with other women asked to sign such agreements coming forward. ‘There will be people who look at this situation thinking “I signed an NDA ten years ago and was the victim of a crime”,’ added Leaf.
There is a logic behind the monumental spend on Ronaldo – Juve trail Europe’s powerhouses
Ronaldo’s lawyers command such negotiating power that they are likely to have included clauses in his contract preventing sponsors withdrawing from him on the basis of an unproven allegation.
But sponsors may have asked Ronaldo’s lawyers whether he had anything potentially embarrassing in his past when agreeing to pay him extremely well for an association his clean-cut image. If the NDA agreement was not disclosed to sponsors, his lawyers may have questions to answer.
This week, he will be in the place where he perhaps seemed happiest and where others shared the burden. Sir Alex Ferguson was, in some respects, the father he has never had. Ronaldo always remembered getting the rough edge of the Glaswegian’s tongue after an anaemic display against Benfica in December 2005.
He was visibly upset and taunts of ‘cry baby’ followed at Carrington in the ensuing weeks. But Ferguson saw this effect on the young player. Future dressing-downs were more measured and would be followed by the manager taking up a seat next to him.
‘Don’t take it badly but you need to know that English football is different,’ he was witnessed saying.
He seems so much more alone in the world now and will carry a heavy burden into his adoptive home, however sunny the demeanour. ‘CR7 is the cherry on the cake,’ said Agnelli this week — name-checking the brand rather than the player.
Ex-United boss Sir Alex Ferguson (left) was, in some respects, the father he has never had