Less than two weeks after Cristiano Ronaldo inspired them to feeling on top of the world, Real Madrid were brought back down to earth with a bang by Friday’s front page of Portuguese sports paper A Bola.
Tellingly there has been no denial directly from the club or sources close to Real that Ronaldo has in A Bola’s words taken the “irreversible decision” to leave Madrid after being slapped with tax fraud charges totalling 14.7 million euros by Spanish prosecutors earlier this week.
Ronaldo believes he has been made an example of by the tax authorities and, more damningly for his future at the Bernabeu, feels the club haven’t done enough to protect him.
Madrid released a statement backing their star, asking for justice to be done “so that his innocence can be proven as soon as possible.”
Yet, behind the scenes, Ronaldo is furious with the Madrid hierarchy for how the image rights he ceded to the club have been paid and holds them accountable.
Real’s first intention is to wait and hope that Ronaldo’s mind will change over the course of the summer.
His spectacular end to the season, including scoring twice in the Champions League final, showed even at 32 he is still their flagship player and an enormous contributor to Madrid’s attempts to rival the commercial deals enjoyed by Manchester United and more recently rivals Barcelona.
However, there is a feeling Ronaldo has been preparing the ground for this decision.
For the past few months he has consistently raised his anger at being whistled by a highly demanding Bernabeu crowd this season despite plundering over 400 goals since swapping Manchester United for Madrid eight years ago.
If his heart is set on leaving, United and Paris Saint-Germain look set to be the only two realistic runners presuming Ronaldo wants to remain at the elite level of European football and turns his back on a move to China.
“I miss England because you can’t just turn off the memories,” Ronaldo admitted before the Champions League final during an interview in which he hailed the Premier League’s fan culture of sticking by their players.
However, he is also known to be friendly with PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi.
PSG could offer Ronaldo the chance to embellish his legend by winning the club’s first ever Champions League and becoming only the second player to win the competition with three different clubs.
Moreover, they have one significant advantage over United thanks to their kit sponsorship deal with Nike.
It has long been a bugbear of the American sportswear giant that their most famous face in Ronaldo wears Adidas at club level, as he would should be return to Old Trafford.
According to Madrid sports newspaper Marca any deal would set back the buying club over £350 million between transfer fee and wages.
Ronaldo signed a five-year contract worth £365,000 a week after tax – and we know how important that is to him – just over six months ago.
In an online Marca poll, Madrid fans urged the club to hold out for a world record €200million (£175 million) transfer fee.
However, a few dissenting voices have pointed out Ronaldo could ultimately be doing his current club a huge favour by forcing an exit during a summer where Real have already focused their attentions on building a team to dominate Europe for the next decade.
Spanish starlets Isco, Dani Carvajal and Marco Asensio are set to sign new contracts, whilst AC Milan wonder kid goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma has refused a new deal with the Italian giants as he edges closer to a move to the Bernabeu.
Should Ronaldo join the expected departures of Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez, Madrid could count upon a €400million war chest without spending a penny in net terms.
That could be very bad news for the rest of the Premier League.
Madrid have already made Kylian Mbappe their top transfer target and would have no problem beating out Premier League competition to Monaco’s astronomical asking price for the 18-year-old.
Meanwhile, with so much cash to splash and a Ronaldo hole to fill, Eden Hazard would shoot up Madrid’s wanted list.