Cristiano Ronaldo

Club: Juventus

Country: Portugal

A quarter of an hour from the end of Juve’s fifth game back after the COVID lockdown, a 3-1 away win against Genoa on June 30, Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri opted to substitute his main man.

All eyes were on the touchline as Cristiano Ronaldo made his exit. How will the two men salute one another? After all, the previous two weeks had appeared to indicate tensions between the two. After Juve’s Coppa Italia final defeat by Napoli in mid-June – an unusual event in itself – Ronaldo’s sister Elma Alverio had been critical of Sarri on social media, implying that her famous brother had been blocked by Sarri’s tactics.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus celebrates scoring his side’s first goal from a free kick during the International Champions Cup match between Juventus and FC Internazionale at the Nanjing Olympic Center Stadium on July 24, 2019 in Nanjing, China. 

You cannot ask Ronaldo to play as the central striker, he has got to start on the wing, be it left or right. Many Juventus fans would agree. In the end, against Napoli in that final and against both Bologna and Lecce in Serie A, both Juventus and Ronaldo had looked below par, not yet up to full match fitness.

Nothing unusual in that, but Juve’s 3-1 drubbing of Genoa suggested that both the Old Lady and her superstar had resumed normal service. Looking sharp in attack, Ronaldo forced three good saves from Genoa keeper Matteo Perin before scoring Juve’s second goal of the night with a long-range humdinger that gave the Genoa keeper no chance.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the serie A match between Juventus and US Sassuolo at Allianz Stadium on September 16, 2018 in Turin, Italy. 

So, how did he salute Sarri as he came off? It was all smiles and high-fives. The reality about Cristiano Ronaldo since he arrived in Italy two years ago, is that everything he does, every gesture he makes, every goal he scores, or indeed does not score, is underlined, highlighted, interpreted and over-analysed.

Does he still have the hunger, are his 35 years beginning to make themselves felt, can he hoist the Old Lady onto his shoulders one final time and lead them to a Champions League trophy this summer? In the end, the latter is arguably the only question that matters. Given the Portuguese ace’s current form, his maniacal fitness obsession and his overall professionalism, this is by no means impossible. After all, that is why Juventus bought him.

Article by Paddy Agnew