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Cristiano Ronaldo to buy Brooklyn Bridge

Wednesday 21st June 2017
Spain began the ongoing UEFA U21 European Championship in style. Its 5-0 romp over Macedonia featured a hattrick from Real Madrid youngling Marco Asensio. Given a moment's face time with the match hero, all Spanish radio show El Transistor could ask the starlet was his opinion on Cristiano Ronaldo's status with Los Blancos. Had Asensio stuffed the microphone down the reporter's throat, or up some other appropriate orifice, even the overly sensitive EU court would have refused to convict him. Everyone and their extended family has speculated on where the Portuguese star will play football in 2017-18 whereas anyone with a modicum of sense can easily conclude it will be at the Santiago Bernabeu. So let's attach a toe tag labeled 'Fake News' to this story that somehow clings to life like a cockroach on flakka and put it out of its misery.

The entire dispute, as everyone knows, is over taxes. Ronaldo's advisors set up accounts in tax havens to keep his image rights off the Spanish government's books. Until two years ago, authorities didn't seem to mind. Now that the nation's vaults have acquired a distinct echo due to their relative emptiness, el hombre de impuestos has adopted a more aggressive approach. Lionel Messi has already been convicted for similar "evasion." Now it's Ronaldo's turn.
CR7's only response has been to state his "conscience is quite clear" regarding the matter. He then turned his focus to Portugal's preparation for the Covfefe Confederations Cup. Real Madrid immediately stated its faith in its player's honesty, integrity, and innocence. Despite such unequivocal support, the rumour mill immediately jumped to warp drive, spitting out unfounded, nonsensical rumours the 32-year-old star, who just signed a five-year contract extension with Los Merengues in November, is unhappy with his club's lack of support and ready to leave Spain for a more friendly country.

According to various fish wrappings, he's either going to Manchester United or Paris Saint-Germain. No club could meet the €1 billion, stop right there, don't even think about it, buyout clause in his new deal, but the Telegraph somehow thinks €150 million might interest RM President Florentino Perez. United and PSG top a short list that could fit such a fee into their budgets without tripping over UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations. Jason Burt, who penned the article, admittedly dismisses Ronaldo's anonymous, alleged advisors' rationale the player has won all he can at the Bernabeu, thus is searching for a new challenge rather than seeking to get out of Dodge before the revenuers arrive at his doorstep, yet still indulges the conjecture.

If one humours that fantasy for a moment, the question becomes what new challenges exist in football for one of two players in the conversation for greatest of his generation? In all honesty, the answer is not a single one. Nada. Bupkis.
Save winning a World Cup which a) lacking the support Messi has enjoyed with Argentina, is beyond Ronaldo, and 2) matters not in the club context, Cristiano has done it all. He has four Champions League, three Premier League, and two La Liga winner's medals. Add in five domestic cups, a Community Shield, Spanish Super-Cup, UEFA Super Cup, three Club World Cups, and, for country, a Euro title, then you can finally get to the individual honours, which include four Ballon d'Ors. There are so many more, however, a view screen can't hold them. The same applies to the numerous records he's set. Most interesting among those is being first to score a goal in every minute of a 90-minute match throughout his career. The cliche you can't lose sight of him for a moment is never more literal than when referencing CR7.

No new challenge exists at Old Trafford. As much a homecoming as returning to Manchester would be for Ronaldo, and his enthusiasm when seeing Sir Alex Ferguson after winning the Champions League proved his affection, winning a Champions League in Mancunian Red is something he's already done. He's previously worked with Jose Mourinho, as well, with far less visible enthusiasm. One wouldn't expect him to rush over smiling and gushing, "Boss, how are you?!" to his fellow Portuguese.
Tactically, United is a poor fit, too. At 32, Ronaldo is not the same player he once was. Like another United legend, Ryan Giggs, he has transformed his game as his legs have grown heavy. Whereas he once reveled in running at opponents, he is now a target man in the box, though still as lethal and prolific as any with both his feet and head. In its recently finished campaign, United similarly relied upon Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Yet, Ibra constantly had to come back to midfield for the ball because the Red Devils lack an attacking center mid whose first priority is to pass.

Mourinho's United field a storm of attackers who emulate a younger Ronaldo, taking on opponents with zeal, ready to deal thunder and lightning. Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw, even tiny waterbug Juan Mata, all run at defenders before looking to distribute. Real Madrid has similar players: Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Lucas Vazquez, Marcelo. RM also has Luka Modric and Isco, however. The two creative playmakers serve as a calm eye in the center of Madrid's swirling attack, adding hurricane strength to the storm, always looking first to get the ball to the danger men. Toni Kroos does the same from a deeper position, as Michael Carrick does for United. Because United's one-player eye sets up further from goal, though, it's storm is less potent. Ronaldo isn't the answer to United's problems. He wouldn't restore their glory alone. They need a world class number eight.

PSG, on its surface, seems a more sensible destination. A challenge existed there until recently, as well. Les Parisiens have yet to take a leading role on the European stage. Talent remains at the Parc des Princes to do so. Marco Veratti is a skilled playmaker. So is Javier Pastore. Julian Draxler resembles Gareth Bale. Adrian Rabiot is a deep-lying marauder. Angel di Maria, Hatem ben Arfa, and Lucas Moura are also in the squad. Ligue 1's runners-up came so close to reaching the Champions League's rarified atmosphere against Barcelona, then crashed to earth at the Camp Nou, their wings scorched like Icarus. Ronaldo could provide sufficient leadership and finishing power for Les Rouges-et-Bleu to finally be European champions.

At the moment, however, that isn't the attractive proposition it may have been just a month ago. The club is owned by the Qatari government, which has been isolated by its neighbours, accused of funding terrorism in an unexpected pot-kettle-black power play led by Saudi Arabia and encouraged by US President Donald Trump's inane tweets. While the money is there, Ronaldo now must wonder whether he'd be supported by fully committed ownership, without which no challenge can be met.
Among other clubs possessing sufficient resources and potential to attract Ronaldo, Manchester City is a non-starter. The Portuguese has repeatedly said he will never sign with United's most hated rival, both before and well after leaving Old Trafford. Chelsea might be an option if he chose to return to England, although Roman Abramovich has been more cost-conscious in recent years. A €150 million starting point in negotiations might put the Russian off. Bayern is also too fiscally responsible to be taken seriously as a cash-only suitor. Yet, if an exchange involving an apparently unsettled Robert Lewandowski and money could be worked out, it becomes a slightly more reasonable possibility. Ah-ah! I said slightly. The only other option would be a retirement package in China, which hardly qualifies as a challenge.

Of course, all that hinges upon the idea Cristiano Ronaldo has changed his mind less than a year into his new five-year Madrid deal simply because he's bored. More likely, such a turnabout, if it existed, would be motivated by the treatment Lionel Messi received from Spanish authorities when charged with concealing roughly €10 million less than Ronaldo has been alleged to have stuffed under his Virgin Island mattress.

If that is the case, if Cristiano truly wants to escape Spain's jurisdiction, no major European club would be a safe harbour. They're all in EU member states, meaning Ronaldo would be compelled to answer the Spanish court's charges. Moreover, France, Germany, England, even Italy, all tax at slightly higher rates than Spain. An English club would still be an alternative to avoiding payment if Brexit could be achieved in a timely fashion. Unfortunately for CR7, Theresa May's ill-advised snap election hasn't improved chances for that. Regardless, he still wouldn't be able to compete in the Champions League without fearing arrest for failure to appear. China would be the only place he might live safely as a fugitive.
The notion Ronaldo, among the most recognisable persons on the planet, is contemplating a life on the lam is what makes the entire speculation so ridiculously infantile in its stupidity. Spanish legal precedent in these matters is well established. Money aside, this isn't a big deal. If Ronaldo is found guilty, which he likely will be merely because he's swimming in currency whereas Spain's newly formed government can't rub two Euro-nickels together (but nonetheless writes and interprets the rules), he will receive a suspended sentence with no jail time providing he pays the alleged back taxes and any fine.

Therefore, after a vigourous legal defence fails, he will pony up. He won't move to a more amenable country with an elite football competition that will allow him to continue maximising his endorsement stream. The operative word being amenable, none exist. He won't switch clubs for a new challenge because, 1) Robert Lewandowski doesn't really expect to receive more service by leaving behind Thomas Mueller, Arjen Robben, and Franck Ribery to join Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Lucas Vazquez, Marco Asensio and Alvaro Morata, and b) until Qatar's neighbours restore diplomatic relations with the 2022 World Cup hosts, Paris Saint-Germain is not a viable option, meaning iii) no new challenge exists either.

So, why don't we come back to reality and ask Marco Asensio how his hattrick against Macedonia felt? He deserves our attention, too.
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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