If you think paying well over £100m for a 32-year-old footballer, regardless of his status as one of the greatest the game has ever seen, is ludicrous money and destined only to leave you wishing you’d bought a younger prospect instead, you’re probably right. But you’re also probably underestimating the potency of the world of football business. And the almighty power of Cristiano Ronaldo.
It would take a mammoth bid for Manchester United to persuade Real Madrid to sell their biggest asset, and, despite a recent media flurry, reports today suggest there probably will be no move for the four time Ballon d’Or winner this summer. United have reservations, according to Sky Sports, and it would be a shock if any club other than, perhaps, Paris Saint-Germain could afford him at this point.
The media circus surrounding the Portuguese star is the supposed reason. Ronaldo has been accused of tax evasion in Spain, which is surely the root of the media circus in question, though if that’s a reason not to sign Cristiano Ronaldo, it might also be a reason to sack Jose Mourinho.
Media circus aside, his age, price tag and wage demands might make for more compelling reasons not to sign Cristiano Ronaldo. Interestingly, it isn’t the reason United seem to be using – admittedly, though, we are going on reports from a media outlet.
So let’s say, then, that United were interested, and that they weren’t put off by his media following: why wouldn’t they be put off by his age and his price tag?
For one thing, his age may not be the biggest problem. Clearly, Ronaldo didn’t hit his usual heights last season. He scored fewer than 50 goals for the first time since 2010. But he still managed 42 in 46 games in all competitions, including 10 Champions League goals from the quarter-finals to the final. He certainly saves his best for the biggest stages. And as a centre-forward rather than a player who cuts inside from the left, Ronaldo could probably prolong his career at the very top.
In recent times, United themselves haven’t seemed to care much about the age of their striker so long as he’s effective: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, at 35, finished as United’s top scorer. And Ronaldo would have even more time to give to his former club than the Swede did, should he sign this summer.
The question wouldn’t so much be his age, but the size of the investment compared with how many years he has left. That’s why the comparison with Ibrahimovic doesn’t work – the Swede joined on a free. The better comparison is with Paul Pogba.
When the Frenchman rejoined his old club for a world record transfer last summer, the fee was fairly shocking. But whether or not any footballer can be worth that much money for on-pitch performances alone, the transfer fee is an investment in more than just the playing staff.
Pogba is one of the most marketable footballers in the world, he creates a buzz like few others, and his age means he can keep doing it for years. Whether or not you think that’s relevant to football, clubs are also interested in making money from other means, generating a return on their initial investment of £90m or so. And if Pogba is to stay at United for, say, the next 10 years, that will equate to around £9m per year – though it’s likely that Pogba is worth much more than that to the club in a variety of ways.
But however marketable Pogba is, Ronaldo is even more so. He may have less time at the top of the game, but the Portuguese believes he can play until he’s 41, which would give United a similar model to the one they used last summer to sign Pogba.
Now, Ronaldo is unlikely to be one of the best players in the world in nine or ten years’ time. So signing him now will probably involve lower profit margins than would be the case with Pogba. But it would still be higher than most players.
If there are no footballing reasons against signing Ronaldo, the price shouldn’t put United off the deal, either. If they have reservations around signing him now, it’s interesting that they aren’t footballing nor business reasons. But if a 32-year-old could command a world record transfer fee on the basis that signing him makes footballing and commercial sense, that shows the power of Cristiano Ronaldo.