By the time the news circulated that Cristiano Ronaldo’s perfumed caravan was ready to leave Spain, the hounds were out. Mostly on Twitter.
Sporting, Cristiano Ronaldo’s first professional club in his home country of Portugal, inscribed a passionate tongue-in-cheek-but-not-really plea to its native son to come home. Bolton, for some reason, told us they would not under any circumstances open contract negotiations with CR7. Salisbury FC did a thing too.
The complications surrounding why exactly Ronald opted to move on not only from Real Madrid but from Spain entirely are complicated if you care enough to dig and extremely uncomplicated if you want the Cliff’s Notes. In essence, Spain is alleging the preening Portuguese hasn’t paid a significant chunk of his taxes – more than $14 million, to be exact - and is attempting to shake it out of him. Cristiano Ronaldo, in response, has apparently opted to pick up his ball and head home in furious protest.
Whether he’s guilty or not – Leo Messi was found guilty of this last year but won’t serve out his jail term because Spain – it’s a sort of petulant way to respond to sweeping allegations that would be intensely embarrassing to the state if found untrue. It’s also likely the state didn’t come up with these figures out of thin air, so you judge the looming court battles for yourself.
This almost certainly accelerated Cristiano Ronaldo’s long term plans for the late-career global branding so popular amongst world stars these days. His contract isn’t up yet, and one assumes after winning yet another Champions League title at Real Madrid just weeks ago with the core of the team returning for another crack at it, Cristiano Ronaldo’s hubris would get the better of him. Another chance at stardom on the biggest stage possible? Another spate of trophies? More chances to perhaps edge in front of his eternal foil Messi? Even an aggressive reading of the situation just a month ago would’ve put CR7′s European exodus timeline at least a year out. Maybe two.
Real Madrid boss Florentino Perez is doing his best to convince his biggest star to stay, but reports continue to proliferate that the dude is not having it. At the time of writing, it’s progressed to the point that Real Madrid have already reportedly put a price tag on his transfer; a modest $160 million. That would trump Paul Pogba’s current record fee to Manchester United by $55 million. But if Cristiano Ronaldo wants to go, and no one (rightly) is willing to pony up that kind of cash, Real Madrid will bend. They have no other option, really.
So what does all this mean for MLS? And why might Cristiano Ronaldo be coming here after all? Movies, friends. It all comes back to the movies.
Let’s back up a minute. LAFC, which is part-owned by about 600 different people and many of them in the entertainment business, is bristling to come online officially for the 2018 season. They have a stadium in progress, money to burn and a driving need to out-Galaxy the LA Galaxy. They will make a splash in the transfer market at some point in the next six months, both in an attempt to wrest the discussion away from the Galaxy being the End All destination for glitzy Beckham types, and also as a warning shot across the league’s collective bow that this is a different enterprise.
They’ve identified themselves as a white collar team before they’ve even bought the shirt.
These tax evasion claims hit at a comically opportune time for LAFC. One assumes they were tracking Cristiano Ronaldo already, but the Portuguese is still 32, with at least three elite years left in him but probably more than that. One assumes LAFC expected to poach the Portuguese closer to his 35th birthday than his 30th, but here we are. Tom Penn and LAFC’s 700 owners have a bit of possibly nefarious activity to thank for bringing the biggest star in the league’s history within its crosshairs.
Cristiano Ronaldo is no doubt attracted to MLS for all the requisite reasons: it’s a growing league in a new market, it allows him to expand his prodigious branding apparatus into a new country and he can probably score 30 goals a year for the rest of his career after backing up a truck to MLS’s money slide (I assume this is how MLS players are paid). But there’s something else, too, something I admittedly thought nothing about until reading this story from Bleacher Report on Cristiano Ronaldo’s MLS possibilities.
“We have to be aware that L.A. FC has a lot of money and also Hollywood connections through Mandalay entertainment,” Baxter told me. “They could probably offer him a $12 million contract and then bump it up with promises of personal work in their film studios. That could be something of interest to him.
“L.A. is the No. 2 media market out here and the new franchise will be going up against Galaxy, the most successful franchise. This is a star town and that’s how it runs, so they’ll need a big, big signing.”
LAFC’s marketing pitch to Cristiano Ronaldo’s people practically writes itself. We cut you an ungodly check to play soccer in the most seasonable place on earth for four years, scribble in some riders that allow you to act opposite Mark Wahlberg in a romcom trilogy about a man who runs afoul of a gypsy and turns into a shark but still wants to cruise the LA dating scene, and in the meantime you can go to Leo DiCaprio’s seventh home in Brentwood and attend his weird Hollywood Eyes Wide Shut parties. If this doesn’t sound like Cristiano Ronaldo to you, you don’t know Cristiano Ronaldo.
According to the BR story, he’s not all that interested in playing in China, and while it’s entirely possible he moves back to Manchester United or goes somewhere else in Europe, MLS has to be an enticing prospect. He has a chance to immediately become the face of an entire nation’s domestic game, and without any reasonable competition. As in, not even close.
Who knows, really, what’s going on in that frosted-tipped orange dome of his. This Spain news is so sudden and abrupt that a part of you wants to think he’ll reconcile with Real Madrid over the weekend over some sangria and droning house music in Ibiza. But it’s Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s second-best player. As the man himself said in regards to his future, nothing is impossible.