Cristiano Ronaldo has sparked plenty of headlines in recent months with public ruminations over a future beyond Real Madrid. And he has now created a new stir by failing to rule out a move to, of all clubs, Real Madrid’s great rivals, Barcelona.
Ronaldo, who joined Real Madrid from Manchester United for a then-record transfer fee in 2009, will enter the final two years of his contract next summer, and there has been plenty of speculation about whether he will choose that time to seek a new challenge. Most prominently, he has been linked with a move to billionaire-backed French champions Paris Saint-Germain.
The 30-year-old sparked frustration within Madrid president Florentino Perez when failing to rule out that possibility earlier this season. And Ronaldo appeared to be openly courting rumors when he was seen conversing with PSG manager Laurent Blanc and president Nasser Al-Khelaifi after a match between Madrid and PSG last month.
But Ronaldo’s latest comments could spark the most consternation yet inside the offices of the Bernabeu.
“It's a little more difficult, but…” he said with a pause when talking about his future in an interview with the Associated Press. “There are things that you kind of already have an idea, that to play one day for Barcelona would be almost impossible, or to play for another English club other than Manchester, it's very complicated. But that's not 100 percent guaranteed. As I said before, there are no certainties in football.”
“Everything is open, all leagues. I may end my career here with Real Madrid. I’m just being honest. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. If I was 75 percent certain, I would say so, it wouldn’t be a problem. But I have no idea.”
It may be significant in terms of Ronaldo’s relationship with Real Madrid that he neglected to completely quash the notion of switching sides in one of world sport’s great rivalries. However, it is hard to see anything more than that in his comments. Certainly the idea of him actually being transferred to Barcelona is fanciful in the extreme, for a host of reasons.
First, is the simple reality that it is difficult to imagine Real Madrid allowing the top scorer in their club’s history to depart for the Catalan giants. Only two players have ever made that switch, the last being current Barcelona manager Luis Enrique, in 1996. The most famous case of a player moving in either direction between the clubs is Luis Figo, who left Barcelona for Real Madrid in 2000 and created such hostility from the Camp Nou fans that he was the target of a thrown pig’s head when he returned to the club.
There is also the issue that, of all the world’s top clubs, Barcelona have the least need for Ronaldo. Already, the treble winners have arguably the greatest forward trio of all time, in Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez. While the prospect of Messi and Ronaldo, who between them have won the last seven Ballon d’Ors, teaming up may appeal to some, it would be difficult to imagine Ronaldo improving the current Barcelona side. His oft-criticized more selfish approach on the pitch would be a poor fit for a team that has thrived precisely because of the selflessness of their star trio.
Indeed, the greatest challenge Barcelona face right now is keeping their current forward line together. Neymar is currently negotiating a new contract that would give him a significant pay rise, putting further strain on the club’s finances. Signing Ronaldo, who is reportedly the world’s highest-paid player, would hardly help Barcelona in that regard.
What is clear is that Ronaldo’s options are limited if he does leave Real Madrid. But perhaps with his latest comments he is trying to suggest to Real Madrid that they aren’t quite as limited as they might imagine. It would not be an unfamiliar tactic ahead of a potential contract negotiation.
There does, though, remain a possibility that Ronaldo could actually depart. He has cut a dejected figure at times this season under new manager Rafael Benitez, and PSG are set to have a vacancy for a global star, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic expected to move on at the end of the season.
“When it’s closer to ending my contract I’m going to have to make decisions, whether it’s staying at Real Madrid or going to another club or ending my career in a few years,” Ronaldo said.