Cristiano Ronaldo vows to make mark at Juventus after seizing opportunity

The forward has said he is grateful to the Italian side for the chance to continue performing at the highest level

Even as Cristiano Ronaldo settled in for his first Juventus press conference it somehow did not quite feel real. There he was, flesh and blood, sharp suit and immaculate haircut, grinning and whipping out his phone for a photograph as his family settled into the front row.

It was not just a fanciful summer rumour, as the story of his potential move to Juventus had seemed when the first murmurs began to leak out a few weeks ago. It was not a mirage, as he appeared when he touched down at Caselle airport at half-time of the World Cup final, wrongfooting the many fans and journalists expecting him on Sunday morning, not even, as the newspaper Tuttosport had billed him on its front page, “an extra-terrestrial”.

Simply he was a 33-year-old footballer with a clear and convincing message about why he had left Real Madrid, where he won four Champions League titles, – three of them in the last three years – to start afresh in Turin.

“I want to leave my mark on the history of Juventus,” he said. “This is one of the best teams in the world and I’ve had my mind set on coming here for a little while. They have a great president, a great manager.”

Only a club like this could offer a player like him the platform he craved for the next step in his career. “I really want to show that I’m not like the others, that I’m different,” Ronaldo continued. “This is a big club and usually players of my age go to Qatar or to China, with all due respect, so coming to such an important and outstanding club at this point in my career makes me very happy. I’m very grateful to Juventus for this opportunity.”

They are equally grateful to have him. How could they not be, with a player who has scored 450 goals since 2009-10 – only four fewer, according to Opta, than all of Juventus’s strikers combined in the same time.

Before even kicking a ball Ronaldo has created a buzz around Juventus for which there is no easy comparison in Italian football this century. Within 24 hours of his transfer being made official last Tuesday, Juventus had sold 520,000 shirts with his name on. The club added a million Twitter followers overnight.

Ronaldo was greeted by huge crowds as he arrived for his Juventus medical and unveiling.
Ronaldo was greeted by huge crowds as he arrived for his Juventus medical and unveiling. Photograph: Daniele Badolato/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Turin is known as a reserved city, not prone to overexcitement, yet there was talk of lighting up one of its most famous landmarks, the Mole Antonelliana, with a CR7 logo. Those plans were eventually shelved, together with a gala unveiling for supporters at the Allianz Stadium. No official reason was offered, though the popular hunch was that they had not wanted to convey the impression that any one player was bigger than the team.

Instead what we had was 24 hours of hide and seek in Turin. Having arrived early, Ronaldo slipped away immediately to La Mandria Park, an exclusive spot to the north of the city, for dinner with club directors and his entourage.

This transfer was all that people here could talk about and yet, with no single event on which to concentrate their enthusiasm, you could also have walked through the centre of Turin on Monday and missed it all. At least until you stopped at a pedestrian crossing and heard an eighty-something couple arguing about what the signing meant for Gonzalo Higuaín or passed the window of the gelateria offering CR7-flavour ice cream.

Ronaldo has mostly been kept separate from it all, though there were reports that his arrival at La Mandria did throw one wedding into joyous disarray. He was met by a crowd of 300 or so fans before his medical on Monday morning, and left singing along to their chants – though Italian media were quick to delight in his pronunciation, transforming “Yuve” into “Giuve”.

He spoke mostly in Portuguese at his press conference, swapping only to English as he responded to a question from the Guardian – or, rather, sidestepped it. Asked how it felt on a personal level – rather than a footballing one – to be embarking on a new adventure in a new country, Ronaldo quickly found his way back to the pitch. “I feel great, for me it is another challenge,” he said. “I know it will be tough. I will be ready, Juve is ready.”

He has been around too long, done too many of these, to be drawn away from the things he wants to discuss. Yet there was sincerity in the words he did share. Ronaldo spoke like a man who was genuinely excited to have such an opportunity to test himself anew at this late stage of his career. He stressed that he was not thinking about any specific trophies that he needed to win, nor of personal rivalries, saying: “I just want think of me in the present tense.”

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From his seat at the podium Ronaldo seemed at once bullet-proof and vulnerable, a five-times Ballon d’Or winner with no shortage of confidence in his ability yet a keen awareness that opportunities like this will not be around forever. “I’m not 23, I’m 33,” he said at one point – a fascinating contrast with his insistence in an interview months earlier that his commitment to hard work and eating right had given him a “biological age of 23”.

At another moment, though, he contradicted himself again, insisting, “I’m still rather young.” In Turin, for now, they will settle for knowing he is really here.


Nicky Bandini in Turin

The GuardianTramp

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