Serie A can never be reduced to a one-man show and it simply cannot be all about Cristiano Ronaldo. Nevertheless, it is hard to understate the impact his arrival at Juventus has had on the league before a ball has even been kicked.
The 33-year-old five-time Ballon d’Or winner is not only one of the two best players of the last decade, he is also one of the most popular people on the planet. Ronaldo has 313m followers across all social media platforms and it feels like he has turned their attention to Serie A.
“Finally the world is talking about the Italian league again,” Fabio Capello marvelled in La Gazzetta dello Sport. “In the 80s and 90s we represented the top. Then we lost our way and weren’t capable of investing in infrastructure.
“With Ronaldo we can attempt to lift our head up. But it’s not enough on its own. We need to have the strength and intelligence to exploit the Ronaldo stimulus and give our game an impulse again.”
The consensus in the media viewed the £99.2m deal, which will earn Ronaldo £27.7m a year, as the most significant step yet in restoring Serie A to its former glory.
“The peak was in 2003 when we had two teams in the Champions League final,” recalled Claudio Ranieri, a former Juve manager, in La Stampa. “We’re not back to those days yet. But I feel like saying the days of skinny cows are over.”
Ronaldo is fattening them up.
Does Ronaldo benefit the whole of Serie A?
Debate has raged over the past month about whether the Portuguese benefits the league as a whole or just Juventus.
Financially speaking, the Old Lady’s opponents are bumping up ticket prices for her visit, which has led Juve’s ultras to hold a protest at the amount that away days will leave them out of pocket.
But can you blame the rest of Serie A? One of the best players of all time is coming to Ferrara, Frosinone and Sassuolo.
As the fixture list for the first fortnight of the new season was being printed, the owner of newly-promoted Frosinone, Maurizio Stirpe, held his breath. Unfortunately for his team, they must play their opening two home games behind closed doors as punishment for the club’s ball boys unsportingly throwing balls onto the pitch to stop a Palermo attack late in the play-off final.
The idea of missing out on the Ronaldo effect on the gate receipts was an understandable cause of anxiety when you consider that last season the highest attendance at 11 Serie A clubs coincided with when Juventus came to town.
Chievo, for instance, who only sell out the Bentegodi for the Derby della Scala, pulled the shutters down at the ticket office weeks ago for Ronaldo’s first league game on Saturday. The 30,000 allocation might as well have been gold dust.
Still, it’s a shame for the league that the new TV rights package was agreed before Juventus president Andrea Agnelli dramatically boarded a helicopter for Greece to shake hands with Ronaldo on what Tuttosport are calling “Il Colpo del Secolo” – the deal of the century.
The rights are now probably worth 20 to 30% more, which means the Ronaldo tide will not lift all boats. The uplift in revenue is forecast to take Juventus to the next level in the rich list, such are Ronaldo’s commercial powers of attraction. But what does it say about Serie A?
While Gazzetta think Agnelli and the Juventus board deserve the Nobel Prize for Economics, La Repubblica compared the Ronaldo transfer to the plot of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.
In light of Agnelli’s pro-European Super League stance, is this not the clearest sign yet that Juventus want to leave the crop plights and dust storms of Serie A behind for a new planet, where one day all of the continent’s elite teams will play against each other week in, week out?
And what about competitive balance? Il Corriere dello Sport reacted to the news with an Atticus Finch line from Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird. “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
Can anyone challenge Juve for the title?
Is the Scudetto already decided? Juventus edged Napoli to the title by four points last season, in the process securing a seventh consecutive league triumph.
Roma finished third in 2017-18 and their captain Daniele De Rossi said of Juve: “They have already killed the league a little.”
But the same comments were made when Juventus paid the buy-out clauses to take Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli and Miralem Pjanic from Roma two seasons ago. And that didn’t stop Serie A from being the most compelling league in Europe last term, when Napoli pushed Juve to the penultimate game and you didn’t know who had qualified for Europe or who’d be staying up and going down until the final day.
Inter look like the team most likely to challenge Juventus this season. Emboldened by guaranteed Champions League money, the signings of Stefan de Vrij, Radja Nainggolan, Sime Vrsaljko and Keita Balde Diao improve the starting XI, while Lautaro Martinez has the look of the league’s next big thing.
As for AC Milan, who would have thought defaulting on their debt and being repossessed this summer would turn out to be such a positive.
The club’s new owners, Elliott Management, are credible – the hedge fund have $34bn worth of assets – and the appointment of Leonardo as sporting director has delivered instant results in recruitment.
Aware of how much Juventus needed to sell after the Ronaldo signing and how much Leonardo Bonucci wanted to go back to Turin, the former Brazil midfielder was able to use that as leverage to sign Serie A’s most prolific goalscorer of the last five years, Gonzalo Higuain, and the league’s best defensive prospect, Mattia Caldara.
Going into the summer Milan were expected to be weaker. Instead they come out of the transfer window looking a lot stronger.
Napoli managed to persuade Carlo Ancelotti to give up the high life of coaching Europe’s elite for an underdog story. His predecessor Maurizio Sarri made this team greater than the sum of its parts, defying their status as having only the fifth-highest wage bill in the league. Stopping Napoli regressing will be a challenge for the three-time Champions League-winning manager.
Semi-finalists in that competition last year, Roma have spent the summer signing Football Manager wonderkids like Justin Kluivert and Ante Coric, as well as more established players like the imaginative midfield string-puller Javier Pastore and towering World Cup-winning sentinel Steven N’Zonzi.
The squad they have put together is deep and should make Roma competitive on every front. Winning the cup has to be an objective.
Elsewhere there is great enthusiasm around the kids at Fiorentina. The Viola have the youngest team in the league, which includes Albin Lafont – aka the French Gigio Donnarumma – and a forward line of Federico Chiesa, Giovanni Simeone and Marko Pjaca.
Romantics will of course be drawn to Parma’s return to Serie A. Bankrupt and made to start in the fourth division three years ago, they became the first team ever to win a hat-trick of consecutive promotions although the WhatsApp messages of striker Emanuele Calaio almost put all that in jeopardy.
The league still has its issues – chaos and controversy remain a feature of Italian football. But all that adds to the drama and whets the appetite ahead of the most eagerly-anticipated Serie A season in a long time.
“There is life beyond Cristiano Ronaldo,” as Il Corriere dello Sport put it.