Cristiano Ronaldo joined Juventus in a mega-money move last season, and the whole of Serie A is thankful to Juventus for pulling in such a player. Since the move, a wind of change has blown over the Serie A and the league is beginning to reap the benefits of having a global superstar like CR7 in their books.
The announcement alone shot Juventus’ social media following up by millions (and counting), putting them in the top 10 most followed clubs on social media. Their website crashed when his jersey was put on sale, an incident never witnessed by the club before, and his jersey sales alone recovered the money spent in bringing him to the club. The club’s financial stock shot up a whopping 20% as many companies sought to partner with Juventus for the sole purpose of having Ronaldo endorse them. Serie A has also experienced a boost financially as major television deals were signed to broadcast Serie A across the world.
Ronaldo’s “Sii” goal celebration – arguably the most popular football celebration in the world – became more frequent in the streets of Italy as a lot of kids playing street football adopted it. The eternal debate over who’s better between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo became louder as people began wondering if the diminutive little magician could weave his magic in Serie A like he does in La Liga.
While all these are as impressive as they come, the biggest changes happened to the other clubs in the league.
Let’s look at the two key areas that Ronaldo’s move affected in the Serie A.
Football in Italy before Ronaldo could be considered docile and gentlemanly, despite the tough-tackling nature of the league. In fact, Serie A clubs’ defensive styles are still the model for many other leagues, and five out of ten defenders worth their mettle in the past were either trained at a Serie A club or played in the league. Teams spent a lot of time developing a tactical and methodical approach with a focus on defence and midfield. Teams spent money on players who fit into this mould, and the game was played with so much tactical adeptness that even strikers had to learn some form of defending to fit in.
However, the signing of Ronaldo has changed the dynamics. For the first time in a long while, the top four to six slots have become very competitive in the Serie A. Even if we can predict the clubs that will end up in those positions, we cannot predict where they’ll finish at the end of the season.
While we won’t take anything away from Maurizio Sarri and his work at Napoli, Juventus’ acquisition of Ronaldo made other clubs aware of the need to pay a lot more attention to their attacking game.
Juventus have been the dominant side in the league for the better part of 15 years, and even though it has been made clear that they signed Ronaldo for European purposes, he definitely gives them an even bigger edge in the league. The other clubs now know that if they don’t start signing new players in the next few years, Juventus will continue to dominate Italy for at least another five years.
AC Milan were the first club to get a grasp of the change that Ronaldo brought, as they began signing a lot of attacking options. Between last season and this season, their attacking signings have been very prominent, and it has raised their stakes in the world of football. Krzysztof Piatek is their marquee signing from last season because the Polish striker is a clinical finisher who, though not as influential as Ronaldo, could offer some competition in the goal-scoring department.
Their San Siro neighbours Inter didn’t sleep on this change either as they acquired the Argentine striker Lautaro Martinez, one of the most exciting strikers for the future, in addition to already having Mauro Icardi in their squad. This season, Icardi will be playing in France, and the club have already acquired the service of Romelu Lukaku, another proven goal scorer with age on his side – who has already hit the ground running (two goals in two league games).
Besides the influx of attacking players, there has also been an influx of attack-minded coaches. Antonio Conte, one-time Juventus manager who won three Scudetti in a row with the club, has been scooped up by Inter this season to help them balance both their attack and defence in preparation for the challenge. Roma have arguably made the biggest alteration, as they brought in Paulo Fonseca from Shaktar Donetsk, a coach who is very similar to Sarri (now at Juventus).
(Read our Fonseca and Sarri comparison here)
Since Jose Mourinho and Inter dominated Europe, Italian clubs have been relegated to the background and only Juventus have tried to keep the relevance of Serie A alive on the European stage, having reached the final in 2015 and 2017. Now, Serie A clubs look like a threat in both the Europa and Champions leagues and even though it might take a while for them to exert their dominance, they will definitely provide more entertainment for both the casual match viewer and the football analyst.
The presence of players like Ronaldo in any team has two effects on the opposition fans: they will either get starstruck or heavy-hearted.
When they are starstruck, they will come out in droves to see the object of their admiration play and will applaud and shower accolades no matter the result. When they get heavy-hearted, they will avoid games because of the potential embarrassment that could follow, and this is something Ronaldo dishes out very well to opposition fans.
He has responded severally to taunts by fans with incredible performances either in the same match he was taunted, or at a later meeting shutting them up for good and winning some of them over.
Since he came to the Serie A last season, home match attendances across the league have generally improved, with the exception of Juventus’ biggest rivals in the league – Napoli, Inter, Milan, Roma and Turin derby rivals Torino all recorded lower home attendances at their game against Juventus than in previous seasons before Ronaldo’s signing. New challengers, Atalanta, also had less fans at their home game against Juventus. The prospect of seeing Ronaldo embarrass their club while playing for their rival was probably too much to bear.
Last season, Serie A awarded Ronaldo the MVP award which he really didn’t deserve seeing as his season was very much below par according to his standards.
Not only was he outscored by 36-year-old Fabio Quagliarella, but he was the most wasteful attacker in the league, wasting 16 big chances over 31 appearances. Still, 21 goals and 11 assists in the league is no joke as many strikers would struggle to get those numbers, but had it been anyone else not named Cristiano Ronaldo, the best they would be getting after such a season is a congratulatory mention and a pat on the back.
However, CR7’s stardom is the biggest factor which earned him the award and as has been alleged many times in other climes, the goal machine’s personal successes came as a result of his superstar value to the league.
It has already been established how much more publicity Juventus and Serie A got as a whole when Ronaldo made his Serie A debut, but before then they were overshadowed by the technical superiority of La Liga (a league which once had Ronaldo and still has Lionel Messi, the only player who can rival Ronaldo’s influence in world football) which entertained fans, the money-laden, loud, incredibly fast-paced and energetic English Premier League, and the shiny toys of France’s (PSG) and Germany’s (Bayern Munich and, to some extent, Borussia Dortmund) leagues.
Also, the fact that Juventus dominated on all fronts in Italy year after year left little to really shout about in Serie A.
The Serie A had to reward Ronaldo in some way for bringing about a revolution in the league, and what better way to do it than to call the world to witness them awarding him the MVP awards – a move that was also very good for business as more media houses covered the event and talked about it.
Going forward, Serie A awards will get heavier coverage because of the possibility of Ronaldo winning one or more awards, earning more money and popularity for the league.
People are yet to really notice the upsurge that the league is experiencing and are only following Juventus because of Ronaldo, but the football changes are becoming more and more prominent and this is what Ronaldo’s presence really means to the league – a league where exciting, fast-paced, attacking football can become commonplace.
Also, every club has responded very well to Juventus’ signing of Ronaldo thus far which gives a lot of credence to the very notion that a Leicester City-esque story could unfold in the league in a few years.
Consequently, top players in the league may no longer want a Premier League or La Liga move and will no longer view Serie A as a stepping stone, but a genuine career endpoint due to the prospect of playing with or against Ronaldo, keeping the attraction remaining domestically.