Reports of the four-time Ballon d’Or winner’s desire to leave the Spanish champions first surfaced in the Portuguese daily A Bola.
Real’s all-time leading scorer, the newspaper said, no longer wanted to play in Spain. He was, they said, angry at his treatment by Spanish tax authorities.
For those new to the story, here’s the backdrop: on Tuesday, prosecutors in Spain accused the player of defrauding Spanish authorities of $16.4 million in tax between 2011 and 2014 and charged him with four crimes against the public treasury.
The footballer had, said prosecutors, used a “business structure” — created in 2010 — to hide the revenue generated by his image rights from the Spanish treasury, describing the breach as “voluntary” and “conscious.”
There was no attempt to evade taxes, Ronaldo’s management company Gestifute said.
On Wednesday, Real said it was “absolutely convinced” that their 32-year-old forward, who is on international duty with Portugal at the Confederations Cup, would prove his “total innocence.”
Ronaldo ‘sad’ and ‘upset’
When contacted by CNN to provide comment on Friday’s A Bola story, Gestifute said they would not be making a statement and rejected the chance to deny the story. Real also did not respond to requests for comment.
Madrid-based newspaper Marca added ballast to A Bola’s initial morning report by saying that the rumors were true, while the BBC later reported that a source close to the player had said Ronaldo was “sad” and “upset” at being accused of tax fraud.
Could he? Would Ronaldo really want to leave a club he had joined for a then world-record fee of £80 million ($102m) in 2009? Don’t forget this is a player that is the very epitome of a Real “galactico.”
But this is not the first time Ronaldo — the world’s highest-paid sports star, according to Forbes — has been linked with a move away from the Bernabeu.
Before he put pen to paper on a five-year deal with Real in November 2016, there was the usual gossip of the player returning to former club Manchester United, or joining the Chinese Super League.
The mid-season transfer window opens in China Monday, but would a man who has scored 600 career goals — named man of the match as he scored twice in this month’s Champions League final — play in a league widely considered to be of a lower standard than Europe’s top leagues?
Maybe money does indeed talk, even for a man who, according to Forbes, earned $93m over the last 12 months, with his salary accounting for $58m and endorsements $35m.
A return to Manchester United, for whom he scored 84 goals in 196 Premier League appearances, has also been mooted.
Marca say Real is willing to sell — but at a price. A cool £160m. Whatever the exact cost, a Ronaldo transfer would only happen for a mind-boggling sum.
Only few could afford a player of such caliber, a four-time Champions League winner, the competition’s record goalscorer, a man who led Portugal to Euro 2016 glory last summer.
And he is as valuable off the pitch as his goals are on it. No-one on the planet has as many Facebook followers as the Portuguese (122 million) and he has the biggest social media following of any sports star on the planet.
Illustrating his worth to the world’s biggest brands, Nike agreed a lifetime deal with the player in 2016, reportedly worth as much as a $1billion.
And so we come back to money. Is this another episode of a player and his agent maneuvering and plotting, their ultimate ambition being more dollars on the pay check, perchance to wipe out an impending tax bill?
Whether Ronaldo ultimately leaves Real or not, at least Friday was another occasion where social media came to the fore.
Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin tried its luck with a cheeky tweet. “No cash, but galactic challenge and Berlin will love you like a son,” the club tweeted.
Although, one club has already ruled out making a move for the player.
Bolton Wanderers, which plays in the English third tier, jokingly tweeted that they “won’t be holding talks” with the former Manchester United player.
Some Manchester Untied fans tried to contain their excitement, while tweeting with a heavy dose of skepticism. Matt Duxbury tweeted: “Just when you think #MUFC are finally going to have a transfer window with no Ronaldo speculation… the media find a way to change that…”