MLS may be the best option left for Ronaldo the Merc

Portugal's forward #07 Cristiano Ronaldo attends a training session at the Al Shahaniya SC training site, northwest of Doha on December 5, 2022, on the eve of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Round of 16 football match between Portugal and Switzerland. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP) (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP via Getty Images)
Portugal's forward #07 Cristiano Ronaldo attends a training session at the Al Shahaniya SC training site, northwest of Doha on December 5, 2022, on the eve of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Round of 16 football match between Portugal and Switzerland. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP) (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP via Getty Images) /

The moment Cristiano Ronaldo arrived in Torino and put on the black and white striped uniform belonging to I Bianconeri, he was no longer one of the greatest players of all time. He was now just a hired gun having gone to the highest bidder. Self-admittedly, Ronaldo wanted a new challenge, to be part of a new league and run with the best team. So he chose Juventus thinking it was a slam dunk.

By the time Ronaldo joined the Turin giants, they had won six straight Serie A titles, so he’d be getting what he wanted to win a new league title. For Juventus they weren’t bringing him in to win a Coppa Italia or a Serie A title, he was transferred to Turin specifically to win them a Champions League title. They saw him as the missing piece. Having an elite goalscorer on their roster would all-but guarantee them what had been so elusive since 1996.

Up until this transfer, Ronaldo had dominated at Real Madrid. It was a healthy marriage. The best player in the world played on arguably the best team in the world. He had it all, but he started looking out for himself and his statistics. How could he stand out? The answer was to dominate a third league and win. That’s a great career accomplishment to want to achieve, but the only problem was that it wasn’t a great team accomplishment.

No one wanted Juventus to sacrifice their team play to make a superstar feel welcomed. As one season went into another, Ronaldo started to feel it. His teammates weren’t following his lead. He had enjoyed long spells at Real Madrid and his Portugal national team where he was – capital T, capital G – The Guy, and there was no arguing it. Now in his mid-30s, Ronaldo had no desire to share the stage. He didn’t care about the development of younger players like Paulo Dybala, Moise Kean, Federico Bernardeschi, Rodrigo Bentancur or countless others.

His attitude wasn’t positive. Any time they lost, he was never the reason. He began to alienate his teammates and they would chafe every time they had to answer a question about him. By year three of this failed experiment, it was time to go. While Ronaldo scored over 100 goals in his time at Juventus and contributed to a league title, the team itself felt as though it had been dismantled. The chemistry that had been built for a decade and passed on from one generation to the next was gone.

Great players like Gigi Buffon pretended to retire and resurfaced just weeks later at PSG. Ronaldo to Juventus set the program back at least five years, as they dumped all their money on the highest transfer fee in club history thinking they’d be getting a superstar still in his prime. While his statistics justify his fee and salary, he did not elevate the play of his teammates. In his absence, the organization has had to start a rebuild of sorts.

Ronaldo was now available again for the highest bidder, only this time around the options were not as lucrative and not as plentiful. His reps around him began chirping about a return to the Premier League – but only, of course, if he was going to be with the best of the best. Enter Manchester City. They were back on top of the Prem and still chasing that elusive Champions League title. A partnership with the best player in the world might just put them over the top.

Man City’s coach Pep Guardiola did his homework and as talks heated up, Pep thought better of it. He felt his team of stars would clash with one of the greatest players of all time. City pulled out of talks, but not before the mere thought of him joining their cross-city rivals sparked Manchester United’s publicity move to get back the man who won his first Ballon d’Or in their colors. Seeing him go to their bitter city rival was an impossibility. They ignored the fact that they were in rebuilding mode and got suckered into the PR.

It was a great story. Ronaldo had blossomed at United. Outside of the nostalgia though, it made no sense at all. A top-six team in the Prem is rarely ever ‘rebuilding’, but that was what United attempted to do on the fly. Keep the fans happy with Ronaldo while bringing the next generation of players. Only one problem. Ronaldo doesn’t play the rebuild game. He’s a merc. A hired gun. Not interested in a team’s plan to rebuild or a new manager’s need to settle into a job.

Most of the Ronaldo saga could have been handled better on both sides. When you are Erik ten Hag, you don’t play the whole ‘I’m the boss here and you’ll do what I say and how I say’ routine. Embarrassing Ronaldo by putting him in with eight minutes to play in a game that was pretty much over is insulting. Of course, Ronaldo took it one step further and left the field. The dream of at least getting back on top of the Champions League was over. Man U finished in sixth place and qualified for Europa League, something Ronaldo had never experienced and had no desire to.

It was a buyer-beware deal. You knew what he would do to your team, especially if he wasn’t playing. So the battle began and they both lost. Ronaldo lost time, which these days gets more and more valuable. That feeling showed in just about every game he didn’t play. We finally got to the World Cup break, Ronaldo headed to Qatar to join his Portugal teammates, but before he did, he made a quick stop to good friend Piers Morgan. The interview cemented his exit and as of Tuesday, November 22, the two sides decided to part ways mutually.

So now what? Ronaldo still considers himself the best player in the world. He believes he needs to compete in the Champions League tournament. But there are very little options. Will it be Napoli? Why would he head back to be a part of the league he disliked so much that he felt it was beneath him.

Besides, Napoli top of Serie A and have a young nucleus who have surprised many. Bringing him in might actually destroy a great young chemistry. Does he return home to his first-ever team in Sporting CP, who were recently eliminated from Champions League play and will head down to Europa? I doubt he wants to stay in Europa League play, so then there’s rival Benfica who dominated group play. A hired gun may be what they need to get them through Club Brugge in the round of 16 and possibly Man City in the quarter-finals. FC Porto are also an option as they continue in the tournament as well. But let’s be honest, we’re reaching here.

Back in the Prem, there’s rumors of Chelsea and West Ham possibly being interested, and the ever-present spectre of Paris Saint-Germain uniting him with Messi, Neymar and Mbappe. You can see the ideas are getting more and more far fetched. There’s even a thought he may find a soft landing back at Real Madrid to play out his days. The truth is, there’s really nothing left for him in European football. He’s won everything. He’s dominated the sport. He is a true legend of the game and it would be sad to see him continue on this path of being a hired gun for whatever years he has left in the sport.

Enter Major League Soccer. With the right attitude and with the understanding that he could rebuild his image and become someone that elevates his team the way David Beckham did in Los Angeles. The way Zlatan lit up the league before returning to Europe and the way players like Sebastian Giovinco, Carlos Vela, David Villa and Thierry Henry committed to reinventing themselves. Their legendary status not only continued but grew. He’d be paid handsomely. He’d own whatever town he went to.

Some destinations that make sense would be Miami, New York, Montreal or a metro city of his choosing. He’ll be 38 when the new season starts, and he needs to start looking at life outside of his playing career. Beckham’s arrival in the States allowed him to eventually pave the path he’s on now. A team owner and a former player whose legendary status could never be questioned despite running into the same issues Ronaldo did toward the end of this career.

It’s not too late for Ronaldo. He just has to make the right decision. This need to continue to perform in the Champions League is something he should let go. There’s nothing more for him to accomplish. Conquering soccer in the USA and continuing to dominate the sport would be the perfect end to an epic career, not to mention helping the U.S. continue to grow the sport. Being an ambassador is something that can and should be appealing to him at this point in his career.

For the better part of his career Ronaldo achieved worship-type status. If he wants the statues, if he wants to continue to be considered the best player of all time, it’ll be important that he uses MLS and the publicity of soccer in America to spread the word.

MLS Multiplex
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