Why Cristiano Ronaldo may feel his journey at Real Madrid is over
Cristiano Ronaldo says his conscience is clear after being accused of defrauding Spain's tax office of €14.7 million in unpaid taxes, but he's clearly not happy. In fact, he's so unhappy that on Friday news circulated that the Real Madrid forward is ready to quit his life in Spain over the claims one of his lawyers has described as "unjust."
Portuguese newspaper A Bola broke the news, saying Ronaldo, outraged by the treatment he has received and feeling that due to his status he is being used as an example, wants out. Marca then ratified the story and reported the 32-year-old has expressed his desire to leave the club, who are "in the process of trying to calm him down so that he doesn't go."
"I'm going to retire at Madrid when I'm over 40 years old," he has said. "I am very happy here and working hard to achieve everything I can. The white jersey suits me perfectly."
They weren't hollow words, either, and were followed up with a new contract in November, tying him to the club until 2021. The deal is reportedly worth more than €400,000 a week and according to Forbes, taking into account wages and endorsements, he is the highest-paid sportsman on the planet, earning €82.5m a year.
Could he really be angling for another wage hike with these supposed threats?
Maybe, instead, all he wants is a little bit of love; some support from Madrid. Barcelona's #WeAreAllMessi campaign was widely mocked on social media when the Argentine was facing tax evasion accusations, but it wouldn't be surprising if Ronaldo wanted a similar hashtag. Not that Madrid haven't already backed their No. 7, mind, albeit in a more conventional manner.
"Real Madrid are absolutely convinced that our player, Cristiano Ronaldo, will prove his total innocence in this process," the club said in a statement the day after prosecutors levelled the accusations. "Real Madrid hope that justice is done as quickly as possible so that his innocence can be proven as soon as possible."
As soon as possible might not be soon enough for Ronaldo. The accusations are out there now and even if he's proven innocent, a certain amount of damage has already been done. In making it clear he is prepared to leave, he may be looking to reinforce the idea he is great for Spain and La Liga and, as such, send a warning: Continuing to hound him over issues like this will force him to leave the country.
There is a fourth option, of course, one which Madrid fans will not want to consider: Ronaldo genuinely wants to leave.
Madrid have won three of the past four Champions Leagues and clinched their first La Liga title since 2012 this season. Things have never been better since Ronaldo joined the club from Manchester United in 2009, so why would he want to walk away when they're on the cusp of greatness under Zinedine Zidane?
What if that's exactly why? What if Ronaldo feels his career in the Spanish capital has reached its zenith with this season's La Liga and Champions League double and the accusations are being used as a screen to facilitate an early exit?
Raul, Iker Casillas and Pepe have all left Madrid not necessarily through the back door, but not on the terms their careers at the club deserved. Ronaldo, who will turn 33 during the next campaign, despite having a swashbuckling end to the season, has begun to show signs that age is beginning to play a part in his career. His position and role at Madrid have already changed and maybe he's not sure how much longer he can maintain the incredibly high standards he has set in the Spanish capital.
As he gets older, it's a situation which becomes difficult to manage. President Florentino Perez can't be seen to be flogging Ronaldo after all he has given to the club -- even if €100-plus million for a 30-something-year-old must be tempting -- and Ronaldo won't want to taint his legacy by forcing a move. These tax issues could be the perfect scapegoat.
Whatever the reason, an answer is unlikely to be forthcoming immediately. Ronaldo is in Russia, where he is preparing for the Confederations Cup with European Champions Portugal and on Thursday, alongside a photograph of himself holding a finger to his lips, he posted on Instagram: "Sometimes the best answer is to be quiet."