Terminating Cristiano Ronaldo’s contract just 15 months after signing him might prove to be the best bit of business Manchester United have done in years, judging by the extraordinary situation Juventus now find themselves in.
The entire board of directors resigned from the Serie A club on Monday following allegations of false accounting and market manipulation.
If found guilty, the Italian giants could face a series of legal challenges that could significantly worsen an already dire financial situation.
Their presence on the Italian stock exchange as a PLC opens them up to lawsuits from shareholders and financial authorities alike, and according to journalist Gianfranco Teotino the Old Lady’s signing of Ronaldo was the “Original sin,” the first step down a road that may lead them to the brink of ruin.
The club spent €100m to prise him from Real Madrid back in 2018 and spent three years paying the striker €31m-per-season, breaking their wage structure is sensational fashion.
They also vastly overestimated the financial boon that signing a player of Cristiano Ronaldo’s calibre would bring, with Teotino claiming they were “only partially” repaid in terms of financial growth, with TV rights abroad receiving no boost during his stay.
Success on the pitch also failed to grow, with the Champions League trophy remaining elusive while Juventus’ stranglehold on Serie A diminished. That also negatively affected the club’s revenues.
But selling Ronaldo to Manchester United last season did not solve all of their problems.
According to The Athletic, Juventus made a whopping €254.3m loss during their last campaign, breaking an unwanted Italian record in the process.
A huge contribution to that astonishing figure is player wages. During Ronaldo’s time in Turin, Juventus renewed 14 contracts with senior players, many of whom saw their wages increase significantly to catch up with the Portugal star’s mammoth salary.
They also signed 24 players, whose agents were well aware of what Juventus were prepared to pay for talent and able to negotiate higher salaries off the back of Ronaldo’s earnings.
Manchester United have some experience of situations like this, with Alexis Sanchez a notable example. The Chilean signed from Arsenal in January 2018, with the Red Devils offering an unprecedented £350,000-a-week contract.
It quickly became apparent that Sanchez’s performance levels did not justify him earning twice as much as almost anybody in the squad and United are still suffering the financial consequences of that contract today.
David de Gea’s agent was quick to use Sanchez’s terms as leverage for United’s then-Player of the Season and negotiated a £375,000-a-week deal for his client. To this day, that wage remains the highest paid to any Spanish footballer of all time.
Anthony Martial – who has barely featured this campaign and spent the start of the year on loan at Sevilla – managed to get a £250,000-a-week contract a year after Sanchez signed.
Mino Raiola saw fit to dismiss a £300,000-a-week offer to Paul Pogba as “nothing,” while Jadon Sancho’s agent had a clear reference point for a United winger’s value when he negotiated a £350,000 weekly wage for his client.
The Cristiano Ronaldo situation at Old Trafford threatened to be so much worse.
Picking up over half a million pounds a week and failing to show the quality to justify it, the legendary goalscorer could have been used as a reference point in a number of negotiations, with a host of United players in need of renewals.
United do have options to extend most of those deals by a further twelve months, but they have yet to activate any of them, perhaps realising that such a move would only kick the can down the road.
Instead the Red Devils have opted to assess player performances under Ten Hag before negotiating deals on fresh terms. In some cases the club are likely to offer reduced salaries, with De Gea and Fred being notable examples.
United face a struggle to get their wage structure back under control after the Alexis Sanchez fiasco, but without the spectre of Ronaldo’s pay packet looming over them, they have every chance of succeeding.
Had the club hired a manager whose focus was on keeping Ronaldo happy rather than forging a team ethos, it is easy to imagine a scenario in which the striker’s one-year extension clause was triggered and the aforementioned players had their representatives pointing to his wages as a benchmark for their renewals.
Fortunately that is a bullet the club have managed to dodge, which should make Ten Hag’s task of creating a harmonious winning team that much easier.