Madrid: The addition of Ronaldo to the constellation of stars at the Bernabeu raises the prospect of an all but invincible Real Madrid side gaining a dominance in Europe not seen since the club’s golden age in the 1950s.
For Alfredo di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, Paco Gento and Raymond Kopa, the standard-bearers for the club that won the European Cup from 1956 to 1960, read Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Raul and now Ronaldo, who finally completed his move from Inter Milan on Saturday.
Ronaldo will sign a four-year deal at Real, who will pay a total of 47 million euros ($46.31 million) for the 25-year-old former Barcelona player, whose goals fired Brazil to victory at the World Cup in South Korea and Japan in June.
Ronaldo was whisked away to a secret destination after he flew into the Spanish capital on Sunday. The Brazilian striker arrived in a private jet at an air base just outside Madrid where he was greeted by officials of his new club. “Real Madrid would like to announce that they have reached an agreement with Inter Milan for the transfer of Ronaldo who will join the club next Monday to undergo a medical and will then be presented to the media at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium,” said a spokesman for the Spanish club.
An Inter spokesman confirmed the deal with the European champions had been agreed and the Serie A club added that they had also reached an agreement to sign Argentina striker Hernan Crespo from Lazio to replace the departing Ronaldo.
After their European hegemony was ended in the 1960-61 season, Real won the top club competition just once more, in 1966, before re-establishing their reputation with three Champions League wins in the last five years.
With the arrival of Ronaldo, fresh from leading Brazil to World Cup glory by top scoring in the competition with eight goals, few would bet against Real lifting the European title again at Old Trafford, Manchester, next May. Certainly the way they tore through the defences of Uefa Cup holders Feyenoord in a 3-1 European Super Cup win on Friday suggested they will not be easily shifted from the summit.
With Zidane directing traffic from central midfield and Figo looking back close to his best on the right after a season wrecked by an ankle injury, Real overwhelmed their opponents.
The acquisition of Ronaldo to play ahead of the quicksilver Raul in attack, backed by Zidane, Figo and rampaging fullbacks Roberto Carlos and Michel Salgado, will ensure that the team have extraordinary firepower.
If Ronaldo can get up to anything like full fitness after the years plagued by knee trouble, Real will have a striker certain to convert chances when the team are on song and capable of creating them himself when need be.
If he reaches the level he was at before his injuries, Real may well prove to be invincible.
“Even at 70 percent, he’s the best in the world,” Inter coach Hector Cuper said in a recent newspaper interview.
Under hard-nosed club president Florentino Perez, Real appear to have found a formula to serve them well long into the future. The arrival of Figo, signed from Barcelona in 2000 for $56 million, was followed a year later by that of Zidane in a $66-million deal from Juventus. Perez then announced that the club would in future sign only players of the very highest class, otherwise relying on talent from the youth side.
Any new arrivals must not only convince the technical staff of their prowess but also be attractive propositions to the club’s marketing department, who are intent on raising ever greater revenues from replica shirt sales and joint deals to exploit players’ image rights.
The signings of players such as Zidane and Figo have a knock-on effect, too. The main attraction in Spain for the aristocracy was until recently Barcelona.
Even though Real were by far the more successful side, Barcelona managed to secure the services of a string of world-class players from Johan Cruyff to Diego Maradona, Romario and Rivaldo. Ronaldo himself had one successful season at Barcelona before joining Inter Milan but it was with Real Madrid that his agent Alexandre Martins opened negotiations after the World Cup.
“What player in the world would not want to play for Real Madrid'” said Martins.“It’s the best team in the world.”
Ronaldo himself explained why he found Spain such an attractive proposition.
“My understanding of soccer is Brazilian,” he said. “Fun and imaginative, more attacking and less tactical than (Italian football) — more like the Spanish style than the Italian way of playing.”
With Ronaldo, Figo and Zidane on their books, Real can boast five of the last six Fifa World Players of the Year.
They play with a verve no side in Europe can match at present and should any other world-class players opt to change clubs, it would be bizarre indeed if they did not eye Real Madrid as a dream destination.
So is there any hope at all for rival European teams now or in the near future'
To stand a chance of stopping Real, opposing teams in the Champions League will have to follow the example set by the side’s Spanish first division rivals.
When Real play in Europe, opposing teams tend to have the look of startled rabbits.
Instead of trying to exploit potential weaknesses in the Real defence, teams find themselves playing ultra-defensively before sooner or later succumbing to the intense attacking pressure that Vicente del Bosque’s side habitually exert.
In the Spanish league last season that was not the case. Instead of waiting to be taken apart by Real, more adventurous teams such as Real Mallorca, Las Palmas and Deportivo La Coruna went toe to toe with the Spanish giants and found themselves perfectly able to compete. Real top-scored in the Spanish first division with 69 goals but they conceded 44 and, with 10 defeats in 38 games, they finished third in the table.
The problem was in defence.
With Salgado and Roberto Carlos spending so much time in attack, and with no midfield enforcer in the side, the 34-year-old Fernando Hierro and B team recruit Francisco Pavon were often left exposed and Real paid the price against teams willing to attack them.
Certainly, there have been whispers from the dressing-room over the close season that a move for a top class centre-back might be a more wise investment than the signing of Ronaldo.
When asked about the possible signing of the Brazilian in a recent interview with France Football, Zidane replied: “Ronaldo would be perfect but above all weaknesses have been detected at the back.”
If teams do prove willing to play Real at their own game, they may still find themselves overrun but the result could well be a return to the Spanish side’s golden age in terms of style as well as success.