Ronaldo arrival raises prospect of new Real reign

Chris Maume
Monday 02 September 2002 00:00

The addition of Ronaldo to the Bernabeu constellation raises the prospect of an invincible Real Madrid gaining a dominance in Europe not seen since the club's golden age.

Real – who now have five of the last six World Players of the Year on their books – pulled off the deal of the summer for the third year in a row on Saturday night when they finally signed the Internazionale striker, bringing to an end a saga that felt as if it had lasted since the dawn of time but has in fact been going on only since the Brazilian helped his national side to the World Cup.

Two years ago they bought Luis Figo from Barcelona, last summer they took Zinedine Zidane from Juventus, and on Saturday, with minutes to go to the European transfer deadline, they wrested Ronaldo away from Internazionale.

Inter conceded defeat in their attempts to keep the World Cup's leading scorer when Real offered a £29.8m package, including a player of the Italians' choice. He has agreed personal terms and is now registered, but must still pass a medical.

However, Inter were so confident that his knee trouble has cleared up that they quickly signed a replacement from Lazio, the Argentinian international Hernan Crespo, in a four-year deal worth just over £16m plus the striker Bernardo Corradi as makeweight.

Photographs of Ronaldo dominated the front pages of all the main Spanish newspapers yesterday. "The King is coming," the sports daily AS trumpeted, but in Italy there was only bitterness. "He arrived like a king, and he leaves like a thief," Corriere dello Sport said. "The great love between Inter fans and Ronaldo is but a distant memory."

Particular praise was reserved in the Spanish press for Real's president Florentino Perez, whose negotiating skills were seen as crucial. Perez ensured ample guarantees over any future injuries to Ronaldo, who has spent much of the last three seasons on the treatment table with knee problems.

Real will receive compensation from Inter if the player suffers a relapse or injures his right knee again. "We have signed the best striker in the world," a Real source said. "If he doesn't get injured then Real will have the best, if he does then we will lose nothing."

Whereas Ronaldo's departure left behind only harsh words, the acquisition of Crespo led to a trail of destruction. Hard-core Lazio fans, also angered by the sale of the defender Alessandro Nesta to Milan for £19m, wreaked havoc on Saturday night, wrecking offices and burning cars around Rome's Olympic Stadium.

Around 300 fans left the stadium at the start of the friendly between Lazio and Juventus and broke into some of the nearby national sports associations' offices, smashing computers, photocopiers and desks and setting fire to papers. On the way to the offices they burnt five cars, three kiosks and knifed two Juventus supporters in the buttocks. On Saturday night Lazio president Sergio Cragnotti's house was under police guard.

If Lazio fans were angered by Crespo's departure, it was not only the Italian press who were upset by Ronaldo's exit. His wife Milene Domingues reportedly cried for two hours when told of the impending move to Spain, though she confirmed she would be leaving with him.

And as a footballer herself, for Fiammamonza in the women's Serie A, she did not have to wait long for an offer of her own: Atletico Madrid said they would try to sign her for their women's team. "I'm convinced if we sign her we could teach her a lot," Lola Herrera, president of Atletico Madrid women's section, said.

The acquisition of Ronaldo to play ahead of Raul in attack, backed by Zidane, Figo and the rampaging full-backs Roberto Carlos and Michel Salgado, will ensure that the team have extraordinary firepower.

If Ronaldo can get up to anything like full fitness after such injuries, Real will have a striker certain to convert chances when the team are on song and capable of creating them himself when not. Real may well prove to be invincible.

Under the hard-nosed Perez, Real appear to have found a formula to serve them well long into the future. After the arrival of Figo, Perez 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 increasing revenues from replica shirt sales and joint deals to exploit players' image rights.

"Such a team seemed a utopia only a couple of seasons ago but it is now a reality," said the Spanish sports daily Marca said. "Now the only question is whether Real will be as overwhelming on the pitch as they are on paper."

Last season, Real scored 69 goals in La Liga but conceded 44 in finishing only fourth, and there has been one dissenting voice in Spain. In a recent interview, when asked about the possible signing of the Brazilian, Zidane replied: "Ronaldo would be perfect – but above all weaknesses have been detected at the back."

The culmination of Real's golden age was with the 7-3 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 European Cup final, and maybe, given Real's battery of stars in the middle and up front, and their suspect defence, Real may be able to look forward to that sort of scoreline again.

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