This time, it's real. This time, he's gone.
Gone after nine seasons, 450 goals, four Champions League titles and four Ballon d'Or awards.
Cristiano Ronaldo's move from Real Madrid to Juventus isn't just the second-biggest transfer in history -- the deal, once you factor in wages, transfer fee and commissions, will be comfortably north of $350 million, surpassed only by Neymar -- it's also an enormous gamble for everyone involved.
Real Madrid lose their talisman, their alpha and omega, capable of scoring a goal per game last season. Juventus stretch their resources in an attempt to make a giant leap forward, abandoning the blueprint of organic growth that had guided them in the past seven seasons and, in a financial fair play world, rolling the dice that they won't have to dismantle the squad.
As for Ronaldo, his may be the biggest leap into the unknown. He is leaving arguably the biggest club in the world, a city where he is settled and a league where he is comfortable and dominant to go to Serie A, which as of right now is a step beneath La Liga. And before people call him greedy and wave Euro bills in his face, remember that based on the figures released, he will be earning no more (and possibly less when you consider endorsements, given that Real Madrid offer greater visibility) than he would have if he had signed the extension Madrid offered him last month.
At 33, Ronaldo is the age at which most professionals either squeeze another season or two at the highest possible level from their bodies or, if they can't do it anymore, downshift and make a "lifestyle" choice. Not here. He is coming off his umpteenth stellar campaign, and whatever else you may think of Serie A and Juventus, it is anything but a semi-retirement.
What prompted the move? Ronaldo's people have trotted out the old line about "not feeling loved" at the Bernabeu. The past two seasons, that has been met with cynicism and ridicule. No more, as he showed by walking away from three guaranteed years and $100 million.
Whatever Ronaldo feels -- rightly or wrongly -- is genuine. The impression is that the issue isn't so much with supporters or teammates but specifically with the club president, Florentino Perez. The trust isn't there, and to Ronaldo, it has manifested itself in a number of ways, from the fact that the club didn't do more to appeal his five-match ban earlier this year to the fact that some at the highest level have drawn up post-Zinedine Zidane rebuilding plans that do not involve Ronaldo.
Truth be told, Ronaldo's probably right -- and so is Perez. When you can get $100 million for a player and shed $55 million from your wage bill for a 33-year-old player (he'll turn 34 in February), you do it. In situations like these, you can't think in terms of what someone has given your club, but rather you need to calculate what he will give you in the coming years. While Ronaldo is a physical freak who works harder on his body than pretty much anyone, he can't beat Father Time.
And that's the heart of the issue here and part of the reason why Real Madrid had been open to a sale since at least the spring of 2016. At that stage, he had a little over two years left on his contract and the club figured they were at a crossroads. He had turned 31 that February and his production was down. If the right offer came in, they thought, Ronaldo could be sold just before his inevitable decline and before they found themselves on the hook for a mega-extension.
Ronaldo ended the season with 21 goals in his final 19 matches in all competitions, while leading Real Madrid to their 11th European Cup and a month later, was key in propelling Portugal to their first ever major trophy, Euro 2016.
In some ways, his success was a double-edged sword for the club. Perez, a man who cares about image -- his and the club's