Ronaldo leaving Madrid to join Italian club Juventus

AP, MADRID

Thu, Jul 12, 2018 - Page 16

Cristiano Ronaldo is leaving Real Madrid to join Italian club Juventus in a move expected to benefit the Portugal forward’s tax return.

Juventus on Tuesday said the club paid 112 million euros (US$131.43 million) for Ronaldo, who signed a four-year deal with the Serie A champions.

The move brings an end to a hugely successful nine-year spell in Spain, and takes him further away from a tax fraud case that might end up costing the Portugal forward more than US$20 million in fines.

“These years with Real Madrid and in this city of Madrid have been possibly the happiest of my life,” Ronaldo wrote in an open letter. “My only feeling is of an enormous gratitude for this club, for these fans and for this city. I can only thank them all for the love and affection I have received.”

“But I think the time has come to start a new phase in my life and that is why I have asked the club to accept my transfer,” he added. “I feel that it is time, and I ask everyone, especially our fans, to please understand me.”

Ronaldo in 2009 joined Real Madrid from Manchester United and was the Spanish club’s all-time leading scorer with 451 goals in 438 matches. He helped the club win four UEFA Champions League titles — beating Juventus in last year’s final — and also won the league and cup twice each.

He has scored a record 120 Champions League goals, 105 of them since moving to Madrid — 12 more than Juventus managed in that same period.

However, he was unhappy with the way that the tax authorities treated him in Spain. Ronaldo, along with several other top players in the country, has been accused of tax fraud, with authorities saying that the government was defrauded of 14.7 million euros from 2011 to 2014.

Unconfirmed media reports last month said Ronaldo had agreed to pay a fine of 18.8 million euros.

In Italy, a new law caps tax on income generated from abroad at 100,000 euros per year for residents who have paid their taxes in other countries for at least nine of the past 10 years.

Other players targeted by Spanish tax authorities in the past few years include Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and Luka Modric. Former Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho, now at Manchester United, was also investigated.

Ronaldo is on vacation in Greece following Portugal’s elimination from the FIFA World Cup. Juventus president Andrea Agnelli on Tuesday flew out to meet the 33-year-old forward.

“Real Madrid wants to express its gratitude to a player who has proven to be the best in the world and who has marked one of the greatest eras in the history of our club and of world soccer,” Real Madrid said in a statement.

“In addition to the titles he won, Cristiano Ronaldo has been an example of dedication, work, responsibility, talent and determination,” it added. “For Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo will always be one of its greatest symbols and a unique reference for the next generations. Real Madrid will always be his home.”

Ronaldo signed a five-year deal with Madrid in 2016, saying that he wanted to end his career at the club, but he has publicly expressed his discontentment about being jeered at times by some Madrid fans at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Ronaldo was also moved by the Juventus fans for giving him a standing ovation after he scored a spectacular goal against the Italian club at the Allianz Stadium in the Champions League quarter-finals last season.

“I gave a lot of thought to this and I know that the time has come for a new era,” Ronaldo said. “I’m leaving, but this jersey, this shield and the Santiago Bernabeu will always feel as something that is mine wherever I go.”

The signing broke the Serie A record, which Juventus set two years ago when the club paid SSC Napoli 90 million euros for Gonzalo Higuain.

Ronaldo made his debut for Sporting when he was 17. His crossover dribble was already famous when Alex Ferguson took him to Manchester United ahead of the 2003-2004 season and gave him the No. 7 shirt of the recently departed David Beckham.

He spent six seasons in England, winning three English Premier League titles, one Champions League title and one FA Cup.

Ronaldo two years ago led Portugal to their first major title at Euro 2016 in France. He in 2006 helped Portugal reach the semi-finals in his first World Cup.

Portugal were eliminated by Uruguay in the round-of-16 of this year’s tournament in Russia. Ronaldo scored four goals to take his tally to 85 for his country and break Ferenc Puskas’ record as Europe’s all-time leading international scorer.