With Cristiano Ronaldo having rejoined Manchester United after bidding adieu to Juventus, Jyotirmoy Halder looks at whether the Bianconeri have properly replaced the superstar or not.
The curtain-raiser was not expected to be a nail-biter. With Juventus’ opening game in Serie A 2021/22 heading towards injury time, the scoreboard dictated 2-2. A well-oiled Udinese side, led by Luca Gotti, was poised to make the task as hard as they could.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Cristiano Ronaldo, who had been introduced in front of the away fans at the Friuli following the travesty in the second half, leapt the highest in the 94th minute of the game to send the ball past Marco Silvestri.
For a moment, it seemed as if the Portuguese talisman had stolen the headline from the grasp of their opponents once again. Half-naked, he ran towards the ferocious crowd, subsequently executing his trademark celebration in the process. But when the hour of judgement came, the goal got disallowed for a fair and square offside.
Some donning the shirt with the crest of the Old Lady had already put their hands over the head in an attempt to portray their despondency. Having been booked for taking his shirt off during the wild celebration, Ronaldo certainly missed the chance to clinch a last-ditch winner this time. Disappointment mirrored in his action, with both teams sharing the spoils after the referee had drawn the game to an end.
Without a shadow of a doubt, it was a sad start to the season for Massimiliano Allegri’s men. But they might not have known, at the time, that things were going to get worse in the days to come, especially for those in black and white. Soon came the news that Ronaldo had informed Juventus of his intention to leave the club this summer. Amid the uncertainty, the next thing that we got to hear is that Ronaldo was gone. He was not a Bianconeri player anymore, with Manchester United confirming that they had reached an agreement with Juventus for Cristiano Ronaldo.
A happy homecoming, as some Manchester United devotees framed the return of Ronaldo at Old Trafford, at one part of England was spreading the vibes of a funeral at the other end of Italy.
Some Juventus fans were dismayed by Ronaldo’s decision to leave them behind, while others thought it was the right decision from the club to let go of a wantaway outlet — albeit Cristiano Ronaldo.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s legacy at Juventus…
Amid this doom and gloom, Juventus, sensing that there was not enough time to repair the void that had just got widened with the abrupt departure of Ronaldo, dived into the market to potentially replace Cristiano Ronaldo. Yes, you have heard it right.
They wanted to bring in someone who could emulate or at least try to emulate the miraculous task of replacing none other than Ronaldo. But what was Ronaldo’s legacy at the Turin-based club? Summoning a slight grin at the right cusp of lips, one might say there is no legacy of him at Juventus as he was a failure when it comes to delivering the club a Champions League — his principal objective while penning a deal for the Old Lady.
Ajax, Lyon, and Porto last season were the embodiments of a legendary figure failing the dreams of hundreds and thousands running and supporting the illustrious Italian club, one could possibly say. But is that all?
Joining Juventus from Real Madrid on the back of some sumptuous achievements in the summer of 2018, Ronaldo scored a brace to single-handedly secure a 2-1 victory for Juventus against Sassuolo in what was his fourth appearance for the club.
Calcio found a new hero when Ronaldo, representing a club from Italy, proved to be instrumental in overthrowing Atletico Madrid from a Champions League knock-out tie. A well-orchestrated hat-trick from Ronaldo allowed Juventus to overcome a 2-0 deficit and reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League in the concurrent campaign.
He became the fastest to bag 100 goals for the Old Lady, accomplishing the deed in three regular seasons and 131 games. He overshadowed the records of Omar Sivori and Roberto Baggio, who had previously taken four seasons to touch the three-digit number.
Scoring an eye-watering tally of 29 goals from 33 games in Serie A 2020/21, Ronaldo named his first Capocannoniere (the accolade given to the player with the highest number of goals in the top-tier of Italy) last term. He had been beaten by the likes of Fabio Quagliarella and Ciro Immobile in the previous two seasons. Many believe that it was for Ronaldo’s goals that Juventus will be playing Champions League football this term.
Ronaldo was key to so many influential comebacks in the time of need for Juventus. Hence, his departure or return to Manchester United, with one year remaining in his contract at Juventus, came as a shock. After failing to win Serie A last season for a record-breaking 10th consecutive season, Juventus have a mountain to climb ahead. But they will have to do all the climbing without their most reliable crampon in Ronaldo.
What did they do to replace him?
Do you remember the long list of replacements that came out of nowhere after it was confirmed that Ronaldo would leave Juventus? Over the three years, Ronaldo’s position on the field had evolved at the Piedmontese club. Starting as an inside forward, he became more isolated around the box in the latter stage of his Juve career.
Complying with the natural instinct of finding himself in the right place at the right time, he would run riot in Italy. Replacing a man of such calibre was always going to be a tiring task for the management. Though, the club seemed prepared for any adverse situation. And that was comforting and soothing for the dejected mind of Juventus faithful.
Earlier in the summer, Juventus had signed Kaio Jorge from Santos, a Brazilian club known for producing an extraordinary pool of young prodigies over the years, for a total amount of €4 million including various performance-related bonuses before Ronaldo left. A sensation in Brazil and South America, Jorge is 19. But considering his traits on the field, Juventus quickly included him in their senior team.
Nowadays, he is seen making the bench for Juventus in Serie A. He could be hopeful of acquiring some minutes as a substitute in the top tier of Italian football by the end of the ongoing season. And if fortune favours, Jorge could be the one to lead the line in the cup competitions for La Vecchia Signora going forward this campaign. It remains to be seen whether he could make the same impact as Lautaro Martinez made when he arrived from Argentina in Serie A.
Now let’s shift our focus from what had happened before Ronaldo’s departure to what has happened since. Following the conclusion of the Ronaldo saga, reports around Turin and Italy started linking Juventus with every possible name still available in the summer transfer market. From Daniel Sturridge to Dušan Vlahović, almost every star name featured until the actual target (a potential void-filler) appeared under the microscope.
Moise Kean, 21, was the individual Juventus were told to be keenly interested in. A move was arranged. And with the former Torino and Juventus man also seeking redemption from his miseries at the blue end of Merseyside, Juventus didn’t have to waste much time or effort to get the deal over the line.
Playing it smart, Juventus were successful in signing Kean on a two-year loan deal from Everton with an obligation to buy worth £24 million. Kean’s returned to Turin was not as big as Ronaldo to Manchester United. Yet, it was widely celebrated amongst Juventini. Replacing a 36-year-old veteran with an aspiring superstar is something every Juventino remains excited about.
According to some sources, Juventus were also willing to sign Mauro Icardi from Paris Saint-Germain during the dying minutes of the summer transfer market. But with Icardi having three years on his current contract and nursing an unfortunate injury, the Ligue 1 side was able to fend off any potential interest this summer. Henceforth, as far as Juventus’ incoming in the forward rank is concerned, it was only the pair of Kaio Jorge and Moise Kean to arrive in time.
Is that enough?
“It is very difficult to replace Cristiano,” admitted Ronaldo’s closest rival when it comes to sheer footballing abilities and the six-time Ballon d’Or winner in Lionel Messi.
Perhaps there is no one who could imitate all of Ronaldo’s attributes — not even the diminutive Argentine. So how can we expect someone to come in his place and copy his prowess on such a consistent basis? Well, we shouldn’t.
However, the air of tranquillity within the club suggests that they have found the right blend of youth and experience. Juventus extended the loan for Alvaro Morata this summer, with the Spaniard, signed from Atletico Madrid, agreeing to stay with the Bianconeri for at least another year, until 2022.
On top of signing Kaio Jorge and Moise Kean, the rise of Federico Chiesa to prominence has heralded positivity within the Old Lady’s camp. Still spending his two-year loan spell from Fiorentina, Chiesa, a leading name in Roberto Mancini’s juvenile Azzurri side, is en route to becoming the next big star in Serie A. And he possibly knows that there is no better place to do so than at Juventus.
In terms of an out-and-out replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo, Moise Kean has to hold the baton. While playing for Paris Saint-Germain (on a season-long loan from Everton) last season, he scored 13 non-penalty goals from 26 matches in Ligue 1.
He was lethal in their Champions League outings, scoring a brace in their 2-0 victory over Istanbul Basaksehir last campaign. As per the data shown on FBref.com, Kean accumulated an npxG (non-penalty expected goals) — a metric used to gauge the lethality of a forward in front of the goal — of 0.51 per 90 minutes over the last 365 days in the big five leagues and European Competition, meaning that he is expected to score around 51 non-penalty goals if he plays 100 games per season.
For Ronaldo, the npxG freezes at 0.62, suggesting that he would score 62 non-penalty goals from 100 games in a regular season. The numbers showcase that Ronaldo take shots from more scorable positions, while the goal-scoring possibility lessens for Moise Kean’s shots.
Despite that, Kean had one of the best records across Europe in terms of non-penalty goals, registering 0.67 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes (which means he has performed way above the expectation over the last year). His figures are slightly better than those of Ronaldo, who has amassed 0.66 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes over the last 365 days.
Moise Kean is a special player. He has the aptitude and appetite needed to be a success story at Juventus. The goal, however, should be establishing the name “Moise Kean” in the hearts of Juventus devotees instead of endeavouring to become a perfect replace replacement for Ronaldo. Time will surely tell whether he lets Ronaldo be Ronaldo and becomes a rejuvenated Moise Kean or a squad player who had once dreamt of copying someone else’s legacy.