As Juventus relaunch their Serie A title bid the chemistry between Cristiano Ronaldo and Maurizio Sarri is off. But the manager must keep his star man and his sister happy for a chance to hold on to their crown.
A week ago, the noise coming out of Juventus dressing room was from players who have never seen Cristiano Ronaldo so motivated to play. Ronaldo wanted to be unleashed in the Coppa Italia semi-final against AC Milan.
Three months without a game had clearly taken its toll on one of the all-time greats.
It all sounded so positive for Juventus and boss Maurizio Sarri. Here was Ronaldo, rested, healthy, and with his motivation level at an all-time high with the club still competing in the Coppa Italia, Serie A, and the Champions League.
And yet one week on as they prepare to relaunch their Serie A charge at Bologna, players’ mood is much sourer.
Ronaldo and Juventus were dreadfully poor in the opening game against Milan who played with 10 men for 70 minutes. The game ended with a 0-0 after Ronaldo missed a penalty. Thanks to their pre-lockdown efforts in the first leg, they scraped through on away goals.
Reaching the final masked what was an incredibly poor restart for Sarri and Ronaldo. The Portuguese’s penalty miss can happen but the tempo of the team was scarily slow and ponderous, as they adapted to the Sarri-ball system.
Ronaldo has appeared comfortable operating in a two-man attack with Paulo Dybala or wide on the left, where he has thrived for much of his career.
Playing as an out-and-out No 9 is not something he has welcomed, even if Sarri has argued vehemently to the contrary.
The final against Napoli was supposed to be redemption for the squad and that included Ronaldo. The Partenopei beat Juventus in January in the league and given they are Sarri’s former club, defeat was not acceptable.
In that context, Ronaldo had never lost back-to-back club finals. It was widely expected Juventus, ahead of the league resuming with a trip to Bologna, would shift the pendulum of momentum back in their favor.
Disappointingly, they didn’t. Juventus played as bad, if not worse, than the bore draw with Milan. Ronaldo played center-forward for large spells where he looked uncomfortable against a rugged Kalidou Koulibaly.
It made little to no sense with the game so poor. They dominated possession and yet moved the ball so slowly. Ronaldo funneled through an alley of bodies in the center as discontent was evident from the facial expressions.
The game dwindled out and was settled by a penalty shootout which Napoli won 4-2. Ronaldo never got the chance to step up. It was already all over. 180 minutes plus a shootout and none of Ronaldo, Dybala, or Douglas Costa had found the net.
With Ronaldo learning what it’s like to lose consecutive finals for the first time in his 18-year career, he contorted his face, scrunched it up, and sat on the pitch wondering how it had all gone wrong. All that motivation. All that enthusiasm to come back was wasted.
CR7 did not address the media after the game and there were no social media posts to apologize to the disgruntled supporters. Much like Sarri to his players, the silent treatment was the weapon of choice.
But that did not extend to one of Ronaldo’s sisters- Elma Aveiro.
Elma Aveiro-Ronaldo’s sister
Aveiro laid out plainly who she felt was to blame. She wrote on Instagram, “What more can you do? This is it and that’s all, that’s why my darling can’t work miracles on his own. I don’t understand how you can play like this. Anyway, head up, my King.’’
The post remains on her page and, if her brother truly felt differently, then there is no wrong if you would imagine it would have been deleted by now.
Thinking aloud, there is a sense Ronaldo is being mismanaged by Sarri and the chemistry between player and coach feels off.
Sarri called out Ronaldo’s less-than-impressive conditioning in the first games back. He also said his side “lack brilliance” which, when it includes a five-time Ballon d’Or winner, is unlikely to go without a riposte. Players “no longer follow” Sarri and he has become isolated with his job under increasing scrutiny.
Again, with a one-point lead in the race for the Scudetto, it is hardly an ideal preparation when they are the ones with a priceless head start on their rivals.
Whether they like it or not Ronaldo and Sarri need each other, at least until the end of the campaign. Sarri has two years left on his deal in Turin and with no active suitors, the club is unlikely to sack him with 12 games left of the season.