It was on Thursday afternoon that Jorge Mendes decided to call Manchester United to see if they may be interested in the offer of a lifetime. After three days of negotiations between the Portuguese super agent and officials from Manchester City and Juventus as he scrambled to find a new home for his most famous client before next week’s transfer deadline, Cristiano Ronaldo’s future was finally settled in a matter of hours.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s return to Old Trafford after 12 years away has taken the football world by surprise given that he had seemed destined to join United’s bitter rivals, although for Mendes the move represents a perfect conclusion to a summer of speculation.
Ronaldo first asked his representative to sound out potential suitors as he prepared to return for pre-season training in mid-July under new head coach Massimiliano Allegri. Having signed a four-year contract worth a staggering €31m a season after tax when he moved to Italy from Real Madrid in 2018, it is understood that he was keen to pursue a new challenge after Portugal’s exit in the last-16 of Euro 2020.
Mendes informally approached most of Europe’s big hitters including Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, United, City and Chelsea but had received no firm encouragement about a potential move. Ronaldo even released a statement criticising what he called “frivolous” speculation over his future on 18 August after reports in Spain linked him with a return to Madrid. “My story at Real Madrid has been written. It’s been recorded. In words and numbers, in trophies and titles, in records and in headlines,” he wrote on Instagram.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored 101 goals for Juventus but saw the club fall short in Serie A and Europe last season. Photograph: NurPhoto/Getty ImagesBut when City were informed by Tottenham last weekend that their improved offer of £127m for Harry Kane would not be accepted and the England captain was staying in north London, the situation suddenly changed. While by no means all of the City hierarchy were convinced by the need to sign a 36-year-old and would have represented a major departure from their usual approach to recruiting younger players, Mendes was confident of being able to seal a deal despite a reluctance from the Premier League club to pay a transfer fee.
Ronaldo requested a meeting with Allegri the day before Juventus were due to face Udinese on Sunday in their first Serie A match of the season and told him that he wanted to leave the club. They decided that he would start the match on the bench, with Allegri introducing him in the 59th minute as a substitute for Álvaro Morata as Udinese claimed a 2-2 draw.
Afterwards, the Juventus vice-president Pavel Nedved dismissed reports that Ronaldo was set to leave and insisted that he said he was staying. “We mustn’t try to create sensational stories where there aren’t any,” said the former Czech Republic midfielder and 2003 Ballon d’Or winner. “I can absolutely confirm Ronaldo will remain at Juventus this season.”
Behind the scenes, however, that was far from the reality as Mendes stepped up his exit strategy. That evening, he began negotiating with City, who were still adamant that they would only take Ronaldo on a free transfer. Mendes had what has been described by sources close to the deal as “a really tense” meeting with the Juventus sporting director Federico Cherubini, with the club insisting that they wanted a fee of around €30m to balance their books to comply with financial fair play regulations. Cherubini replaced Fabio Paratici in the role after his move to Tottenham earlier in the summer and did not enjoy such a strong relationship with Mendes as his predecessor.
However, with City – who had also made Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva available for transfer in anticipation of completing a deal – still not prepared to submit a formal offer after rejecting Juve’s proposal to include the Brazil striker Gabriel Jesus, Mendes spent Thursday morning trying to convince both parties to meet in the middle. When no agreement could be struck, the man who brokered his first transfer back in 1996 when now Tottenham manager Nuno Espírito Santo joined Deportivo La Coruña from Portuguese side Vitoria picked up the phone to Old Trafford.
Within hours, the move had accelerated thanks to a series of calls from Ronaldo’s current and former teammates including Bruno Fernandes and Rio Ferdinand. United and Mendes reached a verbal agreement over personal terms for a two-year contract late on Thursday night and by the time most people were waking up on Friday, they had already started negotiating the fee with Juventus.
Having been offered €12m initially, Juve eventually settled for €15m up front and bonuses that could reach up to €8m and are guaranteed to take the total cost to €20m. Meanwhile, Ronaldo had driven to the Juventus training ground, the Vinovo, to collect his belongings and inform Allegri and his teammates he was off to Manchester. United that is.