The biggest soccer star on the planet is headed home.
Cristiano Ronaldo reached an agreement with Manchester United 12 years after he left Old Trafford for Real Madrid. It wraps a dizzying 48 hours for the five-time Ballon d’Or winner, who Thursday appeared on the verge of joining reigning Premier League Champions Manchester City.
United will pay Juventus a €15 million ($17.7 million) transfer fee, with a potential for €8 million ($9.4 million) in additional add-ons, according to a source familiar with the move. Man United and Ronaldo’s representatives at Gestifute still need to finalize contract terms and check the boxes on any health and visa issues. Ronaldo left United in 2009 when Real paid a then-record transfer of €94 million. The European transfer window closes Tuesday.
Man United did not expect to sign Ronaldo when the summer transfer window opened, as the club expected him to stay in Italy with one year left on his contract. But the club seized the opportunity once it became clear his time at Juventus was done after three seasons in which the Italian team failed to get past the Champions League quarterfinals and finished a disappointing fourth in Serie A during the 2020-21 season. United finished runner-up to Man City last year in the Premier League.
As the leading goal scorer in Serie A this past season, the Portuguese forward became the first player to win scoring titles in the top-flight leagues of England, Spain and Italy. The scoring crown added to a glittering resume that includes five Champions League titles, seven league titles in England, Spain and Italy, and the European Championship for his native Portugal. He scored 118 goals in 292 games during his first stint at Manchester United, which lasted six seasons.
Ronaldo ranked third in Sportico’s tally of the highest-paid athletes with $120 million, including $50 million off the pitch. Endorsement partners Nike, Clear and Herbalife benefit from an unmatched social media following of 575 million fans, including a record 333 million on Instagram alone. He also pitches his CR7 line of clothing, accessories, gyms and hotels.
He generated $75 million in value on social media for sponsors last year, according to social media analytics firm Hookit. His follower count is more than Major League Baseball, its teams and all of its players combined.
He posted a farewell video for his fans Friday on social media. “Today I depart from an amazing club, the biggest in Italy and surely one of the biggest in all of Europe,” he wrote. “I gave my heart and soul for Juventus and I’ll always love the city of Turin until my final days.” The Facebook post racked up more than 1 million likes in the first two hours, while his Instagram video had 20 million views in the same span.
Ronaldo remains one of the marketable athletes on the planet despite recent legal issues, including tax evasion (he was sentenced to probation and fined more than $20 million) and rape allegations (never formally charged but reportedly settled out of court with his accuser.)