Externally, they'd laughed. But internally, they hadn't. Not at all. Instead, there'd been a slight feeling of trepidation that it could happen to them too.
And it has.
In 2014, as Barcelona were handed a transfer ban they rallied against but ultimately had to accept, Real Madrid were aware of the real possibility they could reach the same fate. Twelve months ago, as reported by the Guardian, FIFA began investigating Real's transfer activity relating to youth players just as it had done with Barcelona, and immediately the club went into a buying frenzy.
That January, Madrid signed Lucas Silva and Martin Odegaard. Soon after, a deal was struck for Danilo. "The same as filling a nuclear shelter with water and biscuits," wrote AS of what looked like precautionary action. Here at Bleacher Report, we pondered whether a transfer ban was being foreseen.
Last summer, the pattern continued. Casemiro and Denis Cheryshev were recalled from loan spells, Lucas Vazquez had his buy-back option exercised and in came Mateo Kovacic and Jesus Vallejo, the latter loaned back to Real Zaragoza. Madrid were stockpiling, bracing themselves. And on Thursday, the news they'd dreaded came: FIFA had hit both them and Atletico Madrid with transfer bans for the summer of 2016 and the winter of 2017.
Here we examine what it all means for Real Madrid's biggest star.
Summer of 2016
The approaching summer was poised to be a fascinating one at Real Madrid, whose struggles in a disastrous 2015 had heightened the likelihood of major change at the club.
According to Sky Sports' Guillem Balague, Madrid had been prepared to listen to offers for Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. "The plans of Real Madrid were very clear," said Balague. "They wanted to recycle the side and they would have accepted the right offers for Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo."
Recently, of course, new manager Zinedine Zidane has insisted the three-time Ballon d'Or winner will be "going nowhere" under his watch, but it's worth remembering managers have rarely had the ultimate authority on transfers at the Bernabeu; club president Florentino Perez has.
As such, the idea of selling Ronaldo appeared to be based on three factors:
- Despite having maintained his stunning numbers in 2015, Ronaldo exhibited small signs of decline, his influence against major sides not what it once was. Indeed, so far this season, the Portuguese has 25 goals in all competitions but hasn't scored in eight combined games against Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Valencia, Sevilla, Villarreal, Athletic Bilbao and Paris Saint-Germain.
- To build a new-look Real Madrid side around Gareth Bale, who remains a priority of Perez.
- To maximise the transfer fee the club could still get for Ronaldo while he remains capable of being a star for an outfit such as PSG.
However, the handing of a transfer ban to Madrid essentially prevents any such move. Without being able to replace Ronaldo with a marquee signing next summer—the likes of Eden Hazard and Robert Lewandowski were expected to be chased—Perez and the club won't be able to entertain the idea for another 18 months.
Summer of 2017
In one sense, being forced to wait until the summer of 2017 before contemplating the departure of Ronaldo is hardly disastrous for Real Madrid. In all likelihood, the Portuguese will continue to be a prolific scorer for the club, just in a less dynamic way than to which we've grown accustomed, his game having evolved, as we noted in October:
For 18 months now, we've been witnessing an evolutionary period for Ronaldo. Now in his 30s, Real Madrid's all-time leading scorer has reined in his game, embracing the new limitations put upon him by time and remodelling himself to be as prolific as ever when precedent says he shouldn't be.
In 2015, his game is less explosive but more controlled. Whereas he once operated as a left-sided bazooka, he's fast becoming the world's most lethal No. 9, his success based on economy of movement, on cleverly timed bursts, on exacting trailing runs and on one-touch finishing.
However, there are a number of complications that have arisen after Thursday's announcement by FIFA.
By the summer of 2017, Ronaldo will be 32 and will turn 33 midway through the season that follows. By that stage, the Portuguese will be entering the twilight of his astonishing career, meaning Real Madrid would be unlikely to recoup the £80 million they spent on him on 2009 to fund another round of marquee signings.
Additionally, suitors might be fewer in number. Indeed, would the likes PSG or Manchester United be willing to part with a significant sum—even at a reduced price, Ronaldo could still cost somewhere in the region of £50 million—for a forward who will turn 33 during his first season in a new footballing home and who wouldn't represent a long-term investment?
It's a legitimate question, meaning that beyond the issues now facing the club—securing a big fee, finding a replacement and satisfying Bale, who could well have expected to be his team's key figure next season—Madrid's transfer ban might also significantly reduce the options in front of Ronaldo as his career at the Bernabeu winds down.