Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo reportedly wishes to leave Spain amid allegations the four-time Ballon d'Or-winner defrauded the Spanish authorities of €14.7 million (£12.8 million) in tax. It's also said a return to Manchester United is thought to be his preferred next move.
Madrid-based newspaper Marca cited a front-page report from Portuguese daily A Bola, which also reported that United, Paris Saint-Germain or AS Monaco would "lose their heads for the best player in the world."
Sky Sports News HQ backed up Friday's reports, saying Ronaldo no longer wants to play in Spain:
Sky Sports News HQ @SkySportsNewsHQ
BREAKING: @Cristiano wants to leave @realmadrid because he does not want to play in Spain any more - Sky sources. #SSNHQ https://t.co/wic48f13uL2017-6-16 12:35:34
Ronaldo has "personally communicated" to Real president Florentino Perez and director general Jose Angel Sanchez his intention to leave the Santiago Bernabeu, per Marca's Jose Felix Diaz, who also confirmed A Bola's report.
United fans will whisper it for the time being, but the slightest glimmer of hope regarding an Old Trafford comeback seems to have become that much brighter:
B/R Football @brfootball
Is The Return back on? https://t.co/Tr6AlZ1FaL2017-6-16 12:41:10
Those whispers could soon gain in volume, however, after Marca confirmed a return to Old Trafford has always been his preference, "and that could now come true."
What's more, Ronaldo is said to have taken a "thoughtful decision," rather than this being any sort of knee-jerk reaction, and the fact he feels "persecuted by the press" in Spain is also thought to have aided his choice.
Real aren't keen on the idea of allowing Ronaldo his wish to depart, however, and are "trying to calm him down" in the hope he'll remain, but it's added Los Merengues "will not hold anyone against their will."
Football writer Adam Joseph provided a look at the A Bola cover in question, with Ronaldo the most high-profile case of alleged tax evasion in La Liga thus far following a string of court cases in recent years:
Adam Joseph @AdamJosephSport
Portugal's A Bola claims Cristiano Ronaldo 'wants to leave Spain & decision is irreversible’ & has already informed Perez that he wants out. https://t.co/kiAQeJqY0k2017-6-16 07:02:49
In July last year, Barcelona ace Lionel Messi and his father, Jorge, were found guilty of three counts of tax fraud amounting to €4.1 million (£3.5 million). The former lost his appeal against a 21-month jail prison sentence in May, per Sky Sports.
In comparison, the accusations lobbied against Ronaldo are far more significant, which appears to have taken its toll on the Real maestro.
Of those big-spending suitors aforementioned, United would appear the most likely club to capitalise considering Ronaldo's past at the Manchester club.
Reuters (h/t Daily Mail) explained Ronaldo is accused of hiding income made from his image rights between 2011 and 2014, and Complex noted any wrongdoing comes just as the player is reaching his marketing peak:
Cristiano Ronaldo has been accused of tax fraud less than a week after Forbes named him the #5 highest-paid celebrity 😳 https://t.co/XmJknju4CE2017-6-15 14:36:49
It's an awkward time for Los Blancos if Ronaldo wants to leave. Having just led the team to a third UEFA Champions League in four seasons and a La Liga title, it's clear he's still one of the best players in the world, which would undoubtedly still make him an expensive target.
However, Ronaldo is 32, and it's difficult to ascertain what he would hold in terms of resale value, although Bleacher Report's Dean Jones recently highlighted there are other options outside Europe:
B/R Football @brfootball
Get excited MLS fans—all the signs point to Cristiano Ronaldo finishing his legendary career in 🇺🇸 | @DeanJonesBR https://t.co/5jG4THyHor https://t.co/4UmSfyh5II2017-6-15 13:06:58
It seems highly unlikely the Portugal captain will leave the continent just yet, though, considering he's on course to win a fifth Ballon d'Or in 2017 and could consolidate that with a win at the Confederations Cup this month.
Ronaldo has achieved everything he could have imagined during his eight years at Real and continues to break boundaries in Spain's capital, but the looming threat of a major tax trial could force him to call it quits despite that success.