Rome: Juventus fans will get their first glimpse of superstar summer signing Cristiano Ronaldo in rarified surroundings on Sunday, when he makes his debut for the Italian champions at the foot of the Alps a week before the start of the new Serie A season.
Ronaldo, who signed for Juventus from European champions Real Madrid in a shock 100 million euro ($117 million) deal exactly a month ago, will wear the Juventus kit for the first time in the club’s traditional pre-season friendly between Juve’s first XI and a “B” team in Villar Perosa, a small town 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of Turin.
Set in a valley at the foot of the Italian Alps, Villar Perosa (population: roughly 4,100) is the home of the family estate and summer retreat of the powerful Agnellis, who, apart from a brief period around the Second World War, have run Juventus since 1923 and established the traditional alpine curtain raiser.
Members of the industrial dynasty — founders of Fiat car manufacturers and often called the “Italian Kennedys” — have lived at “The Castle” in Villar Perosa since the 19th century, while deceased former club chairman Gianni Agnelli was town mayor between 1945 and 1980.
– Up close and personal –
Used to imposing arenas such as the Camp Nou, Old Trafford and the Bernabeu, current Ballon d’Or holder Ronaldo will take his first steps in black and white stripes at the town’s compact ground, named after notoriously brutal Italy centre-back Gaetano Scirea.
There should be more fans at the match than the entire population of Villar Perosa, with the 5,000 tickets available long-since sold out and even more supporters desperate to try and catch a glimpse of their new idol.
Such is the enthusiasm for Ronaldo’s debut, that special security measures have been drafted in the town for the match, including a complete ban on the sale of alcohol from Saturday.
Ronaldo’s arrival had sparked rumours that the match would be moved to the Allianz Stadium such was the enthusiasm from fans after his signing, but the club decided to stick with the traditional bucolic setting.
That could mean Ronaldo gets even more up close and personal with Juve fans.
Established custom dictates that five minutes after half-time fans invade the pitch, bringing the game to a halt as fans charge after and greet their heroes.
– Superhuman? –
Ronaldo joined the team for training on Wednesday with Juventus two important players lighter after their return from the International Champions Cup in the United States.
The 33-year-old’s arrival pushed striker Gonzalo Higuain to rivals AC Milan, and the Argentine was joined by the impressive Mattia Caldara, who has established himself as one of Serie A’s best defenders since breaking through at Atalanta two years ago.
Caldara arrived at Juve in early July only to be swapped last week with Leonardo Bonucci, who returned to Turin after just one unconvincing season with Milan.
The decision to deprive themselves of a proven Serie A goalscorer and in particular to swap Caldara, 24, for 31-year-old Bonucci has left some question marks over Juventus despite Ronaldo’s proven prowess.
His domestic form — despite scoring 26 goals in La Liga — was below the almost superhuman levels that had characterised his time in Spain as Madrid finished third behind local rivals Atletico and a whole 17 points behind champions Barcelona.
However Juve’s closest recent challengers — Napoli and Roma — have sold important players this summer, and Napoli have to adapt to new coach Carlo Ancelotti following talismanic Maurizio Sarri’s departure and subsequent move to Chelsea.
– Euro ambitions –
Juventus have signed Ronaldo not to cement their domestic dominance, after winning seven straight league titles, but to boost their international profile and bag their first Champions League triumph in over two decades.
Last season, Ronaldo was his usual dominant self in Europe as he smashed 15 goals to top the Champions League scoring charts and fired Real Madrid to continental glory for the third straight year.
Interest in Juve and in Italian football has spiked following Ronaldo’s arrival. July visits to the club museum shot up 15 percent compared to last year, and were nearly a third more than in 2016, and the over 29,000 season tickets available to fans have been sold despite a deeply unpopular 30 percent price bump announced before Ronaldo’s arrival.
ESPN have snatched the rights to broadcast Serie A in the United States from BeIN Sports (although the league has not said how much the network will pay) and World Cup Golden Ball winner Luka Modric is also pondering a move to join former teammate Ronaldo in Italy — at Juve’s arch rivals Inter Milan.