Less than a week before Christmas, the Belo Horizonte club – Cruzeiro, have received a most welcome gift.
The generous giver, moreover, was none other than Brazil legend Ronaldo, one of the greatest players in footballing history, who took the first steps of his scintillating career in Cruzeiro’s famous blue shirt before moving on to conquer Europe and the world.
On Saturday O Fenomeno announced that he would be purchasing a majority stake in Cruzeiro worth R$400 million (£53m/$70m) through Tara Sports, the Spain-based marketing consultancy that is also the owner of Real Valladolid.
According to reports in Brazil, Fenway Sports Group, which controls Liverpool, was also interested in purchasing the club, but was beaten out by the two-time World Cup winner, who conducted talks over a takeover over the past three months in remarkable silence given his profile, and is now keen to take on the challenge of resurrecting their fortunes.
“I am so happy to have completed this operation. I have so much to give back to Cruzeiro, to take Cruzeiro where they deserve to be,” Ronaldo beamed in a message recorded on social media on Saturday.
“We have so much work ahead of us. I ask the supporters to connect once more with the club, to go to the stadium, because we need great strength and unity. We have a lot of work and ambitions to remake Cruzeiro.
“There is nothing to celebrate yet, but we have big ambitions.”
Ronaldo is, nevertheless, wary of making big promises. “The time to come back is here. It’s my turn to try and open doors for the team. Not as a hero. Not with superpowers to change reality on my own,” he warned on Instagram.
“Rather, with immense responsibility. With intelligent and sustainable administration for medium and long-term. With the loyalty of nine million fans.
“We begin now a new chapter in the club’s history. I am back because I believe in Cruzeiro’s return, I am back to be part of the transformation of Brazilian football.”
Having received his big break in Belo Horizonte – Ronaldo smashed 44 goals in 47 games at Cruzeiro as a 16 and 17-year-old, a record which earned him both a spot in Brazil’s triumphant 1994 World Cup squad and subsequent move to PSV – it is clear that the former Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter and AC Milan superstar would love to see the club back to their best, although that feels some way off.
The Raposa suffered relegation to Serie B for the first time in their history in 2019, and since then have shown little sign of making a speedy return. Indeed, the 2021 season saw them closer to dropping down to the third-tier Serie C, eventually claiming 14th place and finishing just five points clear of safety thanks to an upturn in form under Vanderlei Luxeumburgo – coincidentally, an old coach of Ronaldo’s at both Madrid and Brazil.
To pour further salt in the wound, the past season coincided with a term to remember for their fierce city rivals. Atletico Mineiro took the Mineiro state, Serie A and Copa do Brasil titles, and also recorded a semi-final finish in the Copa Libertadores, starkly exposing the huge gulf in quality between the two Belo Horizonte sides.
If the outlook on the pitch is bleak enough, the situation in the boardroom is downright catastrophic. Not only do Cruzeiro, hold crippling debt worth more than R$1bn (£133m/$176m), they are currently banned from registering any new players by FIFA due to their failure to fulfil transfer payments to two separate clubs.
No less than nine footballers are currently affected, having been announced as signings pending the lifting of that sanction.
They are fortunate, then, that Ronaldo’s public image as a free-wheeling, party-loving playboy – he once told Movistar+ that while at Madrid, president Florentino Perez would hire security guards to stop him hitting the nightclubs, but he invariably either escaped their scrutiny or even invited them to join him – belies his attributes as a savvy businessman.
Valladolid may have suffered relegation from La Liga since his 2018 takeover, but he has taken big steps to improve the economic outlook at the club, who Ronaldo affirmed were €25m in debt and had just two players on the books when he arrived, the rest being loan transfers.
They are also well-placed to fight for promotion back to the top flight this season, sitting fifth in the standings at the halfway stage.
As full-back Saidy Janko revealed to in a now famous interview, the Brazilian is also extremely close to his players, inviting them home “to play a bit online against the Juventus stars Douglas Costa and Paulo Dybala”. His generosity can also not be faulted, with Janko recalling: “Once, after a win, he gave us all a Playstation 5!”
Restoring Cruzeiro’s battered reputation may prove to be just as daunting a challenge, if not even more so, than balancing the books at Valladolid.
As a player, though, there was little that Ronaldo could not do at his sparkling, mercurial best; and he seems to have carried exactly that same self-belief over to his new guise in the boardroom – while, as always, commanding the respect and admiration of fans and players alike.