Cristiano Ronaldo’s future at Juventus was in the spotlight after a third Champions League flop for the Portuguese star expensively signed to deliver the trophy that has eluded the Italian giants for quarter of a century.
Juventus crashed out in the last 16 for the second year running on Tuesday night, losing to 10-man Porto on away goals despite winning the second leg 3-2 in Turin.
Record Champions League scorer Ronaldo, who was signed for 100 million euros ($117 million) in the summer of 2018 from Real Madrid, was silenced as he failed to score in either leg of a knockout round for the first time in 16 years.
“Betrayed by Ronaldo,” headlined Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport.
“Another Juve disaster,” wrote Gazzetta Dello Sport, rating the five-time Ballon d’Or winner as the worst player on the pitch in the Allianz Stadium.
The Portuguese star’s photo, his head in his hands, made the front page of all the Italian sports dailies.
“If the mission was Europe, it’s failed,” said Gazzetta.
“After two seasons as a lifesaver, a disappointment. There can’t be a Ronaldo like that. Nervous, inaccurate, guilty on the free kick. Last Champions League with Juve?”
Ronaldo was bought in to end Juventus’s run of five losses in the final since lifting the title for the last time in 1996. He earns an annual salary of 31 million euros ($37 million), on a deal until June 2022.
The 36-year-old Portuguese had won the trophy with Manchester United and four times with Real Madrid, scoring a 97th-minute penalty for the Spaniards to eliminate Juventus in the 2018 quarter-finals.
But his three seasons in Turin have seen his side punished by supposedly weaker opposition – Ajax in the 2019 quarter-finals and Lyon and Porto in the last 16.
The results were an embarrassment for Juventus president Andrea Agnelli who, as head of the European Club Association (ECA), wants to reform the competition to freeze out such teams.
Ronaldo’s 14 Champions League goals with Juventus are fewer than his final season with Real Madrid when he hit 15 as they won the competition.
Juventus have become dependent on Ronaldo’s heroics to pull them through, as against Atletico Madrid in the last 16 two years ago when he hit a hat-trick to turn round the tie after a 2-0 away loss.
In December, Juventus went to the Nou Camp in the last round of group games having lost at home to Barcelona 2-0. Ronaldo converted two penalties as Juventus won 3-0 to take first place in the group and a supposedly easier tie in the round of 16.
“With him we usually start with a goal’s advantage,” said coach Andrea Pirlo on Tuesday.
“But it can also happen to the greatest champions not to score.”
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner was outshone by his another Portuguese, veteran former Real Madrid teammate Pepe, and managed only an assist when 23-year-old Federico Chiesa opened the scoring.
Ronaldo was nervous and irritated on the pitch, snapping at Chiesa early on, annoyed with refereeing decisions and shooting from impossible angles.
He also took the brunt of the blame for Sergio Oliveira’s decisive free-kick during extra time which passed through his legs.
With this elimination, Ronaldo will have to wait to beat the record for the number of matches played in Champions League. He is on 176, one behind former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
- Pirlo project ‘just begun’ -
Pirlo’s future has also been called into question, falling short of expectations on his debut season when it had been hoped he would emulate the managerial success of footballing greats Zinedine Zidane and Pep Guardiola.
His predecessors Maurizio Sarri and Massimiliano Allegri were sacked after falling short in Europe.
“I don’t know why Sarri was removed. I was brought in for a project that was always meant to develop over several years,” Pirlo insisted on Tuesday.
The 41-year-old’s results have been inconsistent. After nine straight Serie A titles, Juventus sit third, 10 points behind leaders Inter Milan, although Ronaldo is the league’s leading scorer with 20 goals.
Juventus won the Italian SuperCup and are through to the Italian Cup final.
“We talked about the future at the end of the match,” said Pirlo of his discussions with Agnelli.
“He told me that the project has just begun.”
Juve’s shares plunged more than eight percent on the Milan Stock Exchange, after an exit which deprives them of an estimated 10 million euros that a place in quarter-finals would have generated.