Sometime soon Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid will issue some kind of joint statement to let the world know everything is fine. Frankly, unless that statement is written on the back of a new contract, it's not clear that everything will be fine. Ronaldo's current deal expires in 2015, and best practice would suggest that he should sign a new deal in the next 12 months or so.
Partly because it's never a good idea to let a star player who is still producing enter the final two seasons of his contract without a new one in the offing. And partly because, well, Ronaldo deserves a raise. He's simply a better player than he was when he signed his six-year contract in 2009.
But this is where things get tricky. Ronaldo acolytes point out that he is grossly underpaid at around $18 million a year, when Lionel Messi makes about $27 million a season. Yet that, of course, is misleading.
Ronaldo benefits from something called the "Beckham Law" -- a fiscal loophole originally designed to allow foreign executives who relocate to Spain to pay income tax at a rate of just 24 percent and originally exploited by you-know-who -- which means that, after tax, the Portuguese makes approximately $13.5 million, roughly the same as Messi (the Barcelona star is, of course, also a foreigner but he has lived in Spain for so long that he was never eligible for the Beckham Law).
Only two players in Europe make more than Ronaldo and Messi in net terms, and both are special cases. Samuel Eto'o earns a staggering $28.5 million after tax (a result of the combination of Russia's 13 percent income bracket for foreign residents and the folly of Anzhi Makhachkala), while Zlatan Ibrahimovic clocks in at around $18 million (you can chalk that up to his frequent moves from club to club and the fact that he is represented by super-agent Mino Raiola).
As I see it, both Ronaldo and Messi have a strong case for an improved contract. But here's the rub as far as Ronaldo is concerned: The Beckham Law has been scrapped and, for now at least, Ronaldo is being grandfathered in. But should he sign a new deal, he'll have to pay tax at full whack (52 percent). So if he wants, say, a $1.5 million bump to an even $15 million a season, it will actually cost Real Madrid more than $30 million. In other words, to pay Ronaldo $1.5 million more, Real needs to fork out $12 million a year.
And that, folks, is a major headache.
It's also one the club should have seen coming. It wasn't exactly a secret that the Beckham Law was going away or that Ronaldo would need a new deal. In situations such as these, you'd expect the manager to weigh in and mediate. After all, if Ronaldo's unhappiness -- whether contract-related or not -- can potentially affect the team, it's the coach's business.
Yet this is where Jose Mourinho finds himself in a very tricky position. He has an obvious conflict of interest as his agent, Jorge Mendes, also happens to represent Ronaldo. Doing what's best for Real Madrid (and Mourinho) may not be the same as doing what's best for Ronaldo right now. Which is why it appears The Special One is sitting this one out.
If ever you needed evidence of the dangers of having a single agent represent both a club's manager and star player (plus another four guys on Real Madrid's books), this is it.
Argentina's defensive woes
So Lionel Messi thinks Argentina can win the 2014 World Cup. He's right, of course. Right now you'd be hard-pressed to find a country with as much attacking firepower. What's amazing, though, is that while Argentina continues to churn out strikers and attacking midfielders, the once fertile supply line of defenders seems to have dried up.
Against Paraguay in a World Cup qualifier on Friday, Alex Sabella lined up with Hugo Campagnaro (nice player, but he's 32 and, until recently, had spent most of his career in the lower divisions), Federico Fernandez (who can't get a regular spot at Napoli), Ezequiel Garay (whose career is only now taking off after a number of false starts) and Marcos Rojo (another who doesn't quite set the pulse racing).
Things are cyclical, sure, but you sort of wonder why Argentina has stopped producing defensive icons like Roberto Ayala, Oscar Ruggeri, Javier Zanetti and Daniel Passarella. If they can find a couple of guys of that caliber between now and 2014, Argentina's chances will be that much better.
New revelations on Hillsborough?
On Wednesday, the Hillsborough Independent Panel is expected to release a report with new revelations regarding the tragedy that cost the lives of 96 supporters in 1989. Fans have long asked for justice and, as time passes, the very term takes on a different meaning. At this stage, 23 years after the fact, it's no longer about prosecuting people; it's about those responsible accepting responsibility and recognizing what really happened that day. Only then can we begin to move toward closure.
Easy does it, Roy
So Roy Hodgson has compared Tom Cleverley to Cesc Fabregas.
"I suppose you could say Tom Cleverley is an attacking midfield player, but he's an attacking midfield player in the same way Cesc Fabregas is," the England manager said. "He plays in that position for Manchester United. He is quite capable of combing back into a central midfield role and winning the ball when necessary."
It's a bit unusual to compare a 23-year-old kid with a grand total of 27 Premier League starts under his belt to one of the most accomplished players in the world. You only hope it won't put undue pressure on the Manchester United starlet.
It also seems a bit of a stretch to compare their positions on the pitch. For United, Cleverley has usually played as one of the two in a 4-2-3-1, with an attacking midfielder ahead of him and a more holding player alongside him. Against Moldova on Friday, however, Hodgson effectively used him in the hole, with Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard holding the fort behind him.
Does it really make sense to play Cleverley in a different position with England relative to the one he plays at club level? Especially since, while England's long-term options in central midfield are somewhat limited (Lampard, Gerrard, Scott Parker, Michael Carrick, Gareth Barry et al aren't getting any younger, while, of the up-and- comers, Jack Rodwell's playing time at Manchester City is yet to be determined, Jack Wilshere hasn't kicked a ball in 15 months and Phil Jones has yet to find a position on the pitch), both Ashley Young and a certain Wayne Rooney have shown they are more than comfortable operating in the hole.
What Cleverley needs most right now is time to grow and matches under his belt. It's hard to see how he benefits from being moved around the pitch or compared to Fabregas.
Dutch shake up
You knew Louis van Gaal was going to shake things up in his first game back at the helm of the Netherlands and, in that sense, he didn't disappoint. He dropped Maarten Stekelenburg for Tim Krul in goal. He gave Daryl Janmaat his debut at right back, stuck Jetro Willems at left back (he was actually the third-most-capped guy outside the front four, and he's an 18-year-old with little more than half a season under his belt) and lined up Bruno Martins Indi (a 20-year-old with one year as a starter at club level who was making his second appearance for the national side) at center half. Another debutante, Jordy Clasie, patrolled in front of the back four.
Netherlands wasn't impressive, but nonetheless recorded a 2-0 victory over a tough Turkish side. Whatever the future may bring, with van Gaal pulling the strings, you know it won't be boring. The challenge will be how he integrates the kids with veterans like Wesley Sneijder, Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben, all of whom still have plenty to contribute to the Oranje.