The saying goes that happiness cannot be bought. Almost a year to the day that Cristiano Ronaldo announced to the world that he was not an entirely happy camper, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez provided something for the Portuguese superstar to crack a smile about: a new contract approaching €20 million a year.
The deal, which has been at the top of Perez's inbox for quite some time, was apparently arranged before the summer and the lengthy transfer soap opera surrounding new boy Gareth Bale. Be that as it may, the timing of the announcement is no accident. Real Madrid went to great lengths to obscure the genuine value of Bale's transfer to the Bernabeu, even if Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy didn't feel like playing that particular sort of ball. Quite the opposite, in fact; Levy was insistent that the Welshman's fee was a world record. Real denied this, for patently obvious reasons.
Ronaldo is a unique player, a thoroughbred athlete and, in spite of a tendency to pout and preen, a consummate professional who plays through injury and has become far more of a team player since his arrival in Madrid. But that doesn't mean that he would enjoy playing second fiddle financially to Bale or anybody else, any more than he does in a sporting sense to Lionel Messi in the awards stakes.
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Whatever the true cost of bringing Bale to the capital -- and the vagaries of performance add-ons and such are always in the kind of small print that requires a microscope -- Ronaldo is now the highest-paid player in the world. Zlatan Ibrahimovic nets a reported €17 million at PSG, and Samuel Eto'o has taken a massive cut (in relative terms -- he'll hardly struggle to get to the end of the month) to join Chelsea after the "Anzhi project" imploded. Messi has to scratch by on €13 million basic, with around €3 million in bonuses.
There is little doubt that Ronaldo is worth every penny. On the field he has scored a goal for every game he has played in the white shirt (204), and if you need a match turned, having Ronaldo on the pitch is a guarantee of finding the right direction. Of course, Real expects the same from Bale, and while a goal in his debut might not have been enough to see off a Villarreal side in the ascendancy Saturday, it will certainly have helped the Welshman settle in. Many eye-watering signings have required weeks, or even months, to open their account. Ronaldo provided the second in El Madrigal in a plot line that will become as predictable as one of Woody Allen's European scripts as the domestic season unfolds.
"The agreement has made me extremely happy," said Ronaldo, who has signed until 2018, at a brief presentation at the Bernabeu on Sunday. "It is a privilege to continue to play here. My ambition and my competitive spirit will continue. I am very grateful to the president and to the fans, who have always supported me. Money is not the priority. It's important, of course, but not the most important thing. The priority was the future project, with the best club in the world. It doesn't matter if I'm the first-, second- or third-best-paid player in the world because I am very happy here."
Europe will also prove the testing ground for the team that Perez has assembled for the 2013-14 season. There has probably never been a better opportunity during the construction magnate's time at the helm of Real Madrid for the long-desired 10th European triumph to be delivered. Any talk of Barcelona's blueprint waning is a little premature, but the addition of Neymar adds an unpredictable element to its much-vaunted style. It's a simple matter of the human condition that Xavi, Carles Puyol and others may not play a full season, while Gerardo Martino is untested in Europe, let alone in the continent's elite club competition. In terms of top-level experience, Real hold the trump card in Carlo Ancelotti.
Bayern need little tweaking in reality, but Pep Guardiola will try to impose some of his Camp Nou experience on the German treble winners, with effects that are already not to everyone's taste at the Allianz Arena. Manchester United have lost the aura of Sir Alex Ferguson, and Chelsea have to readapt to Jose Mourinho. There are many candidates for European glory, but none seems so well-endowed as Real at this early stage of the season.
Galatasaray, on Tuesday, will provide an acid test for Ancelotti's side. The Turkish giants gave Real a torrid time in last season's knockout stages, exposing defensive frailties that the Italian admitted in the wake of the Villarreal match have yet to be fully addressed.
In the meantime, the warm glow of harmony emanates from the Bernabeu. Ronaldo has been placated, and Perez has achieved his stated goal -- that the highest-paid player on the planet will, at least on paper, retire at the world's richest club. How many European Cups, Ligas and other titles will result from the union remains to be seen, but there is little doubt that Ronaldo and Real is a marriage of convenience that everybody is more than happy to sign up to. Bale stuck to the script at his own presentation, calling Ronaldo "the boss."
The Welshman's time will come, but the Portuguese will remain the local hero for a good while yet.