Author’s note: The following is a satirical, hypothetical scenario that outlines one possible way Inter Milan could acquire Cristiano Ronaldo. Before you get too excited, there is no evidence to suggest this could ever happen.
Last week, the football world was rocked by reports of Real Madrid superstar and reigning Ballon d’Or winner, Cristiano Ronaldo’s desired exit from the Spanish capital amid allegations that the Portuguese evaded €14.7 million in taxes.
While this is clearly a shock… where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and numerous outlets have been reporting on the transfer saga. That said, it’s important to keep in mind that Real Madrid have made a potential divorce with Ronaldo quite difficult.
The superstar’s current contract reportedly includes a €1 billion (yes, billion) buy-out clause, and according to Marca, Real Madrid have set a €400 million asking price for Ronaldo. More credible outlets report that a fee in the range of €150 million might be enough to get the deal done, while Ronaldo’s agent has previously stated that it would take around £300 million to sign his client.
Regardless of which number you want to go with, these figures are astronomical. In the era of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP), it would be extremely difficult for any European club to pay such a fee, which is why you’re really only seeing the likes of Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, and Bayern Munich mentioned as realistic destinations for CR7.
Even with Suning backing the club, Inter simply wouldn’t be able to sign Ronaldo from Real Madrid and remain in accordance with FFP. Piero Ausilio even admitted so last month:
“The new Chinese owners could comfortably buy the most famous players in the world, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, but the truth is we can't do that because of Financial Fair Play, which takes into account the development of the club... Every day I read about players we're supposed to be buying, but the truth is we must respect the salary cap. Our revenue is €200-€230m.”
While Inter cannot afford to directly sign Ronaldo from Real Madrid, there is one way for the club to work around FFP and see the superstar wind up at the San Siro.
This scenario is centered around Inter’s owners, Suning, and would undoubtedly result in collusion investigations from FIFA and UEFA if it were to happen. Yet, however unlikely, the following arraignment is not impossible.
Inter’s corporate owners also run Chinese Super League (CSL) club, Jiangsu Suning FC. If Jiangsu sound familiar, it’s because they’re the club that loaned Inter Australian center back Trent Sainsbury on Transfer Deadline Day last January.
The CSL is part of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and therefore doesn’t need to adhere to UEFA’s FFP regulations. That’s why we’ve seen talented players like Oscar, Hulk, Carlos Tevez, Alex Teixeira, Jackson Martinez, Ramires, Axel Witsel, and even Fredy Guarin (remember him?) move to the world's most populous nation for inflated fees and wages in recent transfer windows.
If Suning chairman Zhang Jindong (who has a net worth of $4.1 billion) wants to bring Ronaldo to the San Siro, and if the player were open to such a move (huge if), the Chinese billionaire could do so with his CSL club serving as a middleman.
Zhang, through Jiangsu Suning, could pay Real Madrid a world-record fee for Ronaldo, agree to contract terms with the player, and then immediately loan him to Inter. In this hypothetical situation, Inter would bypass paying Madrid a transfer fee, and thus FFP — only being responsible for Ronaldo’s considerable wages.
In that case, even if Inter pay Ronaldo upwards of €500,000 per week in wages, the club can stay FFP-compliant as long as they sell the likes of Ever Banega, Marcelo Brozovic, Ivan Perisic, Gary Medel, and Stevan Jovetic this summer. Not to mention, having Ronaldo in their side would inevitably increase the value and commercial revenue of Inter.
But it’s more complicated than that, of course.
CSL rules permit the league’s clubs to carry up to four foreign-born players at a time, of which only three can come from non-AFC member nations — this CSL rule, and depth needs, were likely the main reasons why Inter took Sainsbury on loan from Jiangsu in the first place.
While Cristiano Ronaldo’s signature on a Jiangsu contract — even if it were signed with the intention of directly sending the player to Inter — would be a major coup for the league, the CSL doesn’t seem likely to bend their rules to accommodate such an arraignment. Reports from last winter suggest those running football in China are justifiably concerned with the sustainability of their clubs’ massive spending. With that in mind, it’s unlikely that Jiangsu would be able to work around the league’s stringent rule on foreign player ownership.
Jiangsu Suning currently have Sainsbury (Australian), Hong Jeong-ho (South Korean), Roger Martinez (Colombian), and the aforementioned Ramires and Alex Teixeira (both Brazilian) on their books. As a result, the club would need to sell one of their South American players before the Chinese Football Association could allow them to acquire Ronaldo’s rights from Real Madrid.
Even if that were Zhang’s plan, selling one of Jiangsu’s stars to acquire a player that would immediately be loaned out to Inter would be a tough pill to swallow for the Nanjing club. It would also put Jiangsu at a competitive disadvantage in the CSL, and while Inter fans likely don’t care about their success, Suning and Zhang presumably do, making this hypothetical even more unlikely.
However, if Suning have their hearts set on arraigning the biggest transfer splash in football history, acquiring Cristiano Ronaldo for Inter, that’s a sacrifice they’d have to be willing to make.
Is any of this likely to happen? Of course not.
There are so many moving parts, the deal would inevitably fall through, and fearing what its precedent could mean for the future of transfer negotiations, UEFA would likely do everything in their power to block the loan from Jiangsu to Inter, if it ever got that far.
At its most basic level, this deal would require the reining Ballon d’Or and back-to-back Champions League winner to agree to join a team that finished seventh in Serie A — and the only way he could do so is by officially signing a contract with a Chinese Super League club that’s located 187 miles west of Shanghai.
Cristiano Ronaldo to Inter (by way of China) is far-fetched, extremely unlikely, would require an unprecedented amount of collusion, and would surely be shut down by UEFA. However it’s not impossible — and at the very least, that’s more than most of the clubs in the world can say... We can dream, right?
P.S.: This may seem cynical, but I work in public relations. If I’m on Ronaldo’s personal team, initiating a transfer saga seems like a really fun way to distract the media from the fact that my client, one of the richest athletes in the world, has been accused of not paying his taxes.