Cristiano Ronaldo arrives at Juventus and hysteria encompasses Turin
TURIN, Italy -- Monday morning in Turin. The beginning of another working week in Italy's motor city. It's grey outside and the heavens look like they could open at any time. But the atmosphere contrasts with the mood. Outside the Allianz Stadium, the Juventus fans are on each other's shoulders. They are stood on bollards and hanging off road signs. They are four or five rows deep against the crash barriers. And they can't stop singing.
Moments ago, Cristiano Ronaldo stepped out of the glass doors of J-Medical, Juventus' bespoke private healthcare facility adjoining the Allianz Stadium. No one had seen the 33-year-old go in, but it turns out he really was the passenger in the Jeep with the blacked-out windows. There must be more than one entrance to the building after all.
Ronaldo had slipped into Turin unnoticed the night before, landing at Caselle airport while everyone else was tuned in to the World Cup final. Waiting on the tarmac for him and his entourage was a car ready to whisk him away to an undisclosed location. Fans congregated outside the hotel where Juventus's other summer signings Emre Can, Joao Cancelo and Mattia Perin are staying and where Ronaldo had been a guest when Madrid played here in April. But there was no sign of him. It was like he'd disappeared.
But with a face as famous as the Mona Lisa's, it wasn't long before someone tracked down Ronaldo. He was at a golf club in the beautiful surroundings of La Mandria park, an exclusive gated community like La Finca in Madrid, 8 kilometres outside of Turin. It's a place Juventus' vice-president Pavel Nedved and the Agnellis call home, a guarantee of privacy.
Not that Juventus were able to keep what Ronaldo had for dinner out of the public domain: veal slices in a sauce flavoured with tuna, seafood salad, caprese and some chicken. No alcohol.
All Juventus fans could do was wait, scroll down and refresh associated social media accounts for any clues. The numbers of Juventus' own went through the roof. In the first 24 hours of Ronaldo being a Juventus player, the club gained 1.4 million followers on Instagram, another million on Twitter and half a million likes on Facebook.
When Ronaldo did finally appear in public, it was just as well that it was outside a medical facility. Some fans seemed overwhelmed. The rest were euphoric. The Juventus songbook suddenly fell open. Old songs were adapted for a new hero. One minute they sang "Ce l'abbiamo noi" -- "We have him!" -- with genuine incredulity, the next they chanted "Bring us the Cup! Bring us the Champions!"
In a bizarre scene, one fan held up a hardback copy of Ronaldo's biography and shook it as if it were a holy text containing stories of his divinity. Grown men in box-fresh Ronaldo shirts, which have been selling at a rate of one every 48 seconds, imitated his goal celebration. Turin's Portuguese community ventured to the stadium and bought unofficial merchandise with a slogan written in their language: "I was there".
As Ronaldo visited the training ground and the club headquarters next door, the buzz around the stadium continued all afternoon. His news conference scheduled for 6:30 p.m. was pushed back for 15 minutes as a storm of biblical proportions broke over Turin. One Juventus official said: "It always rains when Cristiano is here."
The last time was in April when he arguably scored the greatest goal of his career, a bicycle kick of such beauty the Allianz Stadium rose as one to give him a standing ovation. It touched Ronaldo, but he was keen to underline that it wasn't the only factor in his decision to join Juventus. What appeared to flatter him most was his new club sharing the opinion he has of himself, which simply holds that his days at the pinnacle of the game are far, far from over.
"Players of my age go to China or Qatar, so coming to such an important club at this stage in my career makes me very happy," he said. "... I am different from all the others, all the other players who think their career is over at my age. I really want to show I am not like all the others. I am different."
A sense of Ronaldo's difference was provided by the setting. The conference centre used for the unveilings of Perin, Can, Cancelo and Mattia Caldara was not big enough to house the 300 journalists drawn to Turin by Ronaldo's Serie A-record €117 million move. Juventus opened up the Umberto and Gianni Agnelli Hall specially for the occasion. The two of them would no doubt have approved of a move that honoured the tradition of other deals Juventus have done in the past for Omar Sivori, Paolo Rossi, Michel Platini, Roberto Baggio, Zinedine Zidane and Nedved.
In the year of Juventus' seventh straight Scudetto, the symmetry of adding the world's most famous No. 7, not to mention a seventh Ballon d'Or winner, was not lost on Juventus fans. At the bus stop back to the city centre, a boy turned to his dad and said: "Ancora non ci credo" -- "I still can't believe it." Fifteen years on from Juventus' first attempt to sign Ronaldo, a move that collapsed when Marcelo Salas refused to be part of the deal and leave for Sporting, the Old Lady has finally got her man.