CRISTIANO RONALDO has played in the biggest leagues in world football – but he believes Serie A is the toughest he has encountered.
Ronaldo made the surprise decision to end his brilliant career at Real Madrid last summer to make the move to Juventus, a switch some believed was him winding down as a player.
Yet the five-time world footballer of the year claims his first year in Italy has opened his eyes at to actually how good the game is in a country which was once the pinnacle of the global game but is now desperately trying to make up ground on Spain and England.
“I’ve adapted to the Italian League and it’s a difficult League,” Ronaldo says. “The most difficult one for me and for all forwards. It’s the most difficult league for me, it’s full of quality players.
“I didn’t expect this much quality in the Italian League, they’re very good.
“It’s harder to score in the Italian League than in the Spanish League. The Spanish League is more open, the teams risk more. Here, not so much.
“Here, the team’s priority is to defend first, and then to attack. That’s not true for Spain. Spanish games are more open. Always, with most teams.”
When Juventus splashed out the best part of £100 million to sign the forward from Real Madrid, it was seen as a calculated gamble for the club who have dominated Italian football for so long.
Commercially the deal made sense with shirt sales alone vastly increasing Juve’s global reach. And for Ronaldo himself, it opened up a lucrative new market for him with endorsements, after so long in Spain.
He was quickly signed up by the DAZN streaming service as the front of their global push to position themselves as major broadcasting players in the live football rights sector.
The money made sense, so for the player himself it was just a case of settling quickly into life in a new country and new league – something he has done with ease.
He adds: “We are all well-adjusted, we like living in Italy. It’s a different reality, a different country, language and culture, but I’m well adjusted.
“I’ve been away from home since I was eleven, so it’s not hard for me to adapt to any new country. I went to England when I was 18, I went to Madrid when I was 25, I came to Turin when I was 33, so it’s not difficult for me to adjust to a different country and culture. I’m used to it.
“I don’t miss Spain or Portugal, it is what it is. Obviously, I left many friends and a great team behind, a team that made me feel loved, people, friends.
“But I don’t miss the country, I have the same things here. So it wasn’t really difficult for me. It’s been intense, interesting, different, but I’m well adjusted, I’m happy.
At 34-years-old there is little left for Ronaldo to prove as a football. He has shone with every club he has played for and been a standard-bearer for single-minded pursuit of excellence.
Yet while others who have reached his age have decided to end their international careers to ensure they can still deliver the goods on a weekly basis at club level, there is still a burning desire in Ronaldo to shine for his country.
After Russia 2018 he took a short break from playing for Portugal, the country he led to Euro 2016 glory in France, but now he is back and looking not only at the next European Championship but the World Cup in 2022.
If the body is still willing, and given his amazing conditioning there are no signs that it won’t be, Ronaldo says he intends on driving Portugal to qualifying for Qatar and then the tournament itself.
He said: “I feel good. There was a whole process, I was adjusting to a new team, so I talked to the coach, as well as the president, and I felt that I needed a break from the national team.
“It’s a new country, a new culture, a big change for my family and my children, so I wanted to take it easy, to train, and to focus, so I could get a running start in the team.
“The World Cup ended, the national team was playing again in two months, and it was all too quick for me. So I spoke to the coach, he understood what I was saying, and also what I wanted to do, but, like I said, this year is a different concept.
“I’m now used to the Italian League, to the culture of the League itself.
“So I hope to contribute to the national team in coming games, also because I miss it, it’s my home, so I want to help Portugal qualify for the World Cup.”