COMMENT: A bombshell. Out of nowhere. He wants out. Cristiano Ronaldo. An angry Cristiano Ronaldo.'Sell me', he's told Real Madrid. And as the world shakes, the calmest man in the room is one Florentino Perez...
Okay, Ronaldo's meltdown was unexpected. And there is an inconvenience. But there's no panic from Florentino. As far as the Real president is concerned, he holds all the cards. As much as Ronaldo has openly declared "I'll stay with Madrid until I'm 41", the plan has always been to cut ties in 2019. It may've come two years early, but Florentino has long been prepared for the Portuguese's sale. And it's all been done in partnership with the player.
One more season, that was what both men agreed before Christmas. Possibly two. Then Florentino would flog Ronaldo to China for a world record fee - and with his approval. It would be win-win. Real would fill their coffers. Ronaldo would leave as the game's costliest player (something which he'd take great pride in regaining). And the profile he's built across Asia would be cashed in. A couple of years in the Chinese Super League and then he's off to the 'States to wind down his career. It's long been mapped out. Between Florentino, Ronaldo and Jorge Mendes, the Portuguese super agent. This was the career path drawn up in late 2016. But then the Spanish tax authorities became involved.
And this is where Ronaldo jumped too soon.
With his comments to his Portugal teammates. His ultimatum via Mendes. Ronaldo has actually upset Florentino. Claims that either the president or one his directors should be publicly supporting him against these accusations has left Florentino aggrieved. Tribalfootball.com can reveal the president, indeed everyone connected to the Real boardroom, had no forewarning of the tax authorities' plans. The demand for over €14 million from Ronaldo took the board as much by surprise as the player. We can also reveal even inside the Hacienda office factions are split over their pursuit of the case.
Further adding to Florentino's frustration is the ultimation from Ronaldo that Real pay his outstanding bill or he's off. The Real president doesn't do blackmail. And he won't countenance the prospect of doing something so extraordinary for one player, no matter where he sits in their history, when the same would never have been considered for others. A stand which, argues his confidants, will sit well in an election year.
So for now, Ronaldo has boxed himself in. The options on the ground are slim. A return to Manchester United has been mooted. Filling the void at PSG left by Zlatan Ibrahimovic is also a possibility. However, after winning the Double and with a World Cup in Russia to focus upon, Ronaldo has told Mendes to scratch any possibility of entertaining early offers from China. That is, from homeland China...
It's no coincidence Inter Milan and their owners Suning have so far kept their powder dry in the opening weeks of the summer market. While Yonghong Li's AC Milan have bought up the likes of Mateo Musacchio, Andre Silva and Franck Kessie, Inter have stayed on the sidelines. The long expected appointment of new coach Luciano Spalletti their only piece of business so far.
A deal - this summer - for Ronaldo would make sense for all. Two years living and playing in Milan. Then to China and Inter's sister club, Jiangsu Suning. Perfect, right? Erm, no. Not without Champions League football and the platform it offers to maintain Ronaldo's Ballon d'Or dominance over Leo Messi. That stuff, as we all know, matters to CR7.
So what about United? The return of the prodigal son an' all that?
It has been considered inside Carrington. Both by manager Jose Mourinho and Ed Woodward, the vice-chairman exec. And it hasn't been dismissed, particularly with Chelsea and Manchester City also in contact with Mendes.
But Mourinho's move for Alvaro Morata, Ronaldo's attacking teammate at Real, does suggest he's not chasing ghosts this summer. He tried it with Patrice Evra in January, sure. But the charismatic Frenchman was available for next-to-nothing and viewed by Mourinho as a stop-gap solution to a troubling issue.
Ronaldo is an entirely different case. And it must be noted that Morata and his minders have pushed so aggressively and openly to get a deal over the line on the promise that United's attack will be built around the young Spaniard. The idea that Morata would accept moving to Old Trafford, along with Ronaldo, just doesn't wash. Particularly with it emerging today that Sir Alex Ferguson has known about Ronaldo's frustrations since their chat in Cardiff before the Champions League final.
For Ronaldo, the United bus has drove on. As Mourinho told his students during a lecture at Lisbon Uni, "there'll be a lot of changes. We need fresh blood". And that's unlikely to include the club's old No7.
We say unlikely, because this is Manchester United. Okay, we're hedging our bets. But after what Mino Raiola and Gigio Donnarumma chose to do last week, can you blame us?
But amongst all the drama, there's one man not losing his head. No obvious move lined up. A €14m-plus bill to pay. And the prospect of an embarrassing climbdown. Ronaldo has painted himself into a very tight corner. And there's only man, as Florentino knows, who can help him out of it.