Photo: Emilio Andreoli (Getty)

What at first felt like the same sort of hyped-up salary negotiation process between Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo we see almost every summer has just gotten real as hell. Real Madrid have now confirmed that, at Ronaldo’s request, they have agreed to transfer him to Juventus.

Here’s an excerpt from Real’s statement:

Real Madrid CF communicates that, in response to the will and request expressed by the player Cristiano Ronaldo, he has agreed to transfer to Juventus FC.

Today, Real Madrid wants to express its gratitude to a player who has proved to be the best in the world and who has marked one of the brightest times in the history of our club and world football.

[...]

For Real Madrid Cristiano Ronaldo will always be one of his great symbols and a unique reference for the next generations.

Real Madrid will always be your home.

Ronaldo released a statement of his own. His is mostly a thank-you letter to the club, fans, and city, where he expresses his gratitude for and happiness about how his nine years in Madrid have gone. The closest he comes to explaining why he decided to ask the club to accept Juventus’s transfer is that “I believe that the time has come to open a new stage in my life” and “I have reflected a lot and I know that the time has come for a new cycle.”

Doubts about Ronaldo’s future in Madrid started in earnest immediately following the team’s victory in the Champions League final. In postgame interviews right after the match, Ronaldo was coy about whether or not he would continue with the club, vaguely hinting at some longstanding dissatisfaction that might inspire him to attempt to leave. This sort of thing has happened almost every year Ronaldo has been in Madrid, however, and, historically, Ronaldo’s public waffling over his future has always felt like little more than an effort to pressure the team into giving him a raise. This latest bout of discontent originally didn’t seem any different than the others.

That understanding of the situation changed greatly just over the past couple weeks, though. Numerous reports out of Spain, Italy, and Portugal, and from some of the most reliable sources with insight into the thinking of Madrid, Juventus, and Ronaldo made it clear that all three parties were extremely serious about a move.

Ronaldo’s real reasons for wanting out, according to a story in Spanish paper, Marca, have to do with his feelings of no longer being appreciated by those in charge at Madrid. The article says the club promised Ronaldo a raise after the 2016-17 season, but the improved terms never came. Instead, Ronaldo watched as the club reportedly sought tirelessly to bring in a new headliner, namely former Barcelona and current PSG winger, Neymar.

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The Portuguese superstar’s annoyance at his employer’s flirtations with the new hot thing on the block only grew during his tax fraud case, according to Marca’s report. Ronaldo felt like he was being persecuted unfairly by the Spanish tax authorities, singled out because of his stardom, and didn’t feel like the club was adequately defending him in public or in private. Finally fed up with what he felt was Real’s disregard , he at some point reportedly went to club president Florentino Pérez and requested that if a reasonable offer—reportedly something around €100 million—came in for him this summer, Real would agree to sell him. Pérez agreed.

It didn’t take long for Juventus to emerge as the club most likely to pounce on the 33-year-old. Reports from sterling sources in Italy said Juve and Ronaldo’s agent quickly settled on contract terms, which were set at a net salary of €30 million per year. With Ronaldo’s willingness to join Juventus sealed and Juventus’s willingness to pay the Portuguese piper what he was after, all that remained was for Ronaldo’s people to confirm with Pérez that the president would accept Juve’s impending offer.

Ronaldo’s agent reportedly met with Pérez at some point during the past couple days. At that meeting, the agent made clear that his client did in fact want to leave and that Juventus would submit a bit meeting Madrid’s terms just as soon as Pérez consented to letting Ronaldo go. Pérez must have agreed to keep his side of the gentlemen’s agreement. Today the president of Juventus flew to Greece, where Ronaldo is currently vacationing, to finalize the agreement, and now Madrid and Ronaldo have announced the transfer to the world.

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This is truly an insane ordeal. It brings to mind the similarly insane transfer saga of Neymar’s exit from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain last summer. That one too started out with small rumors no one really believed, until the evidence slowly began to pile up and eventually it became clear that what once felt impossible was not only possible, but was about to really happen. It feels crazy that Real Madrid would let go of one of if not the greatest player of their entire, glorious history when he’s still in his prime, and that Ronaldo would give up the historically great team set up entirely around him for a still good but noticeably inferior group in Italy.

Because of those reasons, and because of the difficulty Madrid will have on their quest to replace Ronaldo with adequate fillers (the only two players who might be good enough in the present and the future to make Ronaldo’s departure not really sting much at all are Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, and it will be hard-bordering-on-impossible to snatch either of those guys from the gold-plated, diamond-encrusted grip of PSG/Qatar), the only party directly involved that unambiguously comes out ahead here are Juventus. Ronaldo is the generational great Juve have missed in their efforts to conquer not just Italy, where they’ve reigned almost without challenge for the better part of a decade, but Europe as well. Juventus have been great in the Champions League over the past handful of years, but Lionel Messi’s Barcelona and Ronaldo’s Madrid have regularly thwarted their attempts to claim ultimate victory in that competition. Without a one-man game-changer like that, Juve would have a hell of a time hoisting the one trophy they were most after.

Juventus have and are currently continuing to prove their ambition. The huge transfer fee Juve doled out for Gonzalo Higuaín a couple years ago was the first sign the club would stop at nothing to enhance their chances of becoming the best team in the world. Buying Ronaldo, even at this relatively advanced age, is an even more staggering example of this determination. With Ronaldo, and before seeing what exactly Real and Barcelona do in response in this transfer market, Juventus become one of the biggest favorites for the Champions League. It’s going to be interesting to see how he adapts to Italy and whether or not Juve’s expensive gamble pays off the way they want.

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Ronaldo’s move—which, it should be said, still hasn’t been finalized, though it’s impossible to see it falling apart now—immediately makes this transfer window the most batshit and fascinating one since ... well, since last year’s Neymar-charged one. Even if PSG aren’t likely to sell, Real have to push hard for one of Neymar or Mbappé. Would PSG turn down something north of €300 million for one of their stars, especially with the Financial Fair Play thumbing through their ledgers looking for reasons to punish them? Would Neymar, disconsolate over his failure to win the World Cup and anxious to win big right away to get his suddenly teetering career back on track, press PSG to let him go to Madrid? If the Qataris won’t play ball, is Eden Hazard good enough to pick up Ronaldo’s mantle? Which parts of the squad will Juventus have to sell to make way for Ronaldo’s fee and salary? (While Juve are a massive club, they don’t have near the money of the two Spanish giants, the Qatari-French one, and the two Manchester clubs, which makes it a virtual lock that they will have to do some financial pruning to make the books work.) Who will wind up with the great players squeezed out of Turin due to the size of Ronaldo’s economic? How will the other giants of Europe respond in kind to this bombshell?

The questions this move raises are almost endless. I can’t wait to see how it all plays out. The only thing that’s certain is that for the first time in almost a decade Cristiano Ronaldo won’t play for Real Madrid, bringing an end to one of the most successful runs in soccer history.