There’s a moment in the political satire The Thick of It when sweary spin doctor Malcolm Tucker is asked by a shamed minister whether he can stop an embarrassing story getting out when the newspapers have already gone to print.
‘I’m good, but I can’t f***ing hold back the tide, can I?’ replies an exasperated Tucker.
It came to mind watching Cristiano Ronaldo’s efforts to single-handedly drag Juventus back into their Champions League tie against Lyon on Friday night.
A devastated Cristiano Ronaldo looks to the heavens after Juventus crashed out to Lyon
It was a desperate night for Juventus, who exited the Champions League on away goals
Ronaldo is never better than when fighting against the tide, battling seemingly impossible odds with his unique skill to guide his team through to victory.
Just look at this stage of the last season’s Champions League when his stunning hat-trick against Atletico Madrid turned a two-goal first leg deficit into a 3-2 aggregate success.
But against Lyon, his powers weren’t quite enough. The Italian champions needed three goals and Ronaldo gave them two. Juve’s agonising and surprising wait to win the Champions League again now spans a whole generation.
And their exit – the first time in a decade Ronaldo has not been in a Champions League quarter-final – inevitably begs the question: Will he have to leave Juventus to win the competition for a sixth time?
Ronaldo’s performance on Friday night confirms that age has not wearied him. But at 35, even such a superhuman player must acknowledge that the tide of time is not one he can turn back.
Ronaldo has won the Champions League five times with Manchester United and Real Madrid but the 35-year-old Portuguese will be desperate to win No 6
Ronaldo delivered another superhuman effort but it wasn’t enough to prevent defeat
And now it’s abundantly clear that even Ronaldo cannot make Maurizio Sarri’s present brand of football look good. Juventus may have secured a ninth consecutive league title but the Champions League, as so often, has exposed their flaws.
To lose to Lyon, a side who had played one competitive match since the Ligue 1 season was suspended – and later cancelled – in March, was especially embarrassing.
Ronaldo ends the season with 37 goals in all competitions, the most scored by a Juventus player in a campaign for 95 years.
And yet despite all this individual brilliance, Juventus still came up short in the one competition they truly crave. A long way short.
It proves that in a team that doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts, there’s a limit to what Ronaldo can do to drag them through. It’s just another tide.
The 35-year-old scored a first-half penalty to keep hopes alive of completing a turnaround
Ronaldo then hammered home his second goal from distance but couldn’t finish the job
Juventus chief Andrea Agnelli moved quickly on Friday night to deny claims Ronaldo will be leaving in the short pre-season ahead.
‘I am entirely convinced he will stay,’ Agnelli told Sky Sport Italia. ‘I can assure you that Ronaldo remains a pillar of Juventus.’
In truth, whether Ronaldo decided to stay depends on what Juventus do with Sarri.
The former Chelsea manager has only been there a season but Juventus haven’t been able to replicate the stylish counter-attacking brand of football Sarri produced at Napoli.
Too often this season, and especially post-lockdown, they’ve looked clunky and disjointed, relying on Ronaldo’s interventions.
Saturday’s Italian sports papers are inevitably full of stories that Sarri is about to pay the price for their Champions League failure with Mauricio Pochettino, Simone Inzaghi and even Zinedine Zidane lined up as potential replacements.
Italian newspapers have called out for Juventus manager Maurizio Sarri to get the sack
Italian newspaper Tuttosport ran with the headline ‘Sarri Out’ after Juventus’ defeat
Most European wins
European Cup and Champions League
6 – Francisco Gento
5 – Alfredo Di Stefano, Hector Rial, Juan Alonso, Marquitos, Rafael Lesmes, Jose Maria Zarraga, Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta, Cristiano Ronaldo
Sarri departing may persuade Ronaldo to stick around for another season but he knows full well that, despite his strict fitness regimen, he’ll only have another 3-4 years maximum at the highest level. Juve’s next move with their manager will be key.
Most players would be satisfied with five Champions League wins but Ronaldo being Ronaldo, he’ll want a sixth and seventh to take him past the Real Madrid great Francisco Gento, who won six European Cups in the 1950s and 1960s.
As his former Manchester United colleague Rio Ferdinand said in the BT Sport studio on Friday night: ‘He will be devastated, he will be hammering everyone in that changing room including himself, he is someone who is obsessed with trying to achieve things and break records.
‘[It is a] relentless pursuit of success.’
But where could he realistically move to and achieve this? There have been whispers of a desire to link up with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe at Paris Saint-Germain, stories Agnelli dismissed as ‘an old media trick’ on Friday.
Rio Ferdinand believes Ronaldo will be left ‘devastated’ after his first last-16 loss since 2010
Reports in France have suggested Ronaldo wants to play with Neymar and Mbappe at PSG
It certainly sounds like a dream forward line but would PSG also get the rub of the green necessary to win their holy grail? Can even their Qatari billions afford him at the moment?
Aside from PSG, no club really springs to mind as being able to afford Ronaldo at the moment as Covid-19 impacts finances even at the elite level.
Even if the Portuguese wants to leave Juventus, offers may be thin on the ground.
But it’s clear that Ronaldo will need a team that’s up to scratch and the right manager to achieve Champions League No 6.
He’s good, but he can’t hold back the tide forever.