VILLAR PEROSA, Italy, Aug 12 – Juventus fans will get their first look at superstar Cristiano Ronaldo in the famous black and white stripes when he makes his debut on Sunday in an intimate alpine setting.
Juventus fans have been waiting just over a month to see Ronaldo in action since he shocked the world by leaving European champions Real Madrid, where he had just won his third straight Champions League, and signing for the Italian champions in a 100 million euro ($117 million) deal.
After arriving in Italy at the end of his post-World Cup holidays, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner trained at Juve’s Continassa facility while the majority of the team took part in the International Champions Cup in the United States.
Ronaldo will make his first appearance for the Serie A champions at 1700 (1500 GMT), when he takes part of one of Italian football’s most curious traditions.
Villar Perosa, 50 kilometres southwest of Turin and at the foot of the Italian Alps, has been swamped with Juve supporters desperate to try and catch a glimpse of their new idol, with chants of “Ronaldo, bring us the Champions” (League) ringing out around the town.
The approximately 5,000 tickets available at the tiny Gaetano Scirea ground for the annual match between Juve’s first XI and a “B” team have long-since sold out and the town’s bars and restaurants were heaving with fans, while at the packed ground those lucky enough to have tickets roared themselves hoarse as Ronaldo made his way into the rudimentary dressing rooms.
Massimo Savelli from near Siena, some 450 kilometres to the south east, got up at 0600 to be in Villar Perosa for this match with three friends.
He was at both the 2017 Champions League final in Cardiff, when Ronaldo scored a brace as Real Madrid hammered Juve 4-1, and in Madrid last season when the Portuguese slotted the last-gasp penalty that knocked Juve out in the quarter finals.
“With the arrival of Ronaldo our expectations are higher for the Champions League. He’s won the last three,” said Savelli.
– ‘Global interest’ –
Around 600 police officers and 200 hundred stewards have been employed for the match and the town is ringed by roadblocks making sure those who enter are either locals or have match tickets.
Meanwhile major daily Corriere Della Sera says that such is the global media interest that there will be a journalist for every 80 of the town’s inhabitants.
Set in a valley at the foot of the Italian Alps, Villar Perosa (population: roughly 4,100) is the home of the family estate and summer retreat of the powerful Agnelli family, who bought what is nicknamed “The Castle” in the mid-19th century and established the annual alpine curtain raiser in the town.
Such was the dominance of the family — founders of Fiat and owners of Juventus since 1923, give or take a few years around the Second World War — over Villar Perosa that deceased former club chairman Gianni Agnelli was mayor between 1945 and 1980.
Cesare Bertoncello, from Turin, was pointed out to AFP by security as being the first person to get to the barriers separating Via Nazionale from the ground, at 0900 (0700 GMT).
“I’ve been coming here since I was 12 years old back in the 1960s, when (Gianni) Agnelli would arrive here in a helicopter,” he said.
“I’m always happy to come here and I hope it brings us good luck like it has in the past.
– Euro glory –
Established custom dictates that five minutes after half-time fans invade the pitch, bringing the game to a halt as supporters charge after and greet their heroes, and people are keen to get up close and personal with their new idol Ronaldo, who looked in typically good shape upon his arrival.
“I’d like to get on the pitch and greet him, but just seeing him live in a Juve kit is enough for me,” added Savelli.
Italian and Spanish media report that Real Madrid and Juventus’ club doctors found that the 33-year-old’s strict training and diet routine — the subject of many of his Instagram posts — mean he still has the physical capability of someone 10 years his junior.
His monk-like devotion to his body has kept it in the sort of condition that Juve fans hope will bring them European glory.
“For me the Champions League remains the dream and I hope that Ronaldo can help us with that objective,” said Luca Del Vecchio, who is in his “mid-20s”.
“But at the end of the day it’s a whole team that wins you that trophy, not one player.”