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'Cruzeiro are in intensive care' – Fans losing patience with Ronaldo days after taking charge

16:00 EAT 12/01/2022
Ronaldo Nazário Cruzeiro 11 01 2022
The decision to release club idol Fabio in a cost-cutting measure led to fierce protests almost as soon as O Fenomeno assumed control

As one of Brazil's most iconic modern footballers, Ronaldo knew better than most that even his reputation would not buy him much time to turn things round at Cruzeiro.

Honeymoon periods are merely a pipe dream for those working at the nation's biggest clubs, with instant success expected and often noisily demanded from coaches, players and directors by impatient supporters.

Even so, the former Barcelona and Real Madrid ace and two-time World Cup winner must have been surprised at how quickly his dream of taking Cruzeiro back to the big time has started to go sour, barely two weeks after he was welcomed back to his first professional club with great fanfare and affection.

“Sadly the situation today is very complicated, with revenue for the next two years already accounted for or even spent already,” the 45-year-old explained to reporters on Tuesday in his first official press conference as Cruzeiro's new owner.

“We have found a really tragic situation, but we have to stop the bleeding.

“I would say that Cruzeiro is a patient in critical condition, in intensive care, and we are offering the treatment necessary to get out of that state. We will do all we can so that we can get back the great club this deserves to be.”

The black polo shirt Ronaldo donned for the conference was an apt match for the sombre mood struck throughout.

Gone are the teasing social media messages and scenes of elation that greeted 'O Fenomeno' back to Cruzeiro just before the festive period; like a vintage car fanatic who has finally purchased his dream Ferrari roadster, only to find he must rip out and replace the gearbox, carburettor and cylinder heads, and patch up all four tyres before it is fit to drive, Ronaldo's optimism has quickly been overcome by a sense of the daunting workload ahead.

If anything, the new owner deserves credit for refusing to play down the scale of the economic mess Cruzeiro find themselves in, millions of dollars in debt and in need of drastic restructuring in order to keep afloat.

Instead of grandiose promises, he has made clear that sensible budgeting and the lowering of overheads is a vital step towards bringing the institution back to health.

That nevertheless does not change the fact that some of Ronaldo's early decisions have gone down like a lead balloon around the club.

His first act was to dismiss Vanderlei Luxemburgo, his old coach at Madrid and Brazil, in favour of Pachuca's Uruguayan boss Paulo Pezzolano.

Then it was the turn of a Cruzeiro favourite: goalkeeper Fabio, who was told that his contract would not be renewed for 2022 after 18 years and 952 games with the Raposa.

“I want to make it clear that I would have accepted a reduction in my new deal, but this new administration didn't give me that option either,” Fabio, 41, affirmed in a farewell Instagram post to fans that underlined both his affection for Cruzeiro and anger at having been cut loose, having only been offered a three-month deal that was set to expire at the end of the Mineirao state championship.

“I was told that any other scenario was unworkable and that I would not be part of the sporting plans for 2022.

“With a broken heart, with tears and pain, I have to accept that I will not be needed at the club.”

Cruzeiro insisted that the impasse had arisen from Fabio's refusal to accept a pay cut that would have been vital to fix the club's disastrous finances, but fans appeared to take the side of the veteran goalkeeper as they flocked to the training ground to protest in person, holding banners in support of their idol and demanding explanations from the new chief.

Unsurprisingly, Ronaldo is eager to turn the page on the episode.

“It is a shame that we did not come to an agreement,” he added on Tuesday. “But we have to move on.

“Cruzeiro are bigger than any athlete, any name you can imagine. Cruzeiro always have to come first.”

For now, two dates stand out as crucial for Ronaldo's stuttering new vehicle. On January 26, Cruzeiro take to the field for the first time since his takeover in their Mineirao curtain-raiser against minnows URT. Then, on March 6, they visit arch-rivals and reigning Serie A and Copa do Brasil champions Atletico Mineiro, whose recent success contrasts sharply with the misery and suffering that has enveloped the blue half of Belo Horizonte following relegation in 2019.

A strong showing in the state championship would help get the Ronaldo project back on track following this rocky start. Nothing sells success like success, after all, and no matter what work needs doing behind the scenes, it is on the pitch that Cruzeiro will have to deliver to ease the anxiety of fans not at all impressed by the legend's opening moves as owner.

Still, these first portents, with growing resistance to the cost-cutting measures put in place, like salary reductions across the board, are not exactly positive.

Nor is the fact that Ronaldo was already asked, in his first interview, whether he would be pulling out before actually signing the contract which would confirm his 90 per cent purchase of the club's shares.

“Technically, that's right, that exit does exist in the contract,” he was forced to acknowledge. “But it is far from my mind to drop out of this project.

“Right now, we are in the process of analysing the club, understanding the size of the hole we're in, the size of the debt, the creditors.

“My desire is to continue and stay until the club is great again like it once was.”

In the short-term though, things are unlikely to improve, as the new owner himself remarked: “Every time we open a drawer, we are finding another unpleasant surprise.”