The verdict is in: Cristiano Ronaldo will not be at El Clasico Miami on Saturday night.
The Real Madrid star told event organizers Friday afternoon that he could not make it to Hard Rock Stadium for the highly anticipated matchup against rival FC Barcelona because his schedule has been too full, and he has a court hearing on Monday in Madrid.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who owns Relevent Sports, the company putting on the event, sent Ronaldo a personal invitation in recent days and offered to provide a private jet to get him here and back.
“Unfortunately, Ronaldo’s personal commitments precluded him from being here,” Charlie Stillitano, chairman of Relevent Sports, told the Miami Herald. “He really wanted to be here. This is not a diva situation. He was hoping that he could make it. He waited until [Friday] to let us know, but it just didn’t work out. Mr. Ross did everything possible to get him here, and Cristiano said he was very grateful for that. I’m extremely disappointed, but we still have the two best teams and the top stars minus one.”
Ronaldo, who played with Portugal in the Confederations Cup until late June, did not travel with Real to its two International Champions Cup matches in California, choosing to take an extended summer break with his pregnant girlfriend and fly to Singapore and China for commercial obligations. His schedule this week is complicated because he is expected to be in a Madrid courtroom Monday to testify in a tax-evasion case.
Spanish prosecutors claim Ronaldo failed to pay $17 million of taxes on image rights earned between 2011 and 2014, and that he used a shell company in the British Virgin Islands to hide some of his income. He has vehemently denied the charge and says he expects to be vindicated.
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said Friday that he understands Ronaldo’s absence.
“He’s on vacation, and he is entitled to enjoy his vacation time,” Zidane said. “He’ll be with us Aug. 5 to start the season.”
As if Neymar wasn’t in the news enough with rumors of his departure from FC Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain, the Brazilian forward got into a scuffle with new Barca teammate Nelson Semedo during Thursday’s practice at Barry University. The players had to be separated, and Neymar reportedly angrily kicked a ball and tried to walk off the field.
Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta addressed the altercation Friday.
“There was an incident at training, and with everybody talking about Neymar, it was magnified all over the world,” Iniesta said. “For those of us who are on the inside, we know how hard everyone’s working, and these things can happen. We wished all the talk around our camp wasn’t about Neymar, but it is. Most of all, what the group wants is for him to stay with us because he’s a fundamental part of this team, and we care about him. We want all the commotion to be over.”
Midfielder Sergi Roberto said the players have tried not to let the Neymar rumors be a distraction.
“Our focus is on training and playing, and we let the journalists, fans and team officials deal with all that stuff,” Roberto said. “With social media, it’s hard to escape all those rumors. Within the locker room, we talk with Neymar about everything but his transfer rumors. We talk about normal things young people talk about because we figure he doesn’t want to hear about that anymore.”
Said Luis Suarez: “The quicker he clears up the situation, the better for Ney and the better for us. What we can do as teammates is support whatever decision he makes. We want him to stay because he’s one of the best players in the world, and it’s truly a pleasure to play with him. Would be a shame to lose him. But my friendship with him will not change, and I want him to be happy.”