Whether inspired, brave or reckless, Maurizio Sarri's Cristiano Ronaldo gambles have been justified

By Sports Desk November 10, 2019

In isolation, scrappy wins over Lokomotiv Moscow and AC Milan in the space of five days hardly scream significant moments in Juventus' season.

But it is the bold measure taken by Maurizio Sarri to achieve those victories that make this week seem particularly important in the wider picture for the Bianconeri and their legendary forward Cristiano Ronaldo.

Needing a goal against Lokomotiv in midweek with the score locked at 1-1, Sarri made the audacious call to hook Ronaldo in the 82nd minute.

Juve huffed and puffed and finally blew the door down thanks to Douglas Costa in the third minute of added time.

After the game, Sarri insisted he made the decision because Ronaldo had been suffering with a knee injury in the build-up, a line he repeated after Sunday's game. The hunched shoulders, sullen face and refusal to shake his coach's hand suggested it was a decision that did not have the approval of the Portugal captain. 

It was an infinitely more drastic call against Milan on Sunday. Spare for a decent disguised pass into the area for Gonzalo Higuain and a long-range effort shortly before half-time, it was unquestionably another subdued performance from Ronaldo, who stormed straight down the tunnel after being withdrawn.

But to haul off one of the greatest goalscorers of all time after 55 minutes with your team needing a goal is brave at best, reckless at worst.

And yet, Sarri's decision was again entirely justified as Ronaldo's replacement Paulo Dybala jinked and weaved his way through the Milan defence and coolly picked out the bottom-left corner with 13 minutes left to play to seal a 1-0 victory.

What feels so pertinent about all this is the way Sarri is considering ordinary decisions for a player who throughout his career has been out of the ordinary.

It is worlds apart from the Sarri we saw nine months ago during the EFL Cup final, where his then Chelsea side were eventually beaten on penalties by Manchester City.

On that occasion, Sarri's authority was left in tatters by goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga's shocking act of insubordination when he seemingly refused to be substituted at Wembley.

The sight of a seething Sarri trudging down the tunnel, only to return to the dugout moments later was an uncomfortable one.

Perhaps that moment has instilled in Sarri a take-no-prisoners attitude that even a player of Ronaldo's history and calibre cannot escape. Perhaps he genuinely, and justifiably from the fact they won both games, felt others were more capable of earning his team the result. 

What is certain, is that none of Ronaldo's coaches during his record-breaking days at Real Madrid, regardless of personal relationship, would have had the nerve to make such calls.

Ronaldo has clashed with coaches who boast far superior records to the one major honour Sarri has won in his career and one wonders how long he is willing to accept being the fall guy if Juve continue struggling to fire.

But the fact remains whether you consider Sarri to be inspired, brave or reckless, ultimately the decision to replace Ronaldo in two straight games with his side chasing a goal has proven to be the right one.

And that absolutely seems like a significant moment.

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