Real Madrid director Emilio Butragueno laughed nervously at the last question in a post-match interview on Sunday night: ‘Will Cristiano Ronaldo be offered a new contract?’ he had been asked.
He was laughing nervously because knows the answer is probably ‘yes’. They really are going to have to offer 33-year-old Ronaldo another new contract. Outlandish as that seemed back in the summer.
Butragueno, who also knew where the goal was back in the day when he was free-scoring for Real Madrid and Spain, had just watched another extraordinary exhibition from the player who has left all the club’s previous scorers in his shadow.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored four goals to achieve his 50th career hat-trick on Sunday night
It was another masterful performance by the Portuguese as Real Madrid beat Girona 6-3
Ronaldo soaks up the adulation of the Bernabeu crowd during Sunday night’s rout
Goal No 21 since the turn of the year; his 18th in his last nine matches; his 50th career hat-trick; and more a team player than ever – urging the Bernabeu to give some love to Karim Benzema and laying on a goal for Lucas Vazquez.
He wanted pay-parity with Lionel Messi last summer but the club came closer to selling him to Paris Saint-Germain than to giving in to those demands. This summer could be very different.
Messi earns around 50m euros (£43.8m) a season gross. A 100m euros (£87.7m) bonus, again gross, was also agreed on his last contract, to be paid 20m euros (£17.5m) a season for five seasons.
That puts him on 70m euros (£61.4m) gross – around 35m euros (£30.7m) net a season.
There are other bonuses and image rights earnings that take his final earnings figure closer to 45m euros (£39.5m) – Madrid don’t intend to go that high for Ronaldo but 35 million now looks like shrewd business sense, especially if, as they suspect, Neymar will be out of their reach this summer.
Barcelona gave Lionel Messi a big money contract last summer and Real could follow suit to ensure Ronaldo, 33, stays at the Bernabeu
Ronaldo’s recent run of 18 goals in nine games included one away to PSG in Europe
The new deal really would be the last, and it would help Ronaldo pay his tax bills.
He still has the cloud of an investigation into 14.7m euros (£12.9m) in alleged undeclared income over his head.
If he decides to, on legal advice and despite believing he has been treated unfairly, pay up, then he will have to find around 25m euros (£21.9m) from somewhere.
Signing again for Madrid would be a way of shouldering that financial burden.
The alternative is to turn his back on Europe and seek what would be a considerable fortune in China. But that would be to relinquish the chance to win more trophies, and there is no way that he will do that.
This year might have been condensed to just one competition for Real Madrid as a club but not for Ronaldo it hasn’t. As well as the Champions League he can also win the ‘Pichichi’ award for top scorer in Spain, the Golden Shoe, and the Golden Ball.
Ronaldo scores with a ‘bounce-up’ penalty kick in the first leg of the tie against PSG
The Portuguese star also scored Real’s second goal during that first leg game at the Bernabeu
The first two are not as inaccessible as they seemed back at the start of the season when he seemed stuck on just one goal for an age and was 11 goals behind top scorer Messi.
He is now three goals behind him and ahead of second leading scorer Luis Suarez.
He can catch Messi with a little help from his team-mates who see the challenge as a way of putting a spark back into the league games which have lost meaning since Barcelona ran away with the title.
And if he were to catch Messi then why not the Egyptian Messi too? Mohamed Salah currently tops the Golden Shoe leader board.
The Balon D’Or would be tougher in a World Cup year but winning the Champions League and finishing as the tournaments top scorer would give him a real chance.
In many ways this season is more of the same with Ronaldo scoring a goal a game. But there are changes inside the Real Madrid dressing room as he morphs into a respected leader that the rest of the players want to see succeed in the battle for individual awards.
Even at the age of 33, Ronaldo looks set to remain as important as ever for Real Madrid
He has scored 21 goals since the turn of the year, including 18 in his last nine outings
It could potentially mean that Ronaldo will win a sixth Ballon d’Or accolade early next year
‘It’s incredible,’ said defender Nacho. ‘He is proving he is the best for another year. It’s not strange, the strange thing was to see him not scoring earlier in the season.’
Perhaps Ronaldo needed that early season dip to then produce this second-half of the season crescendo. If the league had started at the mid-point Madrid would be top by now but what’s done is done and they are concentrating on finishing the season in style.
To Ronaldo it will not matter that the league wins will not take them to a title. He’ll celebrate them anyway, just as he celebrates those 90th minute goals in games that have already long been won.
The desire is insatiable and Madrid are coming around to the view that for as long as he maintains that desire, he will maintain his form, and that will make him worth every euro they decide to pay him.