After a week of scrutiny, suspicion, allegations and denials, Cristiano Ronaldo found sanctuary – and the back of the net – on the football pitch and made the sort of headlines his nervy sponsors would no doubt prefer.
It was on Tuesday that news broke of Las Vegas police opening an investigation into claims the Juventus star raped American teacher Kathryn Mayorga in a hotel room in 2009.
Ronaldo strongly refutes the accusations and the club he joined for £99million in the summer have stood by him, speaking of their ‘great champion’.
Sponsors such as Nike and EA Sports, meanwhile, have been far more cautious, the former even labeling the allegations as ‘disturbing’. Juventus’ share price then dropped by 10 per cent on Friday, shaving £88m off their value.
So when Ronaldo arrived here at a sodden Stadio Friuli, the crackle of thunder up above was somehow symbolic of the storm clouds which have gathered over him and his employers this week.
Boss Max Allegri, however, refused to entertain the idea of removing the 33-year-old from the glare of the watching world.
And, come the end of a 2-0 victory which left the Bianconeri nine points clear at the top of Serie A, you knew exactly why.
‘Ronaldo made a beautiful game,’ said Allegri. ‘He did not seem like a worried person. He trained calmly and tonight he scored an extraordinary goal.’
He had earlier been subdued during the warm-up, not that the pre-match routine allows for showmanship, but one shooting exercise saw his radar malfunction and, with supporters in the Curva Sud cheering every goal, Ronaldo gave them little to get excited about.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner, though, has always been the man for the main stage, not the rehearsal, and so it proved once the curtain went up.
His first touch was a five-yard pass. Not with his boot, of course, but with his shoulder, a nonchalant nudge which was as accurate as most mere mortals could manage with their feet.
When he eventually received possession for a less fleeting period, the first thing you noticed was the absence of any boos or whistles. Where was the Udine animosity? Not because of this week’s headlines, necessarily, but this is Ronaldo, surely he is the envy and enemy of every opposition crowd? Not so.
The home fans joined the away following in applauding the forward when he sent his marker for the pizzas with a double Cruyff turn on halfway.
This was, no doubt, Ronaldo’s way of killing the notion that events off the pitch would affect his performance on it. No chance.
The Juventus supporters at the opposite end of the ground thought he had scored when his deflected shot spun narrowly over the crossbar, cannoned off the advertising boards and made a knowing ripple in the back of the net.
Ronaldo knew it had missed and he was not going to waste any of the 78 minutes remaining bemoaning his luck when his goal – namely, to score one – was incomplete.
That could have changed had Rodrigo Bentancur not got his head to Joao Cancelo’s cross just before Ronaldo to turn in the opener on 33 minutes. It was a similar story moments later when Mario Mandzukic stole the ball from his toe but fired straight at goalkeeper Simone Scuffed.
Ronaldo shot a telling glance towards the Croatian which, if translated, would have read something like, ‘You won’t be doing that again, will you?’.
It must have registered, for within a minute Mandzukic was rolling the ball into the path of his team-mate, 14 yards out and faced with a difficult angle.
Ronaldo has long since been defying the odds to score from such positions, however, and the Portuguese swept first-time into the far corner. He went airborne in celebration and there was more than a hint of relief in his landing as he exhaled before accepting the hugs of his comrades.
Ronaldo had his goal and Juventus went on to make history with a 10th successive victory from the outset of a campaign.
After a turbulent week, then, normal service had been resumed. At least, that is, for a few hours in Udinese. It is events in the USA, you feel, which will again take prominence in the coming days.