Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo will not play in Saturday night’s much-hyped match against Spanish rival Barcelona at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.
Ronaldo told event organizers he is staying in Spain because of his booked schedule, most significantly a court date in Madrid on Monday. He is accused by Spanish prosecutors of failing to pay $17 million in taxes, a charge he denies.
The event, billed El Clasico Miami, is run by Relevant Sports, a company of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.
“Unfortunately, Ronaldo’s personal commitments precluded him from being here,” Charlie Stillitano, chairman of Relevent Sports, told the Miami Herald on Friday. “He really wanted to be here. This is not a diva situation. He was hoping that he could make it. He waited until today 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.”
Ross pulled out all the stops to get Ronaldo to his stadium, including having a private jet waiting for him, although the Dolphins owner acknowledged Thursday he was “probably more pessimistic than optimistic.”
“We’ve reached out, we’ve done everything,” Ross said Thursday, per the Herald. “That weekend, he has some complex issues as you all know, back in Spain. I’ve got a plane waiting. He hasn’t said finally no. We’ll probably know relatively soon.”
Ronaldo also missed Real Madrid’s two International Champions Cup matches in California, as he was vacationing with his pregnant girlfriend and in Singapore and China for sponsor commitments.
His absence is also a blow to ESPN, which Goal.com reported sent 25 on-air personalities to cover and is giving its most comprehensive treatment ever for a single soccer game.
The network, though, was anticipating Ronaldo not being there.
“It would be ideal to have Cristiano play,” Scott Gugliemino, ESPN’s senior vice president for programming and production, said earlier this week. “If he doesn’t, we go in eyes wide open on these events. There are times when star players don’t play in matches in their domestic leagues so it’s just part of sports.”