Manchester United fans rejoiced yesterday as announcement came that five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo was returning to the club despite having seemed certain to join bitter rivals Manchester City that very morning.
Yesterday was the epitome of a game of two halves.
As a Manchester United fan waking up there was a slight sense of dread. Will it really happen? Will he tarnish his status amongst United fans by moving to City? If so, how will it feel if he guides them to glory? Or even their first Champions League title?
All of it sent slight shivers down my spine. However, all I could do was put on a brave face and pretend he never mattered in the first place.
Cristiano Ronaldo? Nah, never heard of him. Played for United? Think you’ve got the wrong bloke, mate. Three Premier League titles and a Champions League? Pull the other one. Moving to City? Couldn’t give a toss.
By 6pm, with Ronaldo’s Manchester United return all but confirmed barring a medical, the mood had been turned upside down.
Cristiano Ronaldo? What a player. 117 goals during his first spell? 118 actually. Greatest of all time? Sure. 36-years-old going on 28? Can’t disagree. United legend? Most definitely.
The match at Wolves on Sunday will probably come too soon for his second debut, therefore the attention instantly turned to playing Newcastle at home in a fortnight.
I thought Ole has to start him, surely? Imagine the ovation when he walks out. The first legend since Paul Scholes to return having initially left. Will his second spell be Mark Hughes or George Best like I wonder? Running down the wing? More like poaching around the six-yard box.
Never mind, let’s just savour his return and sing Viva Ronaldo.
I got my first season ticket in time for the 2006/07 season. United had gone three seasons without a league title. Jose Mourinho had arrived and taken Chelsea to great heights. Arsene Wenger was still guiding Arsenal towards the latter stage of his peak. Rafa Benitez had the red-half of Liverpool under his spell.
Meanwhile question marks were being asked of Sir Alex, despite a League Cup win the previous season.
Ronaldo, Rooney and Saha spearheaded the side, anchored by Van Der Saar, Ferdinand and Vidic. Giggs and Scholes offered the winning pedigree, with Michael Carrick proving the final jigsaw by cleaning up and pinging passes from all angles. The squad had the taste of something special.
My first three years as a season ticket holder saw three league titles and the holy grail of a Champions League. Cristiano Ronaldo scored goals for fun. Then as soon as the Ronaldo/United dynasty began, it came to an end.
After reaching the pinnacle of European football by winning the 2008 Champions League final in Moscow, Ronaldo instantly set about an exit strategy. He wanted out straight away. Sir Alex reaped another year out of him which saw another league title and coming close to retaining the Champions League only to lose to Barcelona in Rome.
Ronaldo got his move in 2009. He joined Real Madrid for £90million. An absolute bargain when looking back and comparing to the figures seen since.
He achieved more than a goal a game at Real Madrid with 450 goals in 438 matches. Ronaldo amassed a further four Champions League titles and yet another four Ballon d’Or accolades.
Whilst his stint at Old Trafford was to be forever cherished, there was also a sense of what might have been had we managed another season or two out of him.
He then moved to Juventus and scored yet another 101 goals in 134 matches. Now at 36-years-old he returns to Manchester United. Certainly not in his pomp, but I think United’s most ardent rivals would agree this just isn’t your average footballer.
His dedication to the profession is second to none. From hiring chefs at a young age to having enough of an entourage to efficiently run The Lowry Hotel. Ronaldo has squeezed absolutely everything out of his talents and more.
He now returns to Old Trafford very much a different individual to the one who first walked through the doors in 2003.
Where once he walked the corridors as a spotty showboating teenager, he now walks as the revered winning-machine and arguably the greatest to have played the sport.
A three-nation league title winner, five time Champions League winner, five time Ballon d’Or winner and the only Portugal captain to lead his side to a major honour by lifting the 2016 European Championship.
How might the likes of Mason Greenwood look at him? Working with such an individual can only improve the young star’s game. Elsewhere in the squad, there will surely be a boost – it’s only natural. The Cristiano Ronaldo-type players of this world are very much rare. They naturally drag teammates up a level. They show strength in leadership when others fold.
A £20million figure for a 36-year-old might sound astounding. Yet it really does need reminding that this isn’t the average 36-year-old. Add to this the acquisitions of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane and it makes even sweeter reading.
Some might wonder how the likes of United are able to spend such figures given the effects of Covid on everyone’s wallets. Though you really do need to bear in mind that United are among the most self-sustainable of clubs – this despite the £1billion+ taken out of the club’s coffers by the Glazers since they took charge.
On the Glazer point; whilst signing Ronaldo does make sense on the field and as a nostalgic moral booster too, surely they also thought back to the effect Tom Brady had on their NFL side Tampa Bay Buccaneers just last year? Upon joining from New England Patriots the veteran quarter-back guided them to the Super Bowl, might they hope for the same from Ronaldo’s return to United?
Nevertheless, all I can say as a United fan is his second debut will be extra special.
Having already witnessed his talents and lost my voice countless times singing his name during his first stint, his Old Trafford return will surely make many a grown man emotional – myself included.
Viva Ronaldo will ring around Old Trafford like never before and I’ll enjoy the ride whatever it may bring.
Though that 21st league title would be more than enough, Ronnie.
Featured imaged sourced off Wikimedia.
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