Following a superb season by Manchester United, the wind was taken out of sails somewhat by the constant speculation linking Cristiano Ronaldo with a move to Real Madrid. Ramon Calderon stalked our winger, talking about him to the press almost every day and the column inches were filled with stories of Ronaldo rather than stories of our success.
Sir Alex Ferguson flew to Portugal to talk to our player, who seemed set on a move away from the club, and convinced him that staying at United was the right thing to do. Ronaldo returned to Manchester, apologising profusely to the fans, and insisting he was happy to continue to help bring success to the club.
Ferguson has today claimed that when Ronaldo does finally leave the club, obviously assuming it won’t be next summer, he will leave like a hero, like Eric Cantona. Is this right?
My instincts are to say ‘of course not’, but then I wasn’t really expecting the Prodigal Son act after the summer either. He was welcomed back with open arms by our fans, when a few months ago, all blogs and fansites were filled with criticism of the Portuguese winger.
Fans are fickle, we know this, but I just didn’t realise how fickle.
But then I started to think about Cantona’s time with United. He was much loved by our fans, still is, but it’s not as if his time at United was perfect either.
Cantona missed nine months for United after attacking a fan in the crowd. Whatever we want to say about the racist comments coming from the Palace fan, we can’t excuse what Eric did. Is this not comparable, on some level, to the eight month ban Rio Ferdinand was given after missing a drug’s test? Of course, the real resentment of Rio came when he was holding out on his contract, something Cantona never did, but United missed out on all the trophies that season without Eric in the team, and he does have to be held accountable for that to a certain degree.
Then I thought about Cantona fleeing to France, saying he didn’t want to play for United anymore.
“We know it will be difficult for Eric to return to normal football in this country, but we think it is possible,” said Ferguson. “I’ve said all along we want him to stay, and together we can work it out.”
Ferguson flew out there, just as he did to Portugal this summer, and was successful in convincing the Frenchman to stay.
Of course, I’m not saying what Cantona did is directly comparable to the behaviour of Ronaldo, but there are similarities. Cantona is arguably the most loved former player, with his name sung in Manchester’s pubs on a weekly basis, yet his time at United wasn’t exactly blemish free. This made me wonder that if Ronaldo left when the time was right, maybe he could be adored by our fans in, if not the same, a similar way. Ferguson thinks so.
“I think Cristiano has come to accept that at this stage of his career, United is the place for him,” said Ferguson. “Southern Europeans want at some point to play for Real Madrid or Barcelona, so I understood what was going on in Cristiano’s mind when he declared he wanted to join Real. But once we had talked he accepted it was a move for the future. I pointed out to him how much better it would be to leave like Eric Cantona, with the fans loving and appreciating him. The crowd still chant Cantona’s name and I told Cristiano ‘Leave a hero like Eric’ and one day he will. But not yet.”
Do you think Ronaldo could ever be loved like Cantona?