In the weeks leading up to us buying Robin van Persie, I was reading the papers, speaking to journalists and following those claiming to be in the know to try and gauge what the likelihood was of us signing the best striker in the league. I had been repeatedly told that United was the club he wanted to go to and that we were prepared to pay Arsenal their asking price, but we’ve been disappointed in the transfer market regularly enough to know there’s often little point getting our hopes up. Van Persie had to know he was going to win the league last season. Whether he signed for us or them, a title winner’s medal was in the bag, with the impact of his goals and presence probably enough to even get Roberto Mancini’s City side to the top the league again. So I was anticipating City making the Dutchman an offer he wouldn’t refuse and whilst every now and again I’d allow myself to get excited about the prospect of him coming to United, for the most part, I tried to convince myself it wasn’t going to happen.
When it was confirmed that we had signed him I could hardly believe it. For me, it was comparable to hearing we’d managed to land Andy Cole, although that probably slightly edged it, given they’d managed to keep that story out of the press and I was just a lad when it happened. Still, despite having been told for weeks that we were favourites to sign Van Persie, the reality of it took a while to sink in.
The Dutchman’s first season at the club went as well as we could have imagined, with him winning the golden boot yet again, scoring goals against City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, before wrapping up the title for us with a hattrick against Aston Villa. It all feels a little too good to be true and I still get moments of “bloody hell, we’ve got Van Persie!” from time to time.
So, had Van Persie signed for City at the last minute, I would have been ready to dismiss all the talk that Cristiano Ronaldo could be on his way back to United. We don’t do dream signings. But Van Persie’s arrival has allowed me to have some belief, however small that might be, that we could bring in a player or two that would make a huge difference to our team.
It seems strange to think about now but I wanted Ronaldo to leave at the end of the 2008-2009 season. I’d had enough of him. When Fergie was talking about a cow in someone else’s field, he had it nailed, because I thought life post-Ronaldo would be great. No more of his temper tantrums, failure to track back and doubts over his future. Every week during Ronaldo’s last season we were chanting “champions of England! Champions of Europe!” and despite Ronaldo being the main catalyst behind that success, I was spoilt, and imagined we could replicate it again without him. We’ve come close, playing in the Champions League final again two years after he left, but we’re missing the magic he provided us with in 07-08.
Whilst we have come close to winning it again, Ronaldo hasn’t, with Real Madrid falling to reach a final in his time at the club. In the four years he’s been there, despite his ridiculous goalscoring record of 201 goals in 199 games, he’s won just one league title. Ronaldo will see that he is a much more effective player now than he was at United, scarily enough, but he’s had nothing like the silverware to match it. When you compare his last four years at Real Madrid to his last four years with us, he’s got to feel like the trophy cabinet is fairly empty. Three league titles and one European Cup (and another final) versus one league title and no European Cup. He’s also fallen short with the individual accolades, with his last Ballon d’Or and World Player of the Year awards coming in 2008. Maybe the cow in the other field turned out not to be so great for him either.
The Independent yesterday reported that Ronaldo has been encouraged by his advisers to stay in Spain, despite apparently wanting to return to United, so that he can earn a larger signing on fee when he does leave Real Madrid. If a club can sign an £80m+ player for free, they’ll have some dosh hanging around that the player can pick up.
Ronaldo has repeatedly claimed over the past couple of years that he would not be signing a contract extension at Real Madrid. If he is to stay true to his word, that leaves the Spanish club in a difficult situation. Either they let him see out the next two years and leave for free, meaning they’ll make nothing back on the £80m investment they made in 2009, or they sell him. This summer, with two years remaining on his deal, they would be able to get a reasonable amount for him.
Monaco and PSG are prepared to pay £85m for him, reportedly, although that would suggest they have no intention of complying with FFP which kicks off next season. Ronaldo would still have to agree terms with them if he was going to sign though. As we saw with Nani last summer, who had an offer from Zenit St Petersburg accepted for him, a player can make wild and unmeetable demands, or simply refuse to go in to negotiations.
Without knowing the ins and outs of the money United have available, you would imagine we would only be able to afford Ronaldo’s salary if we were to sell Wayne Rooney. United were prepared to spend £30m on a totally unproven Brazilian lad last summer, so it appears as though money is available for a player the manager really wants, but the wage could be an issue. Rooney is earning £300k-a-week, according to The Guardian, so his sale would free up a large chunk of cash to spend on Ronaldo’s salary instead, a player who would apparently actually want to play for the club.
However, whilst it appeared certain at the end of the season that Rooney was on his way out, David Moyes is now looking at changing the player’s mind and Rooney is apparently happy to give it a go, with his camp claiming the issues he had were with Ferguson, not the club. It seems unlikely, although maybe not impossible, for United to afford the salaries of both Ronaldo and Rooney, but that’s before the other players come knocking on the door when they find out how much those two are earning.
Another possibility is that Ronaldo stays for another year, significantly lowering what Real Madrid can charge for him, but they get another year of trying to go for the Champions League with one of the best players in the world in their team. Recouping transfer fees obviously isn’t the be all and end all for them, so whilst they may be unprepared to allow Ronaldo follow the advice he has been given and leave on a free in two years time, they may be prepared to take a hit on the money they could get for him if it means keeping him for another year.
This would again put United in a good position to sign him, particularly if we are the club he wants to play for, and even more so if Rooney’s recent request to leave isn’t rewarded with a longer contract. He may see out the season with United but then leave next summer with a year remaining on his deal, just like Ronaldo.
I do get the feeling though, and not just because Van Persie’s signing gave me belief, that the Glazers will be keen to bring in a superstar this summer. Aside from the fact Chelsea are strengthened by the return of Jose Mourinho and that City have already bought two quality additions in Navas and Fernandinho, without Ferguson, the Glazers can’t afford to take the piss.
If you look over the past seven seasons, United have won the title five times, and in the other two years have missed out once by one point and once on goal difference. We have been ridiculously close to winning the league seven years in a row. Ferguson has assembled a squad every year that he thinks is good enough to win the league and more often than not, he’s been right. Imagine what we would have won if four or five years ago we’d splashed £40 odd million on a world class central midfielder and their top rate salary. Whilst it’s impossible to prove, it’s easy to imagine that the addition of one world class player would have made the difference to the title in 2010 and 2012, as well as, possibly, the Champions League finals in 2009 and 2011. But the Glazers could afford not to splash the cash to excess because they had the best manager in the world who they knew would drag out every last bead of sweat from his squad.
Next season, we have David Moyes, who has never won a trophy and who has never played in the Champions League. For all the things the Glazers are, they’re not stupid, and they know we need to maintain success to make them money, and they know that success is no longer guaranteed in the same way it was with Ferguson.
Will we sign Ronaldo this summer? Nobody knows, Ronaldo included, but the possibility of it happening this year or next probably isn’t as far-fetched as some people might think. I’m more than prepared to return to life pre-Van Persie, and expect disappointment from the transfer window, but whilst signing RvP was a huge shock last summer, if we landed someone like Ronaldo, Bale or Fabregas I wouldn’t be surprised. No other manager in the league would have bossed last season the way Ferguson did with that squad and if we’re expecting Moyes to do the same, he’s just being set up to fail. And failure for the Glazers, whilst trying to make as much money off us as they possibly can, is not an option.
Viva Ronaldo? Time will tell.
The RoM 2018-19 Season Preview is available for just £6. It includes an EXCLUSIVE interview with Juan Mata, a Q&A with the country's top journalists, articles by brilliant United writers, and so much more. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.