My feelings on Cristiano Ronaldo have been there for all to see. Whilst it’s always been obvious he’s a bit of a tosser, he’s always been our tosser. I like United having players other fans hate because it’s enjoyable to see how wound up they get.
To me, he felt less like ours after his behaviour last summer. Whilst I’ve always understood his desire to go to Spain I couldn’t abide by the flirting with Real Madrid that took place after our league and European Cup double. It showed a complete lack of respect for the club that had just enabled him to win the Champions League and the fans that had idolised him. Having being denied the trophy parade through the city to celebrate our achievement, we were then denied even the attention our success deserved, thanks to Ronaldo’s ramblings in the press and refusal to commit to the club. He ruined that summer for us through his self-obsession and greater concern for his own self-promotion than the feelings of the fans who adored him.
Had Ronaldo come back in to the team and worked as hard as he had done the year before, whilst all wouldn’t have been forgiven, it would have made the events of the summer easier to forget. However, instead of playing with “honour for the shirt” as he had promised when agreeing to stay, he stropped and sulked and whinged his way through large chunks of the season.
It is for that reason I am glad he’s going.
Ronaldo is truly one of the most gifted players we’ve ever had at United, who has had arguably a greater impact on the success of the club than players we would happily regard as red legends. To score 42 goals in 47 games is simply out of this World and it really will take some player to match that kind of season. The highest scorer in the Premiership, the highest scorer in the Champions League, as well as scoring our only goal in the Cup final. Phenomenal. There really is no other way to accurately describe it.
Some players join your team to serve a purpose for a period of years, whilst others become a part of the club. We can look at the homegrown players and use them as great examples, but essentially, it’s fairly easy to stay committed to the team you’ve grown up as a part of, particularly when that team is Manchester United! But it’s the players from outside who join us and spend the best years of their career with us and really understand what it’s about. Players like Eric Cantona, Ole Gunnar Solsksjaer and Andy Cole (who still has a season ticket at Old Trafford). With our current team this attitude is seen most brightly in Wayne Rooney and Patrice Evra. Ronaldo was never going to be a keeper for us, he was always going to leave, and we shouldn’t have complaints about that.
When he joined the club as an 18-year-old, the talk was still centred on David Beckham. The World revolved around Beckham that summer, he was the talk of the town, and questions were raised as to whether we would go on to be successful without him. For any person who questions what United can achieve when great players retire or leave, there is only one response: we won the Treble two years after Cantona left.
Still, Alan Hansen gave his reaction on Beckham’s high profile exit to Real Madrid with the BBC: There has been a lot of talk that Beckham was sold because of a problem he had with Sir Alex Ferguson. I don’t think that is the case. In my view, his transfer is a financial decision, in keeping with how football works these days. The key is whether Manchester United plc have got the right amount of money for the England captain. And even more important is how they spend their windfall. There is no guarantee they will be able to sign a world-class player to replace Beckham. What is certain, though, is that the person who does fill Beckham’s boots will get time to adapt to life at Old Trafford.
So the cycle continues on. Will we get a world-class player to replace Beckham’s replacement? Who knows. We didn’t replace Ruud van Nistelrooy but still moved from second to Champions in our first season without him. What is certain is the boss knows what he’s doing. He’s no soft touch and he hates Real Madrid, so for him to accept a bid from them means he is doing the best thing for the club. Ferguson doesn’t have the emotional sway the fans do (I personally would have bit Perez’s hand off!) over Ronaldo’s attitude yet the offer was accepted. Whatever your feelings on Ronaldo, you have to trust the manager is right.
We might not win the league next year, we might not have won it even with Ronaldo in the team, but life has to move on. You can’t cling on to a player who doesn’t want to be here. That’s far too desperate and small-time for United. We won the battle with Real Madrid, keeping him for an extra year, winning another title, watching another 26 goals go in, and then still got £80 million out of them for a player who wanted to leave! Never, ever will a football club manage a better bit of business than we have here.
With the deal being agreed so early it means we don’t have to endure the frustration and embarrassment of last summer. We can draw a line under it now, without too many hard feelings, with Ronaldo keeping his gob shut (so far) and allowing the people who needed to do the talking to get on with it. We can spend the summer thinking about who we will buy and not having to wait with apprehension over what Ronaldo was going to say to the press next. It almost feels like a weight lifted.
His exit will also allow the more deserving players, like Wayne Rooney, to step in to the spotlight. Just as Ruud van Nistelrooy’s departure allowed Ronaldo to step up to the plate, hopefully now Sir Alex will see the light, particularly if he’s been watching England’s World Cup qualifiers, and play Wayne in his proper position.
The way he is leaving should allow us to say our goodbyes without anger or regret. Ronaldo was a bloody good player for us for six years and our club’s name is on a few trophies thanks to his input. Whilst I’ll never agree with those who were happy for him to behave as he did last season, I will always be glad he played for us. We’ve had a great few years; from his introduction as a skinny teenger, to the drama of the World Cup, to us winning our trophy back, to us lifting the European Cup again. All the attention he has brought to himself, all the hatred he induced from our rivals, all the flicks, and the goals, and the dives, and stepovers, have been thoroughly entertaining. He’s not only left a mark on our club, but football as a whole in this country, so for all his faults, you can’t help but recognise what a special player he is.
I’d be lying if I said I wanted him to do well in Madrid. Whilst I don’t want him to flop, I would be happy if the best years of his career were in a United shirt, and for Real to look like total knobs after spending all that money and still not being able to buy the success they crave. With Ruud’s rumoured £1.25m transfer to the Premiership on the cards, just three years after he left, the knowledge that it’s downhill after United would be made a complete example of through Ronaldo’s failings with Madrid. I’d love for us to come up against them and beat them, but for Ronnie to get the good response from our fans that he deserves.
I childishly refused to sing “Viva Ronaldo” this season after shouting it until my throat was raw throughout the season before and it still not being enough to make him certain he wanted to stay. Yesterday’s news was a shock, but not because I was surprised, but because it was such a big deal. Ronaldo is such a big player now that this story was big news for everyone. But his heart wasn’t in it this year and as a result, I couldn’t get behind him the way I had the year before, and the way people told me I should have again. The people who defended him until they were blue in the face will probably be able to reflect on his behaviour of the season gone by; the noticeable decline in effort with tracking back, the temper tantrums, the berating of his team-mates, and see how obvious it was that he was ready to leave.
But Ronaldo truly was a great United number 7 and as the years go by, I hope he is remembered more and more fondly by our fans. He is a tosser… but he was our tosser.