Earlier this week it appeared as though it was nailed on that Cristiano Ronaldo was going to sign for Manchester City. While clearly his best years are behind him, he still managed to score more goals than any other player in Serie A last season and him being 36-years-old doesn’t mean what it would for any normal player. While he won’t bring to the Premier League what he did when he was last here, over a decade ago, he still has the ability, drive and mentality to cause damage. The thought of him doing that in a City shirt was pretty unbearable. Just imagining him in blue was bad enough, let alone celebrating goals for them, appearing against us on derby day, lifting trophies for them, and worst of all, winning the Champions League with them. The mind raced to all the worst-case scenarios and it was sickening.
Thankfully, following the intervention of Sir Alex Ferguson and Bruno Fernandes, as well as agent Jorge Mendes who has been keen to get Ronaldo back to Old Trafford for some time, Ronaldo came to his senses and opted for United.
Without City in the equation, we’d likely still be chuffed to have Ronaldo back, but their interest in him has sweetened the deal. Like Leeds pulling one back the other week before we went on to thrash them 5-1, victory is sweeter when there’s the added blow and embarrassment to your rivals.
If you can stretch your mind back to the end of the 2008-09 season, Ronaldo’s popularity had waned rather dramatically among the fans, which is incredible to think about with hindsight. We equalled Liverpool’s record of 18 titles and Ronaldo was the second highest scorer in the league, but we all knew he was about to leave. He had pushed for a move the season before, with United’s name having just been engraved on the Champions League trophy by the time he hinted again it was time to go. “Only God knows the future” was his catchphrase back then, with him publicly flirting with Real Madrid over the previous year.
“I love to play in white,” he said when interviewed following a Euro 2008 game for Portugal, with a cheeky grin on his face. “The white of the national team.”
Ronaldo stayed put though, after Fergie convinced him to give us one more season, and while he didn’t reach the heights of the previous campaign, he was undoubtedly a crucial factor in us winning the league again.
“It wasn’t disloyalty because I got another year out of him when he wanted to go the previous year,” Ferguson later reflected. “He honoured that and was fantastic for us. He went with our blessing.”
The three-week period at the end of April 2009 saw his defining moments of the season. Having just been battered 4-1 by Liverpool at Old Trafford, then losing the next game against Fulham, we were just one point clear of Liverpool at the top of the table with nine games to go. We needed something special to get our season back on track.
Ronaldo put us ahead in our next league game with what looked to be an impossible freekick inside the penalty area, thanks to a pass back from James Milner to Brad Friedel. But Villa pulled two goals back and with 10 minutes left to play, Liverpool were top of the table, two points ahead of us, as we faced our third consecutive defeat. We were throwing the title away and Liverpool were going to make it 19-17.
While the game is better remembered for 17-year-old Federico Macheda’s 93rd minute winner, it was Ronaldo who had levelled the score in the 80th minute. His left-footed shot from outside the box evaded Friedel’s outstretched glove and crept just inside the post. All the momentum was with us and, while the scorer of the deciding goal was a surprise, the final result wasn’t.
We beat Sunderland the following week, Macheda with the winner again, then Portsmouth, before Spurs came to Old Trafford. With half an hour played, we were 2-0 down, and were left with the desperate hope we could find the same spirit from the Villa game a few weeks before.
We had to wait until the 57th minute before there was any glimmer of hope, with Ronaldo dispatching a penalty won by Michael Carrick. Game on. 10 minutes later, Rooney made it 2-2, and 70 seconds later Ronaldo made it 3-2. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him celebrate a goal for us the way he celebrated that one. He ripped off his shirt and threw it in to the air, shouting, the relief and delight all too apparent. Two minutes later, he assisted Rooney to make it 4-2, before Berbatov made it 5-2. Five goals in 22 minutes. No one was going to take this title away from us now.
Ronaldo’s last goals for United came against Arsenal and City, with two against the former in the Champions League semi-final, and the opener against the blues in our 2-0 win in the league.
Two weeks after the crushing 2-0 defeat against Barcelona in the European Cup final, Real Madrid announced they had signed Ronaldo for a record breaking £80 million. By then, we had made our peace with it. Of course, we weren’t to know that free transfer Michael Owen was going to be our next number 7. We had been spoilt with the success Ronaldo helped us achieve and couldn’t have imagined that four years later Fergie would retire and our world would come crashing down.
“I have a sentimental attachment; I have spent a quarter of my life here,” Ronaldo said after the deal with Real Madrid had been confirmed. “I was boy when I arrived at Manchester United and I’m leaving a man. This club and its fans will always have a place in my heart. I have learnt a lot of life lessons here, and I will never forget all the things I have been taught by so many people. I owe them everything that I am today.”
While it was clear to all how good Ronaldo was, even his biggest supporter couldn’t have imagined what he would go on to achieve in Spain. 450 goals in 438 appearances, four European Cups, two league titles, and another four Ballon d’Ors.
We’ll likely have to wait until our home game against Newcastle in a couple of weeks before we see him again, but he has returned to Old Trafford in the 12 years he’s been away, with both Real Madrid and Juventus.
Ahead of his first return, what would become Fergie’s last Champions League game as our manager, Ronaldo was asked whether there was the potential for him to return to the Premier League, and to rivals City.
“To play for City not United? I’m not going to do that. Why? Because my heart’s in Manchester United, that’s why,” he said. “Manchester was my home and still is in my heart. I love it. Because when people treat you very well you never forget that. And I will never forget United, the people who work there and the supporters. So I am so happy to be going back to Manchester.”
Eight years on, he’s coming back to Manchester again, but this time to wear our shirt. But it doesn’t come without its drawbacks. What will it mean for Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani? Does Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have the strength to leave him out when required? What impact will it have on our wage structure? How will Ronaldo react if ever things aren’t going his way?
It would also be remiss of me to ignore the rape allegation made in 2009 against Ronaldo when he was in Las Vegas. Having settled out of court, US prosecutors say that he won’t face charges as there’s no way to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt all these years later, despite Kathryn Mayorga publicly speaking out about the incident during the height of the #MeToo movement in 2018.
By law, Ronaldo is innocent until proven guilty, and he insisted the out of court settlement was not an admission of guilt. The report by Der Spiegel was damning though and there’s no escaping that, however much you may wish to sweep it under the rug. In the week that we have been disgusted by the allegations made against City defender Benjamin Mendy, you don’t get to pick and choose which women you believe depending on the club the accused plays for.
There are also claims from people, largely outside of United, who argue that our stance on the Glazers should change. Tim Sherwood called this signing a gift from the owners to the supporters, while Jamie Redknapp suggested the Glazers should have won Gary Neville over now. This is a nonsense and all this transfer window has shown us is that the pressure we have put on the Glazers has produced results. This doesn’t change the fact they have taken £1 billion out of the club and we still don’t want them anywhere near Old Trafford. Maybe some United fans will be placated by this window so the pressure is on us to keep the protest going.
Aside from what Ronaldo has the potential to do on the pitch individually, you can’t quantify the other positive influences he will have. The atmosphere is going to be insane at Old Trafford with him back on the pitch. Players like Fernandes, Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho will be absolutely buzzing to play alongside someone they grew up watching and trying to emulate. Ahead of Sunday’s game against Wolves, Luke Shaw spoke of how the players were buzzing about Ronaldo’s return.
Like we saw with Fernandes when he joined the club, having a leader with unbelievably high standards, who demands the absolute best of those around him, can only benefit the team. It’s hard to see how Ronaldo’s presence won’t provide a lift.
All in all, this transfer is a good one for United. It’s not the perfect move for the club but we are a better side with Ronaldo in the dressing room. It still hasn’t really sunk in, it probably won’t until we see him playing for us again, but the relief of avoiding the doom of Ronaldo in a City shirt will last for some time.
This could be the catalyst for glory or it may have an unhappy ending, but the insanity of Friday August 27th 2021 is unlikely to ever be matched. Ronaldo is a red. Bring it on.