That boy Ronaldo, he was only on loan

Just a few days had passed since my ninth birthday when my Grandad was forced to give me the most harrowing news that I had ever had the displeasure of receiving. My idol, the Portuguese magnifico Cristiano Ronaldo, had waved goodbye to the Theatre of Dreams.

Drenched in a flood of tears, we walked home together from school, struggling to come to terms with the fact that CR7 had become a Galáctico. Fast forward 12 years, now aged 21, I could not contain my excitement as I rushed to the phone to let my Grandad know that the five-time Ballon d’Or winner was coming home. The King had returned.

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Ronaldo first signed for the Red Devils in 2003. It’s mind-boggling to think that it was that long ago, his respective arrivals separated by a staggering 18 years. If you search for ‘The biggest global events of 2003’ on Google, Ronaldo’s United debut is awarded the number 3 ranking. It is joined on the list by the likes of the Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster and the completion of the The Human Genome Project. This emphasizes the significance of Ronaldo’s first stint at Manchester United. The boy from Madeira first donned the illustrious number seven shirt in the days before Facebook and Twitter.

One Manchester United fan took to the latter to boast: “Twitter didn’t exist last time so, Cristiano Ronaldo plays for my football club.” Mason Greenwood was just two-years-old when Ronaldo first put pen to paper at Old Trafford. Apple iPads were still a year away from hitting the shelves by the time that United had accepted the £80 million bid from Real Madrid, signalling the end of CR7’s time in Manchester – a move which saw him become what at the time was the most expensive player in football history. The boy that had arrived six years prior, had left a man. Time flies when you’re having fun.

Welcome to Manchester

Manchester United fans went to bed on Thursday night with a sense of dread and agitation. Their cult hero was finally returning to Manchester after 12 years away, but it appeared to all that he was trading in red for blue. Much in the same way as John Williams’s haunting score for ‘Jaws’, Fabrizio Romano’s ominous tweets about Jorge Mendes offering his client to the Cityzens struck fear and panic into the hearts of many.

The end was seemingly nigh. In a year that has seen the proposed Super League almost dismantle the football pyramid, and witnessed Lionel Messi being effectively forced out of Barcelona, the potential opportunity that Ronaldo could have lined out in the sky blue of Manchester City represented one footballing crime too many.

In an alternate universe, sections of Manchester United supporters would have woken up this morning with nothing but hatred towards Ronaldo. All of his prior achievements and claims of love for the club would have been wiped out. Obsolete. The fact that the complete opposite eventually happened thoroughly portrays the fickleness of modern football that we know today.

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It has always gone without saying that Sir Alex Ferguson and Ronaldo share one of the deepest and most meaningful father-son-like relationships in the modern football era. In 2005, during an integral part of the Red Devil’s season, Ferguson showed unwavering loyalty and compassion as he granted Ronaldo’s request to visit his dying father in London. “Football doesn’t mean anything compared with your dad. If you want to go, go,” Ferguson stated.

Over a decade later, Sir Alex’s love for his former player was still clear for all to see as he patiently waited to congratulate his metaphorical son, who had finally gotten his hands on The Henri Delaunay Trophy. The potential transfer of Ronaldo to United’s noisy neighbours across the pond would have been the ultimate betrayal to arguably the greatest football manager in history.

Here we go

Things soon began to change on Friday morning, however, when Rio Ferdinand’s cryptic tweet featuring a smug-looking Leonardo DiCaprio sent United fans into a frenzy. It couldn’t happen, could it? What did the former Red Devils defender know that we didn’t? Evidently a lot! The stark contrast between the statements and body language provided by Pep Guardiola and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in their respective press conferences then had a significant impact on the odds for where Ronaldo was going to end up.

He (Ronaldo) knows what we feel about him. If he was ever going to move away from Juventus he knows we’re here.

– Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Then the iconic Fabrizio sent ‘that’ tweet; City had pulled out of negotiations. It was now a one-horse race. United had gone from massive outsiders to 1/18 in a whirlwind couple of hours. The news finally broke just before 5pm on Friday. The prodigal son had decided to come home. That boy Ronaldo, he was only on loan.

There is no denying that this fairy tale return isn’t quite as idyllic as it may appear on paper. It speaks volumes about the current football climate that the signing of a 36-year-old for roughly £20 million can be viewed as romantic. There is also no denying that from a cynical point of view that this is a multifaceted transfer. Before you even consider the advantages that Solskjaer’s side have gained thanks to the acquisition of one of the greatest footballers in history, it must be noted that the most significant aspect of the deal is undoubtedly that the Glazer family stepped in and prevented one of their club’s most beloved legends from joining their closest rivals.

Within a matter of hours, the Glazers have temporarily gotten fans off their backs. How much green and gold have you seen on Twitter in the last 24 hours? How much green and gold will be seen in Old Trafford across the next few weeks? It remains to be seen.

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The last dance

It goes without saying that Ronaldo brings the guarantee of goals to Solskjaer’s side. He has bagged at least 20 goals per season for the last 12 consecutive seasons. Only Romelu Lukaku is currently deemed by the bookmakers as more likely than Ronaldo to take home the Golden Boot, despite the fact that the 36-year-year-old outscored the Belgian in the 2020/2021 Serie A campaign. The former Juventus man netted 29 league goals last season, a higher tally than Edison Cavani, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford reached in the 2020/2021 Premier League season combined.

Ronaldo boasts a monumental honours list, featuring five Champions League titles, four FIFA Club World Cups, seven league titles and the European Championship. His extensive record as a proven winner is something which every dressing room needs, especially one filled with such exciting youth. Sharing a training pitch with Ronaldo, Cavani and even Solskjaer, will stand to United’s younger attackers for the next decade and beyond.

The nostalgic return of Ronaldo to the club where he reached superstardom has created an unparalleled buzz on social media. From Bruno Fernandes’ heart-warming Instagram post featuring a drawing of him watching his childhood hero Ronaldo in Manchester United action, to Roy Keane’s simple message of ‘Welcome back Cristiano’, the sense of excitement is palpable.

Of course, the questions regarding whether or not he actually makes Solskjaer’s job easier are warranted, however, for Manchester United fans walking about and whistling along to the Stretford End classic of ‘Viva Ronaldo’, the answer to that question is currently utterly irrelevant. It’s time for the last dance.

The Author

Gareth Lyons


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