The facts speak for themselves.
Two hours after Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United was announced, the club’s Instagram followership shot up by over one million. One week later and the followership swelled by another 3 million! The same announcement day, United’s shares rose by 9.8%, growing the club’s overall share value by $293 million. And about a week after, when the club said Ronaldo would be assigned back his popular No. 7 jersey, United’s jersey sales hit a whopping £32.5m in just 12 hours!
No other footballer, living or dead, has had this kind of impact on the sporting world. Any lingering doubt, therefore, about Ronaldo’s place as the greatest footballer of all time should be cleared by now.
And while all the excitement about his return was on, Ronaldo iced the cake with two stoppage time winning goals against Ireland in Portugal’s world cup qualifying tie last week, which pushed him past Ali Daei to become football’s highest international goal scorer ever.
Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United had been only an idea; one romanticized by millions of the club’s fans worldwide. Because they loved him from his first coming, they wished for a second one, even if they were unsure of its possibility. But the club itself did not have him in mind as it prepared for this season, when it went shopping for players in the transfer market. Edinson Cavani, the 34 year-old Uruguayan who marshalled United’s attack last season, was persuaded to extend his contract by another year. He had wanted to go back to his country where he would be with his family and play for a local club, but Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, the skilled man manager at United’s helm, urged him to hold on and experience what was sure to be unparalleled adulation from the United fan base for helping the team finish the league in second position last season. So Cavani stayed.
Ole also brought in his long-term right wing target, Jadon Sancho whom, together with Rashford, had been primed to form United’s lethal front three. There were still considerable array of options in the front. Mason Greenwood from the right. Anthony Martial from the left. Jesse Lingard from the centre. At the back, which had been problematic for two seasons, Raphael Varane was brought from Real Madrid to solidify the defence. So it made sense that, as late as one week to the transfer deadline, Ole was satisfied with his squad. He thought he did a good business in the market. His team was solid and deep enough to eye the domestic title and other trophies.
Then, Ronaldo happened.
He had lost interest in Juventus. His contract would run out next season and he needed to move. His agent, Jorge Mendes, having seen United (Ronaldo’s natural EPL first choice) had no need for an extra striker, went straight to Manchester City, United’s bitter local rivals. City had not yet replaced Aguero, who left for Barca at the end of last season. They attempted to sign Harry Kane from Tottenham, but CEO Daniel Levy vowed it would not happen under his watch, and the deal fell through. Clearly, Guardiola would want Ronaldo. And quickly, talks had commenced.
But Sir Alex Ferguson, the hugely successful former United manager who signed Ronaldo from Portuguese club Sporting Lisbon, would have none of that. As far as Ronaldo was the player, Ferguson and United would always create room for extra. And if Ronaldo’s remaining option was City, then United would create even more rooms. The United board promptly snapped up Ronaldo from City in a sensational signing that electrified the entire sports industry.
The Ronaldo return has recalibrated Manchester United’s odds of winning a trophy this season. Now their chances are real. Ronaldo has won the Ballon d’Or a record five times. He has won at least 30 club titles in his career. Ronaldo knows how to win, and will exert on the team a pull on the rudiments of winning. While critics dismiss him as old and spent, statistics show Ronaldo still has tens of goals in him. Last season alone, he scored 33 for Juventus!
Ronaldo makes news and history, and it is not for nothing. He is deliberate about his performance and that accounts for his dieting and fitness routines. It was reported recently that his body age is about fourteen years less than his biological age. This explains why he still performs at peak level even when, given his age, he should be in full decline.
All eyes will be on Old Trafford on Saturday, when Manchester United face Newcastle. Fans worldwide will hope that Ronaldo plays. While that is likely, it is not certain he will start. He has been in quarantine since returning from Portugal on international duty to England last Thursday. He just joined his teammates in training on Tuesday. It is not clear he has gained enough fitness to start with the match.
But he will play. And he will score.
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Now that’d be a typical Ronaldo return. With a bang!