“I’m really happy here. I just want to win trophies for this club. Manchester is in the past — I’ll be here five more years… everyone knows I was in Manchester for six years but now my club is Real Madrid. This is my home, my family is here and I’m really happy here… my decision, that my only goal, is to be here and to play at this club until, maybe, the end of my career.”
– Cristiano Ronaldo, 15th September 2013.
In between telling me four times in 20 minutes how brilliant their new Hub is and how if I want I can follow Sky Sports on my laptop, tablet, mobile device and Tamagotchi all at the same time, Sky Sports News also mentioned that Cristiano Ronaldo wants to come back to United.
Could it happen? Well, that depends on who you listen to.
Guillem Balague has said that everything is “in place” for a return and that he (Balague) has a “pretty good idea of when he wants to go… it won’t be this month or next month,” (ooh, maybe the month after that Guillem, you big tease?) “but he wants to go back to Manchester United.”
Chief among the shit-stirrers has been former Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon, who told Talksport that Ronaldo was “fed up” with Real’s recent transfer policy of selling all their good players. Arjen Robben, Gonzalo Higuaín and Mesut Ozil were all players who, according to Calderon, Ronaldo wanted to keep playing alongside. Most recently, he was miffed about Angel Di Maria going to United, saying: “I have a very clear opinion but I cannot always say what I think.”
Speculation is just that and most of us are seasoned enough veterans of transfer-tattle bullshit to know when a rumour is rumour. But there’s something about the Ronaldo saga that has begun to gather a little pace. This time two years ago (September is apparently Ronaldo story month) there was the whole “I am sad” episode, where he followed a refusal to celebrate scoring goals with a cryptic, carefully-worded and Jorge Mendes-backed lament. One year later he signed a five-year £76 million contract and talked about staying for the rest of his career.
No-one is naive enough to think that when a player – especially one of Ronaldo’s status – signs a monster contract and says he wants to stay for its duration actually has any intention of definitely staying for the duration. In the modern game contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. But what is becoming increasingly clear is that for some players, perhaps even Ronaldo, working for Real Madrid might not be a whole lot of fun.
So what we have is this:
- The player himself openly questioning his president’s transfer policy almost a year to the day after signing a new contract when he said he might stay for life.
- The former club president, who has an enormous axe to grind with Fiorentino Perez (they can’t even agree on who actually signed Ronaldo) unsettling the player.
- A respected – though not always correct – journalist saying everything is in place (bear in mind Balague strongly implied we’d sign Fabregas back in May).
- Manchester United with a bagful of money and an itchy trigger finger.
Would United fans want him back? Yes, almost certainly. He is a de facto child of the club, a player who named Sir Alex Ferguson as a father figure and remains adored by the vast majority of Manchester United fans, especially the younger generation. He was a hero and one of the most charismatic and thrilling No.7’s in the club’s history alongside Best, Cantona and Beckham.
And yet, no one should be under any illusions: Ronaldo comes with baggage. There was a time, if you remember, when he was angling so hard for a move to Real that he pulled out the ‘sad celebration’ for us, as well. Has he grown up? Well, possibly. We know he loves the club. There isn’t yet much of a balance in the squad for him to upset, so if he was to sensationally arrive in January or next summer he’d probably fit in will.
Do we need him? Any team needs him. But anyone who thinks that he would return to Manchester and suddenly, lastingly, be transformed into the happiest man on the planet with zero chances of controversy whatsoever is guilty of wishful thinking. That is not how Ronaldo operates. His latest complaint against Real is more about club policy than ego, certainly. But it seems to me unlikely that a Ronaldo return, as wonderful as it might be, would be free from problems.
Just to be clear – I’d love to have Cristiano back at the club. The reality is that we can afford him and he’d make us a better team, even if we are suddenly front-loaded with attacking options. Imagine him, Di Maria and Falcao leading the line, for goodness’ sake, if that would even work. But if it does happen – and that’s an ‘if’ that could slay a herd of buffalo – he’s not coming back to retire, he’s coming back to be The Man, something that will bring its own set of new challenges.