Cristiano Ronaldo returns to a very different Manchester United still bettering the rest

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·4-min read
Cristiano Ronaldo returns to a very different Manchester United still bettering the rest
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Cristiano Ronaldo was only in the country for a matter of days and there was already a climate change.

Pictures of him relaxing in the gardens of his seven-bedroom Cheshire mansion looked more like the Algarve than the north west of England.

“Who says there’s no sun in Manchester?” he posted to his 340million followers on Instagram.

Where this man is concerned, anything seems possible - apart from his second coming at Manchester United being made available to television audiences in the UK that is.

United versus Newcastle at Old Trafford tomorrow is the hottest ticket in town.

Fans have paid upwards of £1000 — more than the cost of a season ticket — just to drink in the occasion.

Had events turned out differently the King Power Stadium would have been the subject of the clamour for seats — though, again, Ronaldo’s return would have been blacked out on these shores, with Leicester versus Manchester City also a Saturday 3pm kick-off.

Ronaldo genuinely believed the blue half of Manchester would be the setting for the final years of his incredible career — even if there were misgivings from parties on either side of the deal.

For the 36-year-old there was the concern about destroying his reputation at United — but his desire to leave Juventus overrode those fears.

As for City, Pep Guardiola was uncertain as to how the five-time Ballon d’Or winner would fit into his team. He had not been the driving force of the Premier League champions’ late approach, having been so certain earlier in the summer that Harry Kane would be leading his attack this season.

Sporting director Txiki Begiristain led negotiations, but the feeling was that super agent Jorge Mendes was the one most satisfied with securing surely the last major move of his most celebrated client’s career.

Guardiola, for instance, did not believe he could accommodate both Ronaldo and Raheem Sterling in the same squad — presumably for reasons beyond the No7 shirt Sterling currently occupies. Some believed it was evidence of the City manager’s coolness towards the move.

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Ronaldo, meanwhile, has long-harboured interest in another spell at United, with his affection for them becoming patently clear to City during talks.

Still, he began the summer with his eye on a move to Paris Saint-Germain — and is said to have been somewhat miffed to see his great rival Lionel Messi head to the Parc des Princes instead.

That he secured a fairy-tale return to United — who had shown no interest in signing him this window — is another example of this remarkable man’s enduring ability to write his own script.

So will he enjoy the Hollywood ending of returning United to their former glories after eight years of pain post-Sir Alex Ferguson?

Even he cannot know that – but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side look significantly better-equipped to mount a title challenge with Ronaldo at the point of their attack.

Cristiano Ronaldo during a previous encounter with Newcastle in a Manchester United shirt (Manchester United via Getty Imag)
Cristiano Ronaldo during a previous encounter with Newcastle in a Manchester United shirt (Manchester United via Getty Imag)

He is the world-class centre-forward they have lacked since Robin van Persie’s departure in 2015.

He is only 18 months younger than the retired Dutchman – who was another target pinched from under the noses of City and whose goals delivered United’s last title.

He may be approaching his late 30s, but if history has told us anything, it is the folly of doubting this particular footballer.

He is undoubtedly past his best — but is still bettering the rest, no matter the apparent determination to rewrite his time at Juventus following his exit.

A popular theory is that two Serie A titles in three seasons and 81 goals in 98 league games was somehow a failure. How United would like a taste of that action.

At the Euros in the summer, he was the joint leading scorer. Since then he has become the all-time top scorer in international football.

This is not about harking to the past — this is the present.

Ronaldo is not winding down his career — no matter what the date of birth says on his passport. He is setting standards that may never be beaten.

He has also set himself a significantly greater challenge than that of Messi in trying to inspire United to the title, rather than PSG.

City, too, would have been the easier option. Instead he is set on waking a drowsy, if not sleeping, giant.

United are a very different prospect to the one he left behind.

If he can return them to what they once were, his final act may well be considered his greatest yet.

And the sun truly will shine over Old Trafford once more.

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