Once news emerged Cristiano Ronaldo wanted to leave Real Madrid it was only a matter of time until he was linked with a romantic return to Manchester United.
It was with the Red Devils that the Portuguese blossomed into one of the best players to have ever played the game. He arrived at Old Trafford in 2003 a scrawny and inconsistent winger but left in 2009 as a powerful and clinical goalscorer.
Eight years on and Ronaldo has broken all sorts of scoring records at Real Madrid. However, at 32, and no matter how hard he works to remain a physical specimen, the Los Blancos’ star’s powers will start to wane.
So should United be interested in a move for one of their favourite sons? And, conversely, would a return to the club suit Ronaldo? Our friends at Football Whispers tackle both of those questions.
The bond between United and Ronaldo has seemingly grown since his departure. Maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
“Manchester was my home and still is in my heart,” he said in 2013. “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.”
Clearly he retains affection for not only Manchester United but also the city itself. But in a business as ruthless as football, mutual admiration and respect only goes so far.
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And, given Ronaldo will reportedly cost £131million, the fact he and United remain loved up will count for little when it comes to the crunch.
For United the crux of the issue is simple: would Ronaldo justify his price tag? The answer is undoubtedly yes, but not just for what he’d offer on the pitch.
Re-signing the Portuguese superstar would be one of the smartest commercial decisions United could make.
He is the world’s most marketable footballer, with his own brand – CR7 – growing constantly across the globe. Combining that with United, who have 65 official commercial partners, would be lucrative for both club and player.
Shirt sales alone would pay off a chunk of Ronaldo transfer fee and that’s before considering merchandise, advertisements or any number of other revenue streams the club could wish to exploit.
United were confident of making at least £40m in the first year after re-signing Paul Pogba last summer. Bringing Ronaldo ‘home’ would inevitably eclipse that figure by some distance.
On the pitch the Madeira-born forward’s impact would, in all probability, be instantaneous. Unlike Alvaro Morata, another Manchester United transfer target, he knows full well what to expect in the Premier League. There would be no surprises.
Ronaldo would fill the hole left by Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Over the last two years the Portugal star has evolved into a clinical penalty box goalscorer. The tricks and breathtaking dribbles are still there, but they’ve been largely replaced by a dogged and almost single-minded desire to score goals.
Ronaldo could lead the United attack – just as he did in his final game for the club, the 2009 Champions League final – with the likes of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata there to supplement him.
However, that is all based on Ronaldo wanting to return to United. Reports in the national media suggest that is the case, and he has supposedly told his agent, Jorge Mendes, to do everything possible to make the move happen.
But that may just be brinksmanship given Ronaldo has same said several times he wants to end his career with Real. He has even tried to quit Real twice in the past, only for Los Blancos to give him a bumper new contract each time.
He would also, as much as it may pain United fans to admit, be taking a step back. The club simply isn’t the same winning machine it was when he left.
Since Sir Alex Ferguson, the man Ronaldo still calls “boss” whenever they meet, departed Old Trafford in 2013 the Red Devils haven’t come close to clinching the Premier League title and have only qualified for the Champions League twice.
Real have, meanwhile, won European football’s biggest prize in three of the last four years and this season added the La Liga title to their long list of achievements.
Ronaldo is almost guaranteed winners’ medals in the latter stages of his career if he stays at Los Blancos. The same can’t be said if he returned to United.
His inevitable decline – age waits for no man after all – may also be accelerated if he was to return to Old Trafford.
Ronaldo was carefully managed by Zinedine Zidane during the second half of last season. He was left out for four consecutive La Liga matches from the start of April to mid-May solely to ensure he would be fit and fresh for the Champions League latter stages.
It worked a treat with Ronaldo scoring five goals over two quarter-final legs against Bayern Munich, a first-leg hat-trick in the semis against Atletico Madrid and then a brace in the final against Juventus.
Would he have the same treatment at United? Probably not. Jose Mourinho didn’t cut Ibrahimovic any slack and he is three years Ronaldo’s senior. And with a world record fee to justify, you doubt the club’s hierarchy would be entirely comfortably if Ronaldo was to be left at home for Tuesday night trip to Huddersfield Town, for instance.
But that is, of course, assuming a deal can be struck and that Ronaldo is really willing to return.
And until the club confirm the transfer, perhaps with the help of a famous rapper and the hashtag #RONALDORETURNS, it is going to be a summer where Ronaldo’s name dominates the headlines. And that’s exactly what he loves.