Imagine, if you will, what it must be like to be Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro.
You’re one of the most recognisable people on the planet. You make more money in one minute than most do in a week, playing for one of the world’s biggest football clubs. You have the funds and the means to do almost anything you like. If you were feeling a little pang of nostalgia for your life in the North West of England and fancied a bowl of Weetos for breakfast in your Madrid mansion, you could probably get some shipped over for the following morning. Hell, you already employ several people who wouldn’t rest until such every single one of your unreasonable and merest whims are catered for. Maybe it’s worth employing that grape-peeler you’ve been thinking about…
What a world that must be, living out your dream of playing for the club you loved as a boy with your imaginatively named son (Cristiano Ronaldo Jr. of course) in tow. Not only that but you finally helped that same club fulfil an obsession that had plagued them for 12 years in winning their elusive 10th European Cup. La Decima has been completed. What a time to be alive, eh?
Wrong. Insert the incorrect ‘EH-EH’ klaxon from Family Fortunes here. Pop that £200 back where you got it and move your counter back to jail in an anti-clockwise fashion.
To be fair, one would think that having forced a move through to Real Madrid in 2009 (after a very public courtship that he himself kicked off twelve months previously) that Ronaldo wouldn’t be considering a return to the club that he insisted were treating him like a ‘slave’. But here we are, surrounded by mutterings, knowing glances and an unsettlingly plausible sense that the man United sold for £80m could, in fact, want a return to Old Trafford.
It’s a fascinating situation.
All the talk has been that the actions of Madrid’s president Florentino Perez, most recently forcing Angel Di Maria out of the front door with the signing of Monaco’s James Rodriguez, have made Ronaldo increasingly disillusioned with life in the Spanish capital. Arjen Robben, Gonzalo Higuain, Mesut Ozil and now Di Maria. Apparently, Real just keep selling all of his mates and he’s had enough of it.
Nevermind the fact almost exactly a year ago he was signing a brand new five-year contract that made him the highest paid footballer on the planet after he’d openly admitted his ‘sadness’ with life at Real (which it’s safe to assume was at least partly down to earning less than Lionel Messi). Let us conveniently ignore the fact that selling players whose faces stopped fitting and replacing them with flashier models has been part of the fabric of Real Madrid for years because that just clouds the issue with facts. Point being, Ronaldo isn’t happy and he apparently quite fancies the idea of moving back to the club that made him a household name.
Take everything with a slight pinch of salt at this point.
Ramon Calderon was happy to offer his own take on the current state of play to talkSPORT (he thinks Ronaldo is unhappy too) but the former Real president wouldn’t dream of passing up an opportunity to stick the boot into his successor. Jorge Mendes, the player’s agent, hasn’t a shred of love to spare for Perez either, so rumours circulating of Real’s star player wanting out will suit him down to the ground.
Essentially, the talk of discontent appears to be genuine and given that Ronaldo was given his last pay rise last September, perhaps, at least on this occasion, he isn’t angling for an improved deal.
From Ronaldo’s perspective, he could do worse than move back to the North West.
United treated him like royalty and he was made to feel part of the family, something David Beckham pointed out was missing during his time at Madrid. Any deal to bring him back would surely offer a pay rise and it’s fair to assume that he’d appreciate playing for, shall we say, less prickly fans at United.
Having helped Real win that 10th European Cup, the suggestion that he has accomplished all he wanted to at the club isn’t far-fetched and perhaps, with his 30s coming into view, a few affection-filled years at Old Trafford where he can surely make a vital contribution to United’s re-stabilising programme would be quite appealing. Still, someone should probably tell him that Cheshire or Manchester haven’t suddenly warmed up or indeed dried up much in the last five years. Could be a dealbreaker.
Should United even want Ronaldo back? Not just in a footballing sense but on a personal level?
All of this doesn’t actually delve into the most important aspect of this whole story. Quite frankly, sod how Ronaldo feels for a second – should United even want him back? Not just in a footballing sense but on a personal level?
Well, as far as the former goes, given that he remains one of the world’s best players (if not, then the best) and is unlikely to suffer a tremendous drop in ability once his 20s die out, then yes, buying Ronaldo would be quite a decent idea. He’s already proven his worth in the Premier League, his scoring record in La Liga is unfathomably wonderful and, even if the stories of injuries finally taking their toll on his Herculean frame are true, he could still offer more up front with one foot than some could with two.
The real question is whether or not United feel like another go on the Ronaldo Merry-go-round.
He did some spectacular things at the club and his 42 goals in the 07/08 campaign were an intrinsic part of United’s second greatest campaign, at least in modern memory. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s an impetuous attention-seeker that throws more strops than my two-year old.
There’s an incredible vanity there, with that topless celebration in last season’s all-Madrid Champions League final a particular highlight. He was happy to show off his chiselled torso for the world to see after scoring a penalty with the match already won and it was a fantastic symbol of Ronaldo’s desire to grab headlines and attention. Gareth Bale and Angel Di Maria had already upstaged him that night in Lisbon, but he seemed desperate to have the last word.
This isn’t anything new.
Having agreed to stay at United for one more season in 2008, Ronaldo spent the early part of his final year at the club trudging his way through goal celebrations with a look that suggested that he would rather have been anywhere else. Frequently, Ronaldo makes things all about him and whilst his talent and abilities offer him plenty of leeway and patience, it would feel strange to stage a homecoming for a man who tests the notion that no player is bigger than the club.
Of course, United clearly would take him back in a heartbeat. He’s good for business, on and off the pitch, and he’d be another superstar signing to massage executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward’s ego. The signings of Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao must have made Ronaldo sit up and take notice and given Woodward’s relationship with Mendes, striking up a deal instantly becomes a simpler ordeal. Of course, the question then becomes that if the club can entice the game’s biggest players, then why go backwards and buy the one that wanted to leave in the first place?
It’s easy to get bogged down in hypothetical situations. He’d improve United, no doubt about it, so if we consider the deal on that level, it’s a no-brainer. But this last year has seen the club start to spend money in a manner that has been missing for a number of years on players like Juan Mata, who has treated the club with an endearing reverence that Ronaldo all-too frequently side-stepped.
Most fans would welcome him back whilst others would rather the club kept their distance than get sucked into his world again. At present, it’s hard to disagree with either, because the sense is that if United were to pull of such a deal within the next year, then they would be buying into another two years of potentially magical football whilst massaging an incredibly over-sized ego.
Plus, for the first time in a long while, it seems as though at present United will not be overly dependent on one single forward to provide moments of inspiration, given the wide variety of talent brought in since Louis van Gaal’s arrival. Both Ronaldo and the club’s captain have been placated to high heaven during their time at the club despite some particularly shoddy behaviour, and maybe, just maybe it’s time for that to stop.
But hey, if Ronaldo re-joins and helps to push United back to the top of the continental pile, few will put their dislike of United’s former No.7 before their joy. If he truly wants to return, then it’ll happen but after Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure and David Moyes’ car crash of a season in charge, perhaps it’d be best for the club and its current manager to keep moving forward without looking back, no matter how tempting it may be.