Even by Manchester United’s standards, has there ever been a transfer sequence quite like this one? Indeed, a case can be made the summer window of 2021 will go down in the annals as the most extraordinary ever.
Having finally secured the long-awaited signing of Jason Sancho, Raphael Varane’s signing was met with even more excitement – here, indeed, was a genuine, world class 24-carat talent, a serial winner with proven experience at the top level and a man to offer an instant upgrade to any defence in world football.
We thought that was it — our signings done and dusted, on with the season with no hint the drama was only just beginning. Even 24 hours ago, all was peaceful and tranquil in the Old Trafford garden.
But then came the bombshell, the mother of all transfers in a summer window for the ages. If you thought Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona – something none of us ever thought we’d see – was seismic, how very Manchester United to upstage even the greatest player of all time. What would the odds have been on Messi’s move to PSG becoming merely the second biggest transfer drama of the summer?
But then, Cristiano Ronaldo has made a career out of doing just that. Whatever Messi does, this champion – this remarkable, stellar, once in a lifetime player – has to do it better. Coupled with Manchester United’s penchant for the spectacular and the unexpected, and you have a match simply made in heaven. Two men, surely the pair of them the best players we will ever see, both moving to new clubs in the same season, in the same transfer window? No one, not even Mystic Meg, could have predicted this. If she had, you’d tell her to lay off the sauce and go for a lie down. These two have defined a generation, exalted above all others as the finest exponents of the Beautiful Game the world, and we, will ever witness. Their legacy and greatness will live on long after they have ridden off into the sunset.
For the past 12 years, we have all dreamed of this moment. But for so long, it has seemingly been only just that – a dream. Never did we think our shut eye fantasy would become a reality. The notion of Cristiano Ronaldo coming back to Old Trafford was like the ex you never really get over – you spend long hours pining, wondering, cherishing the memories, all the while thinking “maybe, just maybe, have we still got a chance together.” You always hoped, somewhere deep inside, but never believed it would actually happen. Until this moment – Friday 27 August 2021. Almost twenty years on from when the braided, teenage tyro stepped through the door as a relative unknown from a small club in his native Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo has come home.
We watched ‘Ronnie’ with immense pride at Real Madrid – a player who arrived at United as a flashy show pony with the irritating hairstyle and the earrings earned legendary status. We didn’t mind him going – to play for the Spanish giants was his dream, and who were we to stop him? When he went to Juve now in his 30s, you felt United’s moment to bring him back to the place where it all began – the hallowed turf of Old Trafford – had gone.
It’s at this point we should perhaps say thank you, Manchester City. Without your interest, none of this may have ever happened. It wasn’t until the mob in sky blue made their move the wheels were set in motion. From death threats, accusations of betrayal, burning shirts and effigies, disloyalty and being derided as a fallen icon, even the thought of a man we still serenade from the terraces joining ‘them’ was unthinkable. As soon as City made their move, in came United and a phone call from one ‘goat’ to another, Sir Alex Ferguson (the man Cristiano still to this day regards as a father figure), sealed the most remarkable of deals. If a week is a long time in politics, then 24 hours is an eternity in football. No club can put you through the entire gamut of emotions or pull at the heartstrings quite like Manchester United. This club, man.
In a parallel universe, Ronaldo and Messi may have been lining up in sky blue on the opposite of town as the latest components in Pep Guardiola’s oil-driven juggernaut. Let’s just thank our lucky stars it never happened.
Never mind the fact we can debate if Ronaldo is actually “what we need” or the fact he’s 36 and in the twilight of his glittering career. When a player like this becomes available, you’d be mad not to try and get him and the act City just got absolutely finger blasted in public merely adds the icing on top of a delicious cake.
Even at 36 and ageing, Ronaldo is still unrivalled at the top of the game as his status as joint top scorer in the Euros attest. He’s a guarantee of 25+goals a season, brings experience, a champion’s mentality and an aura around him even if he’s still – unsurprisingly – not the player he was first time round.
So what next in this madcap summer? Ronaldo’s come back home, Messi has left for pastures new and Real Madrid have lost both Varane and Sergio Ramos but acquired Kylian Mbappe. As the man who even in retirement still holds the key to the modern day Manchester United once said: “Football eh, bloody hell.”