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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Explained: Here’s how Cristiano Ronaldo’s whirlwind transfer to Manchester United played out

Manchester United swooped in to sign Ronaldo on Friday. Reportedly it was a call from Sir Alex Ferguson that changed the mind of the player who won the first of his five Ballon d'Ors at Old Trafford.

Written by Shashank Nair | New Delhi |
Updated: September 2, 2021 12:19:08 pm
Ronaldo, Christiano Ronaldo, Ronaldo returns, Ronaldo Manchester United, Ronaldo shirt number, Ronaldo man utd, Indian ExpressCristiano Ronaldo (File photo)

The final swansong of Cristiano Ronaldo will take place in Manchester – a statement that wouldn’t have surprised most, until one heard which half he was planning on going to.

Manchester United swooped in to sign Ronaldo on Friday. Reportedly it was a call from Sir Alex Ferguson that changed the mind of the player who won the first of his five Ballon d’Ors at Old Trafford.

While the rumours had started weeks ago, Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri confirmed on Thursday that Ronaldo had asked to leave the club immediately. Leading European publications had confirmed that the Ronaldo to Manchester City gossip was well on its way to being true. Until news of the same triggered Manchester United’s interest and resulted in a whirlwind transfer day.

Why is Ronaldo leaving Juventus?

The separation is mutual. With one year remaining on his contract, Ronaldo is looking for his next big deal – a deal that could be one of the last he gets to make as a commodity in the transfer market worth investing in. Just a week ago, Ronaldo had put out a long post on his Instagram asking for people to respect his situation. The post was in response to stories that alleged that Real Madrid didn’t consider resigning their greatest goalscorer.

For Juventus, it is getting rid of a superstar they were never really geared to fully accommodate. Jose Mourinho, who worked with his countryman at Real Madrid said that Juventus had bought a nuclear bomb that they had no idea how to use.

How does Manchester City figure into the conversation?

The last week had seen multiple clubs’ names thrown into the Ronaldo sweepstakes. But the loudest noise had emanated out of Manchester City. A failed pursuit for Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane meant that Pep Guardiola was looking to begin this season sans the leading frontman he has desired. Jack Grealish’s signing has not done anything to solve City’s weakest area.

And while prospects like Erling-Braut Haaland weren’t available this season, one could see City’s logic in taking Ronaldo away from Juventus. The English club reached the Champions League final last season and an instant impact player like Ronaldo could change everything for the better, while giving the club a whole year to bring the next great striker available on the market.

How did Manchester United swoop in for Ronaldo?

According to reports in various media outlets, it reportedly took a combination of calls and messages from Sir Alex Ferguson, Bruno Fernandes and ex-Manchester United players to convince Ronaldo to return to United. Once that happened, it was only a matter of time before the Portuguese captain made up his mind to return to Old Trafford.

There is no doubt that if the signing goes through, it will be because Manchester United made an emotional decision to bring back a player with a sizable legacy at the club. But does the decision help on the football side of matters?

Ronaldo, Christiano Ronaldo, Ronaldo returns, Ronaldo Manchester United, Ronaldo shirt number, Ronaldo man utd, Indian Express In this March 17, 2007, file photo, Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo smiles during a English Premier League soccer match at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England. (AP Photo/Jon Super, File)

The good and the bad of Ronaldo to United

At 36, Ronaldo is no longer as fearsome as he used to be in his prime at Real Madrid. His career has transitioned from a left winger to a left-sided striker through the years. At Manchester United, he will most likely displace Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial as the first-choice striker immediately.

His return will also herald a change in the way United operate on the pitch. Rather than a team that likes to zip at opposition players with the ball, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is likely to transition his side to provide for Ronaldo. Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes suddenly have one of the greatest goalscorers in the history of football to ping balls to. Their assist numbers are likely to go up, although Fernandes will see fewer goals this season because of Ronaldo taking up freekick and penalty duties.

United’s pressing game at the top will also change. Ronaldo has never truly embraced pressing opposition players and to expect a change in that regard at this point of his career, would be foolhardy. The question will be whether he can score enough to justify the lack of hassling opposition defenders on the ball.

How does this impact next year’s striker sweepstakes?

If Real Madrid are unable to sign Kylian Mbappe this year, he becomes a free agent in 2022. Haaland will look to move from Borussia Dortmund as well with a host of clubs chasing the Norwegian’s signature. Harry Kane may have failed to engineer a transfer this season, but next year could see another attempt at moving on from Tottenham for the England captain.

By signing Ronaldo to a presumably monster contract, United may have relinquished the opportunity to sign a once-in-a-lifetime striking option next year. The decision to sign the club legend is based on his popularity with the fan base as well as his dalliance with City. Take those two reasons away, and United might have been better served to look at the future rather than take a punt on the past.

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