Shortly after Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United, the club lost the title to Manchester City on goal difference.
It’s fair to say that won’t happen this season. No team with Ronaldo in it goes down on goal difference. They don’t always win the League – Juventus didn’t last season – but they don’t fall short for lack of firepower. Ronaldo takes care of that.
Where does he fit in at Manchester United? Who knows now, and who cares? Maybe not even Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United is a game changer for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
This deal escalated extremely quickly and solves a problem United probably didn’t even know they had when the week started. If Ronaldo wasn’t on the cusp of signing for their rivals on the other side of Manchester, who can say if United would have sprung into action as they did.
They tried not to compete with Paris Saint-Germain for Lionel Messi earlier this month. But someone knew how bad it would be for Ronaldo to return to Old Trafford in blue; and someone else sensed the potential in a player who, even in his twilight years in Italian football, still scored 101 goals in 134 games.
So Ronaldo is here and in many ways his role at Manchester United has echoes of an old Christmas joke.
‘Q: Where is a 250 kg gorilla? A: Anywhere.’
Ronaldo in this metaphor is the 250 kg gorilla. He plays where he thinks he will be most effective – because where Ronaldo is happiest is where the goals come from.
He was a wide player who turned himself into a centre-forward, made more headers – he was always good for a pair, watch an absolute beauty against Roma with Manchester United in the Champions League – and poaching around the penalty area.
Ronaldo returns to England to prove he can still be the Premier League’s star player
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will make sure he doesn’t end up on the wrong side of Ronaldo
Solskjaer is an old team-mate, they were in the same Manchester United team for four years. He is not so arrogant, or so foolish, not to get Ronaldo by his side and operate in his best position. Even at 36 years old, Ronaldo with a point to prove is an asset to any club.
And he will return to English football to prove that he can still be the Premier League alpha man. Zlatan Ibhrahimovic arrived with the same attitude and had a huge impact. Ronaldo is better.
You must really love it. The confidence, the confidence, the courage. Without wanting to take sides, Messi didn’t really gamble too much, leaving Barcelona for the one and only super club in France.
Paris Saint-Germain is up against some good teams, but they are all sellers, even at their peak. Lille won the title against all odds last season and has spent the summer cashing in on that success. Monaco did the same.
It is a quest to bring the Champions League to Paris, but Messi is not exactly making an effort in PSG’s domestic program. They probably have this, with or without him.
The challenge for Ronaldo is very different. He goes to a club that last won the League in 2013; taking on the best Liverpool team of the Premier League era; the reigning European champions in Chelsea; the best Manchester City team since Sheikh Mansour transformed the club.
Bruno Fernandes will enjoy playing with his compatriot and creating opportunities for him
Ronaldo will be determined to help United achieve success as he did in his first stint
He will face Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah and Romelu Lukaku as match winners; he tries to elevate Solskjaer in the company of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel. This all falls on Ronaldo’s shoulders.
Indeed, that’s how he wants it. He wants it to be about him; he wants to be the difference. Some hate him for it, but it’s what makes him such a special, unique player.
We missed him in the Premier League. He missed the 438 goals he scored in 450 appearances for Real Madrid in its prime. Missed the way he defines matches, missed the way his presence elevates what is possible or achievable. And it should.
What will the players who are already at Manchester United think of this unexpected addition? The wise will love it. Anthony Martial could be pushed or sold further up the pecking order, but it can’t be argued that he didn’t have his chance.
Edinson Cavani can’t blame the arrival of a new, super fit and experienced world-class attacker to share the burden. Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba now have the perfect finisher to complete their passes.
As for Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford, if they can’t learn from the same field, the same gym, the same training ground, even the same dinner table as Ronaldo, maybe football isn’t for them.
Ronaldo’s signing could push Anthony Martial further up the pecking order at United
Patrice Evra tells the story of an invitation to lunch with Ronaldo. He got grilled chicken breast and salad – and not much of either – plus water.
“Not even juice,” Evra complained. When the meal was ready, Ronaldo suggested we go out into the garden for a couple of two touches. That’s when the penny dropped. It was extra training, not a social occasion.
No wonder Sir Alex Ferguson played a key role in convincing Ronaldo to return. He saw firsthand the impact of Eric Cantona’s personality and professionalism on a generation of young United players. Greenwood is 19. Where would he be if he takes on Ronaldo’s influence?
Football aside, United will see this as a confirmation of the club as the natural destination for tent talent.
That has always been Ed Woodward’s philosophy that United should lead the way in recruiting the biggest names, and this deal is likely to be his last hurrah before he leaves his role as chief executive. If it delivers the title, he will feel very justified. Not least because he will believe Ronaldo would have had a similar impact at Manchester City.
Legendary ex-United boss Sir Alex Ferguson is fully aware of the impact Ronaldo could have on the other players at the club
This isn’t the first time United have stolen a march on City in the market, of course, and other wins haven’t always aged well.
Roberto Mancini blamed the failure to secure Robin van Persie for the title returning to Old Trafford eight years ago, but since then United’s recruiting moves have often backfired. City were in for Fred in 2018 but were outbid and spent, and the same happened when Alexis Sánchez left Arsenal.
Some may think Ronaldo is another bullet dodged; that United bought a player at the wrong end of his career, with diva qualities and a waning impact.
His last three seasons with Real Madrid have been good for 51, 42 and 44 goals, and his three with Juventus are 28, 37 and 36.
Ed Woodward will feel justified in his approach if Ronaldo helps United to the title
Still, City is said to have paid £120m for Kane, and his last three seasons with Tottenham have come to 24, 24 and 33. This is the toughest league. If Ronaldo delivers anything close to his Italian numbers, it would still make him the most prolific goalscorer in English football.
He will arrive fit – he is always fit – and ready to make his debut in Newcastle on September 11 after the international break. It’s impossible not to get excited about this. It is impossible not to suspect that this is also a groundbreaking intervention by Manchester United.
It is a 250 kg gorilla of a signature. With Ronaldo around, we’re about to find out who the big beasts really are.