A lot can change in 24 hours. Just ask Jack Bauer.
Or Cristiano Ronaldo. On Thursday, it looked like he was ready to break the hearts of the faithful United fans who still sing his name and join Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. In doing so, he would be the eighth player to suit up for both United and City — and the third player from that vaunted 2007-2008 Champions League winning team to do so.
But then the United Network kicked in. Sir Alex Ferguson spoke to the player he’s long had a fatherly affection for and tried to get him to come home, something he thought he had accomplished in 2013 as his last act before retirement. Former teammates weighed in, with Rio Ferdinand calling to try and talk him out of joining City, Patrice Evra keeping tabs via WhatsApp and Wayne Rooney sending a message through the media. Even Bruno Fernandes reached out to his fellow Portuguese international and Sporting Lisbon alum to try and change his mind and sell him on an unlikely homecoming.
On Friday, United agreed to bring back their prodigal son, sending €15 million (with €8 million in add-ons) to Juventus. According to reports, once Ronaldo knew United were interested, he spurned City. Whether that’s genuinely true or a shrewd move to try and make United fans forget that he nearly joined City is anyone’s guess.
Not that United fans will care too much. Judging by the reaction online and at the stock market, United fans are overjoyed at seeing one of the club’s greatest ever players come home. For once, the Glazers were praised for acting quickly and decisively, as they seemingly understood the dual psychological impact of bringing back a beloved club icon and keeping him from going to their crosstown rivals. Heck, I was thrilled when it became official yesterday afternoon (with an announcement that crashed United’s website). Watching Ronaldo during that 2007-2008 season was one of the highlights of my time following this club and I don’t know if we’ve had a player that good since.
To be fair, this Ronaldo is hardly the same player as the one that last wore the United shirt 12 years ago. No longer the pacy, tricky winger who could beat players off the dribble and either score or set up a teammate, Ronaldo has evolved into a pure forward, a target man who uses his physicality, intelligence and skill to find space in the attacking third and finish off attacks. Young Ronaldo didn’t necessarily need great service, since he could create goals on his own. Ronaldo 2.0, however, is more reliant on his playmakers. Luckily, he’ll have Fernandes, Paul Pogba (who has 5 assists in two matches) and Jadon Sancho.
Obviously, the big question is whether Ronaldo actually makes United title contenders. He does not address the team’s biggest hole: defensive midfield. Additionally, while he averaged better than a goal-a-game at Real Madrid and a goal nearly once every 1.3 matches at Juve, those leagues are both slower and less physically demanding than the Premiership. Can he make the adjustment, especially as a 36 year-old? Finally, putting someone with his outsized reputation and ego on any team can be destabilizing. What happens the first time he and Bruno disagree over who takes a free kick or penalty? Or if he takes playing time from Edinson Cavani or Mason Greenwood (or Anthony Martial, but United fans will probably be okay with that)? And while he respected and got on well with Ole Gunnar Solskjær the player, will it be the same with Ole Gunnar Solskjær the manager?
Those are all questions that will be answered in due time, and will likely go a long way in deciding whether this United team finally breaks the trophy drought. In the meantime, let’s just enjoy seeing our favorite son finally come home. Either way, it’ll be interesting.