On the back of scoring another two goals in a Champions League final, this time in Real Madrid’s 4-1 win over Juventus two weeks ago, reports suggest that Cristiano Ronaldo is ready to leave the Spanish giants.
Having been accused of tax evasion, Ronaldo reportedly is upset with how he’s being treated in Spain, believing the authorities are keen to make an example of him, so he is looking for a move away from La Liga.
The 32-year-old has won it all in Madrid, both individually and for his club, so he’s unlikely to feel there is any unfinished business.
He’s also been made to feel unappreciated at the Bernabeu; there have regularly been phases when he is jeered and whistled by Real Madrid’s fans. And it’s difficult to work out why. With 406 goals in 394 appearances, those supporters are unlikely to witness a more successful player wearing their shirt ever again, yet no patience is shown when he goes through drier spells.
It’s no surprise that Ronaldo has immediately been linked with a return to former side Manchester United given how fondly he talks about the club.
Ronaldo was genuinely happy at United, but after winning it all, he decided the time was right to fulfil his life’s ambition of playing for Real Madrid. Yet only a few weeks ago he lamented that fans of his current club don’t match up to the fans at his former club.
You would imagine that if Ronaldo were determined to leave Real Madrid, he would be open to returning to United. His ego would be massaged, as fans still sing his name on occasion despite his departure eight years ago.
Ramon Calderon, the Real Madrid president at the time Ronaldo joined them, has claimed that United is the club in the player’s heart.
Still, this wouldn’t be a decision based on sentiment alone, as United’s Europa League win means Ronaldo would also be able to continue playing in the Champions League, with the aim of adding to the 105 goals he already has in the competition.
He would also be reunited with Jose Mourinho, whose managerial stint at Real Madrid arguably saw Ronaldo’s best seasons. It was during this period that Ronaldo won his only Spanish league title until this past campaign, with Mourinho’s side usurping Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona.
However, their relationship was strained toward the end, with the pair publicly falling out during the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey. Mourinho has spoken highly of Ronaldo since then, claiming that coaching him was the highlight of his career, but there may be some underlying friction remaining.
It’s also difficult to gauge how the other players might react to the signing. They might be over the moon, knowing that signing a player of Ronaldo’s quality will boost their chances of winning further silverware, but he would without doubt become the focal point of the team. It could become the Ronaldo show, which star Paul Pogba and any other key signings this summer may not appreciate.
United would be keen to get value for money, and while the £80 million Real Madid paid for Ronaldo is arguably one of the biggest bargains in football transfer history, United won’t get out of the player now what the Spanish club did and would be looking to pay less than that.
United would also have little opportunity to recoup any of the expenditure a few years from now. Ronaldo will turn 33 next season, so while he’s still capable of doing incredible things, scoring 42 goals in 46 games this past season, he has started to slow down. In fact, this was the first time he didn’t score more than a goal per game since 2009-10, his debut season in Madrid.
Real Madrid would want to appear strong in this transfer deal, so they would likely demand keeper David De Gea as part of the agreement. If De Gea is determined to leave this summer — and it’s probable he’ll go next season anyway — then maybe allowing him to leave is worth it if it means bringing in a player of Ronaldo’s quality.
However, if United can keep hold of De Gea for the next few seasons, it’s hard to justify his transfer to bring in a player whose best years are behind him. When you consider how few world-class goalkeepers are available, it would be a huge blow to lose him.
Yet if there was a way to keep De Gea and still sign Ronaldo, United should make it happen. A player of Ronaldo’s ability, work ethic and experience would be a huge bonus in a season when United are aiming to challenge for the Premier League title again.
For all the drawbacks, there’s no denying that the move would suit the club, with United keen to sign a world-class player after losing out on Antoine Griezmann following Atletico Madrid’s transfer ban. United is the most valuable football club in the world, recently leapfrogging Real Madrid and Barcelona, and have the money to spend. Without the wages of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and, likely, Wayne Rooney to fork out, the cash is available for Ronaldo’s salary.
However, this potential transfer has led to excitement among United fans every summer for the past five years. “Get him on a plane, bring him back from Spain” — this chant has been sung in the past, altering the original words to his song, when belief that he would return felt like a strong possibility.
On this occasion, it may be more likely than ever before, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the right move. Football fans often think with their hearts rather than their heads. United fans will be happy to ignore all the reasons why this move is a bad idea, until Ronaldo claims he’s staying put or pushes for a move to Paris Saint-Germain.
But until then, the fan base will romanticise the idea of a Ronaldo return and daydream about twirling their scarves above their heads and singing his song once more after he bangs the goals in for their team. They certainly could do worse than bringing him back to Old Trafford.
Scott is one of ESPN FC’s Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.