As Cristiano Ronaldo strode from the pitch after Real Madrid’s victory over Manchester United in the Champions League on Tuesday he wore a serious face and intentionally showed no emotion as a sign of respect to his former club.
But did he also allow himself to look around at the emptying Old Trafford and contemplate that he might return here to play for United in the very near future?
In the buildup to last night’s game there had been increasing speculation that the Portuguese forward, unsettled by Jose Mourinho’s imminent departure from the Bernabeu and a perceived lack of support from the Real Madrid hierarchy, could soon be reunited with Sir Alex Ferguson.
Less than two weeks ago The Daily Star in Britain felt emboldened enough to run with the story, suggesting United’s new sponsors Chevrolet could help fund Ronaldo’s return.
The story was greeted with a large dose of skepticism in most quarters, but the Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic continues to believe he might play with Ronaldo again.
“I could see it,” Vidic has said. “He is a United supporter and he still follows United, he still misses the club and the environment here, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him come back.”
I am sorry to disappoint Vidic, and most United fans, but I simply can’t see Ronaldo coming back to United. It just doesn’t stack up.
Why would Ronaldo want to leave Real Madrid? This is the club he has wanted to play for his whole life, and since arriving in 2009, the reality has exceeded all his expectations.
Already the sixth highest goal scorer in Madrid’s history, he currently boasts a barely believable record of 186 goals in 185 games, he won La Liga last season, and while they trail Barcelona by 13 points this season, after dispensing with United they now have a very good chance of going all the way in the Champions League. Why would he walk away from all of this?
There is a tendency to romanticise Ronaldo’s six years at Old Trafford. It was best summarised by Oliver Kay in The Times, who said, “It was a rocky marriage, but the sex was great.”
I’m not even sure it was a marriage; United were more like his first proper girlfriend before he found a wife to settle down with.
He was always passing through Old Trafford. It was always a stage for him to display his talent while he waited for Real Madrid. Manchester United was the stepping-stone to get him from Sporting Lisbon to Real Madrid.
And to be fair to Ronaldo he never pretended otherwise, constantly flirting with Madrid, and stating quite openly that at some point in his career he would like to move to the Spanish capital.
Remember in the summer of 2008 with United the champions of both Europe and England he still openly agitated for the move, only for Sir Alex Ferguson to persuade him to stay for one more season.
Ronaldo returning to Old Trafford also supposes that United are able and willing to break the world record transfer fee. They aren’t.
If Ronaldo was worth £80 million in 2009, then 186 goals later and still only 28 his value must have increased to at least £100 million.
And under the current ownership of the Glazer family, this is a fee United would never come anywhere close to paying.
In fact before the transfer window opened last summer, Manchester United’s net spend over the previous five years had been a mere £51.6 million, less than all their rivals at the top of the table, and even Sunderland (£66.7 million) Aston Villa (£68.4 million) and Stoke City (£59.7 million). Yes, you read that right.
And while the purchase of Robin van Persie for £24 million last August was a surprising departure from the parsimony that has characterised the Glazer’s reign, the enormous debt they burdened the club with when they bought them in 2005 still means they just don’t have the ability to buy a player like Cristiano Ronaldo.
So forget those rather fanciful stories, the next time Ronaldo appears at Old Trafford he will still be wearing a Real Madrid shirt.