A player who once dominated for Manchester United as recently as four years ago, Cristiano Ronaldo put the last nail in the English football powerhouse's 2012-13 UEFA Champions League coffin on Tuesday. The Portugal international netted a 69th minute goal in the second leg of the two clubs' Round of 16 clash to send Real Madrid through to the quarterfinals and eliminate the Red Devils.
However, before the bitter 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford, United boss Sir Alex Ferguson had already downplayed talk of a potential move to bring Ronaldo back from Spain to his former club this summer (via Simon Mullock of The Mirror):
There hasn’t been anything to encourage me to think Cristiano would come back here.
As far as I am aware, there is nothing in it at all. Ronaldo has got two years left on his contract and it seems to me it is all part of the negotiations that are going on about a new deal.
Maybe his agent is playing the game.
Circumstances have changed. United may not need Ronaldo to win the Premier League, but if Ferguson's squad is going to win the prestigious UEFA Champions League for a fourth time in club history, it will need the man who scored the Red Devils' only goal in their most recent Champions League final victory in 2008.
Ferguson must become more proactive in the chase for Ronaldo, making Madrid aware of his intentions to bring the Portuguese international back to the grounds where he blossomed into a world-class superstar.
In 2009, a year after leading United to its third European Cup, Ronaldo helped the Red Devils reach the Champions League final again. However, his side would fall to Lionel Messi and Barcelona.
United has made it back to the Champions League final just once since Ronaldo departed for Real Madrid, losing in 2011 again to Barcelona. Although victory was no guarantee with Ronaldo on board, it certainly would have changed things.
Consider this: The Red Devils had gone nearly a decade without winning the European Cup before Ronaldo led them to the promised land in 2008. Now, it seems they are destined to experience another Champions League drought without him.
That is, unless Ferguson and the club's higher-ups take a lesson from their recent loss and make a push this summer.
The 28-year-old Ronaldo is much more than a goal-scoring machine—he's the missing piece to Manchester United's lineup. He's one of the top two players on the planet and is a competitor willing to crush the opponent's spirit, much like he did at Old Trafford in Tuesday's second leg.
With that in mind, United must make acquiring Cristiano Ronaldo a top priority.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.