Former Manchester United assistant manager Mike Phelan has hinted the club might have signed Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo this summer, had Sir Alex Ferguson and chief executive David Gill remained at the club.
While not explicitly naming Ronaldo, in an interview given to a Scandinavian United fanzine, Phelan said the club had prepared to sign "one of the absolute best players in the world", whose identity would be "clear to everybody," according to the Mirror's David McDonnell.
Per McDonnell, Phelan said:
If Sir Alex and David Gill had still been the bosses... I won’t name the player, but there would have been a star signing - one of the absolute best players in the world.
It was something the boss talked about, and the owners and David Gill were also quite clear on doing it. There’s very few of such players out there. I think it’s clear to everybody who I’m talking about.
We didn’t see the need for a big clear-out of the squad, that’s why Sir Alex and I had one big signing in sight. One such star signing gives everybody a lift, we saw that with Robin van Persie.
It can largely be assumed from Phelan's comments that the player in question was Ronaldo, who enjoyed an almost paternal bond with Ferguson in his time at the club, as he told CNN International last year, via the Independent.
United chased the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Thiago Alcantara and Ander Herrera during the summer, per Adam Crafton of the Daily Mail, but none would justify Phelan suggesting that "it's clear to everybody who I'm talking about."
Portuguese superstar Ronaldo was linked with a return to Old Trafford all summer, even following Ferguson's departure. But he effectively ended his chances of a return by signing a new contract at Real Madrid, per the Telegraph.
There will doubtless be fans who would point to other areas of weakness in the United side as to why Ronaldo should not have been the club's priority. As with van Persie, though, he would undoubtedly have greatly improved the Red Devils had he arrived.
Since leaving Old Trafford, where he was crowned the world's best player in 2008, Ronaldo has been simply sensational.
As of Wednesday night's Champions League brace against Juventus, Portugal's captain has scored 216 goals in 211 Real Madrid appearances, including 42 goals in 43 European games, per ESPN FC.
The prospect of returning him to Old Trafford, where he is still hugely popular with the club's supporters, was unsurprisingly appealing to the club's hierarchy—especially with reports suggesting Nike and Chevrolet would help fund any deal, per the Mirror's Dave Kidd.
Ferguson described Ronaldo as the greatest player of his Manchester United tenure in his autobiography released this week, per the Daily Mail, and had previously spoken of his former player in glowing terms on countless occasions.
Thus, the prospect of re-uniting him with Wayne Rooney in the United forward line, alongside van Persie, was understandably high on his pre-retirement agenda, when reading between the lines of Phelan's quotes. Sadly for fans of the Premier League champions, a move never came to fruition.