Manchester United's Golden Boy Not Going Anywhere
Just hours after Manchester United announced its world record sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to "Galactico" hungry Real Madrid, and already talk of an end of an era for the Reds has spread over the wires like wild fire. Pundits near and far seem quick to predict demise at Old Trafford.
To the prophets of gloom and doom, I say: hold your horses.
True, the English Premiere League is becoming more competitive than ever with next year promising to be a tough contest for Manchester United:
Liverpool's Rafael Benitez has slowly but surely built himself a tightly knit team centered around exciting talents like Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. With the Merseysiders coming in at second place last season, Liverpool now looks more believable as a title contender than anytime since its golden era of the '70s and '80s.
Chelsea's star power continues to make the West Londoners a dangerous rival, and with the fresh addition of the indomitable Carlo Ancelotti as manager, Chelsea may just have squared away its one area of inconsistency.
Arsenal, though struggling recently, has long opted for the meticulous path of developing youth talent from within its own ranks over the immediate gratification of star signings.
With its increasingly impatient fans now breathing down Arsene Wenger's neck, a trophy-strapped Arsenal sees no time better than 2009-2010 to see Wenger's investment pay off via a cohesive team eager to deliver his much-hyped brand of beautiful football—and win.
Then there are the dark horses showing signs of breaking into the big four next season.
At the top of the list comes Manchester City, now owned by a wealthy Arab investment company who brought in no less than Brazilian superstar Robinho no later than the day they acquired the club. Though they finished mid-table last season, some analysts predict a possible spike in the club's prospects.
And don't rule out Everton, whose strong performance last season left it teetering just outside the big four.
Europe is becoming more competitive as well.
Given recent events out there, Manchester United will need everything it can muster if it is to reach the UEFA Champions League final for a record third consecutive time:
Barcelona's treble last season clearly heralded the arrival of a new super team, possibly more compelling than Cruyff's Barcelona "Dream Team" of the 90's.
Real Madrid's violent acquisition of world class players like Kaka and Ronaldo—both trophy-hungry and capable—means that Real cannot be dismissed from contention next year.
And given their current form, Inter Milan, Liverpool, and Chelsea all seem as formidable opponents to Manchester United's European dreams as any.
So yes, Cristiano Ronaldo is leaving Manchester United at a rather tricky time.
And yes, Ronaldo's value to the Reds cannot be easily replaced: his 91 goals helped them win three back to back League titles, and reach two back to back UEFA Championship finals (winning one and losing the other earlier this year to Barcelona), in addition to whisking away several other trophies.
But make no mistake about it, Manchester United's true golden boy is not going anywhere.
Manchester United's golden era did not begin with the acquisition of Cristiano Ronaldo and so it will not end with his departure.
The one man (besides Ryan Giggs anyway) who has remained a consistent fixture through Manchester United's magical run that began in 1992 and still continues to this day is none other than Sir Alex Ferguson.
Great players have come and gone.
As impactful and irreplaceable as they were deemed at the time, United greats like Mark Hughes, Eric Cantona, Dennis Irwin, Roy Keane, David Beckham, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, and others each left Old Trafford after having helped haul in their share of trophies and accolades. And each time, Sir Alex has reinvented the team and kept on going and kept on winning.
It may be said that in terms of sheer talent, Ronaldo is unlike any other before him at Old Trafford (who else was World Player of the Year while at United, who else was sold at a world record price).
True (Cantona had more of impact, but in terms of sheer talent, Ronaldo takes the cake).
It may be said that, unlike most of the aforementioned talents, Ronaldo left Manchester United too soon relative to what more he could have performed at the club.
True (although this is something that could return to haunt Ronaldo more so than United).
But at the end of the day, Manchester United's redeeming factor is that sir Alex never built his teams around one single player.
And so now the search begins for Ronaldo's replacement.
Franck Ribery could provide explosive pace and consistency in scoring.
Karim Benzema, my personal favorite, could bring in a little bit Ronaldo (No. 9), a little bit Zidane, and a little bit Cantona to a manager who also counts himself as a fan of the talismanic Frenchman.
Under the tested stewardship of the experienced Ferguson, those little bits can mature into large bits. And given Benzema's youthfulness (he's 21 years of age), this could be a long term investment for the club.
(Note to Ferguson: please buy both!)
Last but not least, don't forget about Federico Macheda, the young Italian talent from United's reserve team who scored two crucial goals for United's Premiership campaign last season in almost as many appearances.
His name has surfaced little in the post-Ronaldo media blitz so far, but together with Rooney, he will have a notable season next season. You heard it here first.
In conclusion, Ronaldo's departure from Old Trafford, particularly while at the pinnacle of his contribution there, is no small loss.
But let us remember who sits at the center of United's long string of successes.
It is the Scottsman who has brought the club a record 11 league titles since taking over the helm, two Champions League titles, five FA Cups, three League Cups, and a dozen more pieces of silverware.
And he's not going anywhere—yet.
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