Cristiano Ronaldo flutters his eyelashes, Manchester United fans reminisce over old times and contemplate a possible reunion, and the transfer saga continues. It’s a love story as embarrassing as it is unlikely and unhelpful for the club.
Just this weekend, David Beckham joined the tiresome chorus of those calling for Ronaldo to return six years after leaving for Real Madrid. The Portuguese has won seven trophies in Spain, scoring 326 goals in 315 appearances along the way, but an Old Trafford comeback is often discussed as though it were guaranteed. The 30-year-old openly encourages his former club’s affections.
“I’m a huge supporter of Manchester United. I love that club, but [the] future, nobody knows,” Ronaldo said in midweek. File that alongside “I have a sentimental attachment”, “this club and its fans will always have a place in my heart”, “Manchester was my home and still is in my heart” and “it would not feel right to play for anybody else in England. It would feel like I was cheating”. United are Ronaldo’s first love, and the club play the part of the adoring ex to perfection.
Ronaldo’s motive is obvious; a man so driven by his own ego revels in the adulation. But for United, is it a lust for what they once had, or a desire for what they once were? Ronaldo is the antipathy of Louis van Gaal’s iteration, an exciting, dynamic goalscorer. He also represents the supposed attacking verve of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils. Does the desperation for Ronaldo to return embody the dissension opposing Van Gaal’s reign?
The clamour for a marquee signing at Old Trafford has intensified each year since Ferguson’s departure, with Ronaldo’s name the most common link. It’s a transfer approach hardly in keeping with Van Gaal’s philosophy. The Dutchman recently spoke of a need for “speed and creativity” on the wings, and while Ronaldo would offer both in abundance, Real have struggled to convince him to cede his role on centre stage. United would undoubtedly fare no better.
The most favourable description of this most public game of kiss chase is that it is simply a club trying to prove they remain among Europe’s elite, that they still have the same aura capable of tempting any player – even the finest – into joining. At the other end of the spectrum, it’s an embarrassing and counter-productive pursuit of a player who wouldn’t suit a Van Gaal side, and who likely doesn’t want to leave his current club, who in turn don’t want to sell him.
Gary Neville summarised the negatives concerning a potential return for Ronaldo on Sunday. “I am not sure it is such a good thing for Cristiano to come back,” said the club’s former right-back. “The idea of coming back as his swansong… it won’t be the same for him as it was before. It won’t be the same for us and I am not sure. It would be about emotion. And I am not sure emotion and sport go together really in that way.”
Fortunately for United, Van Gaal is not a man led by emotion or nostalgia. Whether right or wrong, no player is ranked above the Dutchman’s ‘process’, not even officially the world’s best.
The fact is, Ronaldo left United in 2009 at a point where they were a considerably more attractive prospect to a player than they are now. The longing stares at a player who had outgrown them continue, but the memories are best left untouched.
Ronaldo became the player he is today thanks to the help of his first true love, but he and Manchester United broke up for a reason. Relationships are rarely as good the second time around. Time to move on, Man (United).