This is England and it’s ripe for Ronaldo nostalgia

John Nicholson

Reality is messy, with too much detail, nuance and complexity. England needed the robot Ronaldo.

And there he was.

As familiar as disappointment. A Men’s Health Adonis, carved by gym machines from low-fat protein, self-exceptionalism and a special sort of greasy maleness. He moved amongst us and we were blessed.

He barely seemed human. He lives in the mind, in the stats, as a concept, as a standard, even as an ideal in the synapses of his Twitter followers.

He’s never been short of brass neck. There’s that statue that looks like a limax maximus doing a Niall Quinn impression, or the one which is a visual portmanteau of Scott Parker and the Loch Ness monster. Or the one with the much-rubbed crotch. Wanking off a statue; there’s a symbol for our times.

Talked about ceaselessly, defined by digits, digitally speculated upon, fantasised about, here Ronaldo was making an appearance in reality, leaving a mark on our lives like hair dye on a pillow.

Now the genuflecting could begin in earnest, on our knees in the temple of the holy, here was our own personal Jesus, here to show us what can be achieved if only we’d work harder and be better.

Of course he scored, and of course he scored again. Both fantastic goals in their way. There’s no-one more brilliant than Cristiano at being brilliant at what Cristiano is brilliant at. And you have to admire it. You have to say that it is magnificent.

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring against Newcastle. September 11 2021.

This is the perfect time in England for him, when people are more comfortable with the certainties of the past, real or imagined, than with the unknown, uncertain future.

Basking in the glow from those far-off days when we were all younger, seeing him taking to the Old Trafford pitch again was playing the big hit singles: the golden oldies. Oh, they don’t make them like that anymore. Remember when we were great? Nothing is any good anymore. Even nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, but in 2021 in England, it’s all some have got or all they have given themselves.

Our role in the Ronaldo show is, as Stewart Lee once put it, ‘gawping like superstitious peasants at the ecclesiastical trial of a donkey’. Weak at the knees at His brilliance, we stare, slack-jawed at the visitation that has manifested itself before us in return for more money in just one week than many of us will earn in 20 years. 20 years. This truly is some sort of deity.

Has he made Manchester United a better team? That was harder to say. Was more goals what they needed? Hell no. Would they have won this game without him? Almost certainly. Does his presence solve the glaring midfield issues? Absolutely not.

But these are not the point, this is not the time for intellect and not the time for questions. This is the time for emotion, for wallowing in hero worship on an epic scale, as we surrendered to Ronaldo’s brilliance, supplicating ourselves via merchandise from the club shop, selling our souls to another false god, the way humans always have, believing that this time it will bring miracles.

Reality is messy, with too much detail, nuance and complexity. A plane flew overhead with a banner streaming out behind to remind us just how messy. But Saturday was a remarkable day. It brought joy to thousands, if not millions of people. That one man can do that is astonishing and even those not quite so prone to idolatry must accept that this is where we are in 2021, desperate for someone to believe in, so worried about the future that we’re hopelessly addicted to the past.