Cristiano Ronaldo was at Man Utd from 2003 to 2009 | ANDREW YATES/Getty Images
Cristiano Ronaldo returning to Manchester United is not the right deal for the club.
It would cost too much without enough long-term upside and divert resources away from more important aspects of the ongoing squad rebuild. But it will never not be an attractive idea for United fans who watched a skinny 18-year-old starting out on the road to becoming one of the best of all time.
Anyone can appreciate what Ronaldo is, what he has done and what he may still achieve. This is someone who, in tandem with Lionel Messi, has redefined modern standards of elite football.
CR7 is one of the greatest players of all time | VI-Images/Getty Images
In the Cristiano Ronaldo era, world class goalscoring is no longer 30 goals per season, it is 40, 50 or even 60. His dedication to his craft and physical fitness is second to none. He has rarely been injured since the age of 17 and by 35 has already played over 1,000 career games. Few doubt he has the condition and desire to play on until at least 40 and not experience a noticeable drop.
Ronaldo is motivated by success and craves the recognition it brings. He has won seven league titles in three countries, five domestic cups, five Champions League trophies and is a five-time recipient of the Ballon d’Or. He has also made his mark on the international stage with Portugal by winning Euro 2016, playing a crucial role both on the pitch and then off it as he waved his teammates to victory when a knock ended his final early. Soon, he will also be the leading male international goalscorer of all time and is already one of only two in history with a century of international goals.
Ronaldo is never satisfied and there is always another target on the horizon.
It is what makes you believe he would still be a huge asset to Manchester United were he ever to return, with the rumours gathering pace as Juventus worry about the cost of the future.
Ronaldo could leave Juventus because of the cost of keeping him | Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images
Ronaldo, 36 in February, is a different kind of player to the electrifying winger who left Old Trafford in 2009. He understands the key to longevity and has adapted his game accordingly over the years. He is also now seeing a 39-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic tearing it up in Serie A with AC Milan and has never been one to be outdone – it only ever makes him work harder.
There is no doubt that Ronaldo would a success were he ever to pull on a United jersey again, he wouldn’t allow anything else. Not only for the quality he himself brings, but for his impact as a mentor and example on the training pitch and in the dressing room.
United fans would be utterly delighted to see him back in the famous red shirt. Anyone can objectively admire Ronaldo, but those who watched him develop at Old Trafford in those early years feel a strong connection and affinity with him than not matched anywhere else.
Ronaldo could be frustrating and infuriating at times, certainly before 2006. But he was such a magical talent that his very presence, even as a teenager, brought excitement. When the penny dropped and he learned how to best use his ability, United fans witnessed first-hand as he became an efficient and devastating game-changer. He kept that going with Real Madrid and took himself to unprecedented new levels, but it started at United and he is an adopted son of Manchester.
Ronaldo made his name at Man Utd | Alex Livesey/Getty Images
When Ronaldo left for Real in 2009, it took a world record fee to prise him away. There was massive disappointment among fans, but he didn’t leave because he didn’t want to be a United player and his departure ultimately took on notions of proud parents watching a favourite child fly the nest. Everything he went on to do in Madrid was still felt and admired in Manchester.
But even now, the plausibility of Ronaldo ever re-joining United is low. The transfer fee and enormous wages alone would likely be an early dealbreaker for a club determined to focus on the long-term – Juventus won’t accept a knockdown fee and only a vast pay cut would see his salary be anything other than eyewatering. Even though he could play on for five more years, it is still a risk.
Then there is the additional problem of potentially diverting resources away from the real project in order to make it happen, especially now. United have made losses in three consecutive financial quarters thanks to falling revenue brought on by the coronavirus crisis and refused to meet the asking price for Jadon Sancho over summer, despite keenly the tracking the player for a year.
Pursuing Ronaldo could mean fewer resources for other targets like Jadon Sancho | DeFodi Images/Getty Images
In that sense, where would committing a significant chunk of money to Ronaldo leave them?
It would be incredible to Ronaldo to return to the club that really made him and fans would welcome him as a returning hero. That more than anything, is why the idea will never die because it is never fully off the table. But will it actually happen? Not now and probably not ever.
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