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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Red Perspective on Ronaldo's departure


This has been a question that has been troubling many United fans since, finally, United accepted Real’s offer to buy our talented winger.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that, a thoroughly weary, Gary Neville trudged off a pitch in Lisbon during a pre-season friendly. It was back in 2003, United had just played Sporting Club de Portugal and our ever reliable right back had just been given a right run around by a, precocious, 18 year old Maderian, by the name of Cristiano.

“Blimey boss, you’d better sign him quick”, was the message being delivered to the gaffer, by the Neville’s, Rio and Scholesy. This endorsement, from senior United professionals, who’d endured a torrid 90 minutes, from the Portuguese Niño, was enough to persuade Sir Alex that the boy was something special and needed to be a Manchester United player. As usual Ferguson, and the club, charmed the lad and he was soon on his way to the ‘People’s Republic of Mancunia’.

One can only speculate what an 18 year old Maderian, who’d never ventured further than Lisbon, thought of Manchester but I think it would be safe to say that the words “shock” and “culture” must have featured quite highly. On the flip side Cristiano was obviously aware that he’d signed for one of the greatest clubs in the world with a state of the art training complex at Carrington, one of Europe’s largest stadiums and a worldwide fan base, second to none.

And so it was to the beginning of the 2003-04 season that Ronaldo made his debut for his new club. Coming on as a substitute against Bolton Wanderers, that 25 minute appearance was enough to convince even the most sceptical of United fans that Fergie had unearthed another gem. Alas I didn’t attend the game, instead I found myself ‘enduring’ a stag weekend in County Clare, but was able to enjoy the match in a pub and I have to say that I thought it was a mesmerising performance.

I too was buoyed up for the future, the only blot being my friend’s observation that Ronaldo’s blonde streaks “looked like tampon strings”. Apart from this initial heinous crime, against fashion, the boy that replaced Beckham would soon be lauded as the player who made Beckham look shite and later England.

It’s safe to say that in his first 2 seasons at United, Ronaldo promised more than he delivered. There was no doubting the talent, or the ability, it was the decision making that was often flawed, coupled with over elaboration (think of the endless step-overs) which led many Reds to decrying him as a “show pony” and many opposition fans as “Bambi”.

On the plus side he provided a healthy return of goals, as you’d expect, for a two footed winger who could play on either wing. In addition, he also provided an ample amount of assists, which was encouraging for a young inexperienced player, with a poor command of English.

By his 3rd season however, Cristiano had matured physically and mentally, the gym work at Carrington had bulked up his 6’1” frame to cope with the physical demands of the English game and its psychopathic defenders. Also The Boss and Carlos had finally instilled some intelligence in to his play so that now Ronaldo would occasionally find Scholes in the box with a square ball instead of always taking on the defender and shooting at an acute angle. This added maturity and more discerning use of his talent resulted in Ronaldo becoming United’s most influential player and second leading goal scorer in that season.

Things were to look up even further the following season when, freed of the animosity simmering between himself and Ruud Van Nistelrooy, (who was sold to Real Madrid) a Ronaldo inspired United lifted the Premier League title for the first time since 2003 and were one match away from another domestic double.

It was at this point that our chums in Madrid decided that if we’d sell them Becks, Ruud and Heinze why not our current number 7. Sir Alex, very firmly, put them in their place and told them to forget it. The seasons of effort, put in to nurturing Ronaldo’s talent were starting to bear fruit and he wasn’t going to hand that over to El Generalissimo’s team.

To be fair to Ronaldo he had always publicly said that he’d like a move to Spain, but it always, to us, seemed a distant prospect, a nice retirement home for when he gets to his 30’s. Undaunted and seemingly un-distracted by the courtship of his beloved Real, Ronaldo took season 07-08 by storm scoring over 40 goals in all competitions and racking up European and League winners medals, along with a host of personal gongs and accolades. Alas instead of basking in the glow, of what was truly a glorious season for all United fans, we had to endure the unedifying spectacle of our star winger/forward metaphorically getting in to bed with someone else. To add insult to injury he was not even remotely sorry about it and was virtually saying that if he had another opportunity to get back in to bed, with that person, he’d do it again!

That long hot summer, especially during Euro 2008, was torturous for United fans as we watched Cristiano, free from Fergie’s radar, openly court Real Madrid. It’s testament to Sir Alex’s powers of persuasion that he finally got his audience with Ronaldo and managed to secure his services for one more season.

And I think that’s the rub of it. One of the more curious aspects of the Ronaldo affair was the role of the boy’s mother. It seems that she told him to go back to Manchester and repay the faith shown in him by The Boss. I think Ronaldo did that, in the sense that he was here, at United, and he did what his Madre said, but I also think that Fergie was cute enough to know that he’d only get him for one more season and that this has been it. Cristiano wants to play for Real Madrid and Sir Alex has basically said, “give me one more season and then you can go”. It’s a win-win for everybody: Ronaldo has done what his Mum has told him, Real have seemingly not broken any rules and Fergie is letting a player go on his, the manager’s terms. At this point I’ll not mention the influence of the Glazer family, on the whole saga, as they only have a small debt to service, but let’s just say that they and their bank masters saw 80 million Dollar signs.

Am I sorry to see him go?

Of course, he’s one of the best in the world, but he’s been largely disappointing this season, by the standards he’s set in the previous two seasons, and his attitude on the pitch has been appalling. Certainly from what I’ve seen, as a home attending Red, is that most United fans have had enough of his antics and petulance and we’re embarrassed by it. And don’t get me started on the European Cup Final! The bottom line is; if he doesn’t want to play for Manchester United then we don’t want him here!

P.S. Fergie, hope you get a chance to spend some of that £80 million!