Even the most intense of love stories, those that can reach unexpectedly mesmerising heights and very few low, romances of such force to leave both partners enriched and scarred at the same time, can come to an end. Quite often a very bitter end it is too. Football is no different from other environments and has seen various love-stories crumbling to dust.
When Cristiano Ronaldo will step onto the pitch at Old Trafford tomorrow for the first time since leaving United for Real Madrid, it’ll be the case of one of the two parties visiting the former partner’s home for the first time since the curtain came down on their romantic liaison.
To further stretch the comparison, both partners have enjoyed a friendly relationship since parting ways, but even that will have to be put aside for 9o (potentially 120) minutes tomorrow night, and for some of the 76,000 that will be packing Old Trafford, it is going to be a harder ordeal than for others.
I, for one, still consider myself a huge fan of the Portuguese. The Ronaldo-Messi dilemma is non existent for me, for Ronnie has done it consistently in two of Europe’s top leagues without always being blessed with the best supporting cast, something Messi has enjoyed throughout his career.
Like a lot of other Reds, I enjoy watching him scoring for fun for Madrid, I have sung “Viva Ronaldo” even after his departure and I welcomed his last minute goal against City in September with a broad “I-told-you-so” grin. I don’t, however, believe that we’ll ever see him donning a red shirt again and, while I’m looking forward to his return to Old Trafford, I’m terrified by his ability to turn a game on its head and, potentially, knocking us out of the European Cup tomorrow night.
Reds loved Cristiano Ronaldo during his spell at Old Trafford. Even leaving the outstanding footballing ability aside, it was impossible not to warm to the 18-year-old lad who arrived in Manchester with an improbable haircut and an ego that could have filled any dressing room in the country.
The boy from Portugal embodied that aura of confidence so close to become arrogance with a swagger we hadn’t seen since Eric Cantona, and his transformation from talented young lad to world’s best player was nothing short of exceptional, as was the commitment he showed during his years at the club.
Ronaldo’s talent alone would have been enough to make him a terrace hero, but the fact that he became a hate figure following the 2006 World Cup sealed the deal for the fans. From then on, he became the symbol of United’s resurgence after Chelsea had threatened to monopolise the league, a collective “V” sign flicked by United fans to the rest of English football that chose to focus on the petulant aspects of Ronaldo’s game rather than on his brilliance.
Ronaldo’s departure sparked a debate amongst United fans, with some considering him a legend, while others argued that legends don’t flee the club that has made them what they’re. Four years have gone by and I, like many others I presume, am still sitting on the fence on this one.
As gutted as I was to see him go, I appreciated that he still gave his all in his final year and he has had only good words about the club, the fans and Sir Alex since leaving for Madrid. Ronnie’s attitude was and is a world away from the one of that Argentinian golfer, who occasionally plays football for you-know-who.
Ronaldo still divides opinions and, in the build up to this tie, we have witnessed the emergence of a group of fans – let’s call them “Ronaldo Reds” – whose knee-jerk attitude towards the Real Madrid number 7 is simply mind-boggling, for while they profess themselves as United fans, they seem to be perfectly happy to consider Ronaldo an acceptable silver lining to the eventual cloud of United being knocked out by Real Madrid.
Hopefully, none of these “fans” will find their way into Old Trafford tomorrow night (although given that Russell Brand has been given a ticket, I wouldn’t hold my breath) and Ronaldo will be given the reception he truly deserves. For those 42 goals in the 2007-08 season, for the goal against Fulham and the subsequent carnage in the Putney End, for the penalty that clinched the title at Eastlands, for scoring in the Champions League final and tearing Arsenal apart in the semifinal the following season, for the angry celebration after he scored against Derby and, first and foremost, for pointing at the Premier League Champions badge his sleeve when relentlessly booed across the country.
But even those love stories that come to an end with an amicable consent, share one undeniable truth with romances that come to a more tumultuous end – that both parties have to move on. Ronaldo might come back – more likely he will not – and he’ll always be in the hearts of United fans, but nobody matters more than Manchester United.
Not even the boy that played on the left and played on the right, making England look sh*te.
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Tags: Opinion Piece