The summer transfer window is a bit like Hollywood in that everyone is looking to find the blockbuster story. It’s about finding that one potential move which could excite not only the fan base of said team but also the league and its relevant media channels. Step forward, Cristiano Ronaldo.
So many deals threatened to land the leading role before the Portuguese mega star stole the show. Antoine Griezmann was set to swap Madrid for Manchester but that move petered out following the confirmation of Atletico’s transfer ban. After that the roles were reversed as the homesick David De Gea finally looked set for a return home until Madrid and United couldn’t reach an agreement. Then, away from Manchester but sticking with Madrid, it was Kylian Mbappe’s turn. The exciting French teenager was reportedly the subject of €100m+ bids from both Real Madrid and Arsenal.
However all fail in comparison to the pulling power of Cristiano Ronaldo and a return to England.
“Cristiano wants to leave Spain” was the headline plastered over the Portuguese newspapers last Friday morning. Within hours this story was confirmed by sources in Spain, Italy and England. The decision apparently ‘irreversible’ and plans were being put in place to find a new destination. One of the biggest names in the sport was officially on the market. Sort of.
Cristiano is said to have put Manchester United at the top of his wishlist. The wonderkid turned international superstar would be returning home to a hero’s welcome. I can see the hashtag now: #CristianoReturnso. Okay, maybe not. United could follow Madrid’s lead and build a temporary stage for the thousands who come to watch his presentation. Sky Sports will dedicate a channel to his every movement, the aptly named Sky Sports CR7. This will see Premier League fans claim their league is back and that they are now the best in the world. Take that, Messi and company!
United fans are naturally apprehensive though. Whilst re-signing the best player on the market would give them a bigger boost than Paul Pogba did, doubts exist. It almost seems too perfect, too good to be true. Not only does Cristiano want to leave his current club, he only has eyes for United. A team desperate to bridge the gap to the top sides created in the post Sir Alex era. But it’s too soon to get your hopes up just yet, right?
The reports are genuine. We aren’t seeing Tribal Football or ‘ITKs’ sharing this information first, it’s coming from reputable sources. You don’t find Gianluca Di Marzio posting articles ‘for clicks’ alone. The BBC’s Dan Roan is also reading from the same hymn sheet, as are various Spanish newspapers with strong links to the club. Ronaldo, or his people, wanted this story in the public domain.
The motive behind it is key though.
Cristiano feels victimised, outraged by what he calls – via a third party – unfair treatment from the Spanish legal system. How dare they question his word, his honour. When the edge was taken off Messi’s image following the guilty verdict over tax fraud, it made Ronaldo supporters point and laugh. “Look at your hero, your icon; guilty of tax fraud.” Now, with the Portuguese star’s image being dragged through the mud, it isn’t as much fun.
There are differences in the cases but the damage remains the same. It should come as no surprise that Messi’s people put out similar stories during his own trial. Thinly-veiled threats about wanting to leave Spain, the victim of a miscarriage of justice, and putting pressure on his club to make sure they backed him. Barcelona even went as far as releasing a hashtag which caused more harm than good. It was a call to arms more than an honest plea to leave. In a world where these two giants constantly try to outdo their rival, is this just another example of that?
It’s easy to use United’s name these days. Following the Pogba deal, people know they will pay crazy prices to land their main targets. Cristiano Ronaldo essentially dangling himself in front of them is simply too good to turn down, even if the odds of it happening are low. Why not push the envelope, even if this is a smokescreen, and see if a move would suit both parties?
The ball, however, isn’t in United’s court. Real Madrid won’t stand by and idly let their best player leave after he led by example in the final part of last season. A very successful season too I might add. They’ve invested too much in Cristiano over the years, most recently with a new bumper deal, and want him to retire at Los Blancos. Florentino Perez is under no pressure to sell either so could easily force the Portuguese man to stay against his will.
Yet it’s that trust and admiration which allows Cristiano to play this dangerous game. To flirt with a move away is one thing but to inadvertently put the blame on Madrid is bold. It’s already irked a few fans who see this as disrespectful in the light of their support for him. This comes on the back of his recent celebrations and comments asking for Madrid fans to never boo him, only encourage and applaud. He stopped short of shouting: “Are you not entertained?”
Madrid could call his bluff. At 32 and on huge wages, now might be the only chance they have to sell and fetch a massive fee. Cristiano has broken every record within touching distance. What more can he do? A potential €150m+ fee would allow Madrid to invest across the board of their already bulging squad. They could sign Mbappe and even Eden Hazard. Would that be such a poor business move?
On the other side of the coin, are Manchester United in a strong enough position to entice Ronaldo back to England? Cup success saved a disappointing league campaign and if they have ambitions of challenging Europe’s elite they’ll need to further improve their squad. United need Ronaldo more than he needs them. Where does he fit into the current XI – out wide or as the main striker? Does that mean Morata’s prospective switch to Old Trafford could be in doubt also?
It sounds good but you feel there’s too many obstacles in the way for it to become a reality. Real Madrid don’t need to sell, don’t want to sell. The player in question is yet to go public with his apparent desire to leave. We all know when Cristiano’s got something worth saying he tends to. United are cautious and will wait to see what happens. They need to be smart. A move to further unsettle Ronaldo could see them lose out on Morata too which would be a disaster.
Nothing is impossible in football and less so when it boils down to money. Juventus convinced themselves Pogba wouldn’t leave. He’ll wait for Real Madrid in a year or two, he’s happy in Turin. Why would he return to the team which let him go on a free transfer? It was all blah, blah, blah. Or not as it turned out.
Although until I hear the words ‘I want to leave’ from Cristiano himself, it appears nothing more than a ploy to put pressure on the Spanish government to ease their stance on his tax case. Damage limitation if you will. Not a new tactic by any means either.
Although, if he pushes this too hard, there’s only really one place for him to go – and it’s going to cost United a lot of money.