The Ultimate Homecoming?

by Mustafa Abdel-Latif

One question has undoubtedly been on all of our lips lately: Could it actually happen?

It seems to have all started on that day in Lisbon, in perhaps the most meaningful “meaningless friendly” of all time. A few people may have gawked at Sporting Lisbon defeating Manchester United by three goals to one, but looking back, that scoreline seems utterly irrelevant. See, that day, tormenting the United defense at every opportunity they got, was a young spaghetti-haired boy by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Against his own wishes, Ronaldo had the #7 shirt bestowed upon him, previously worn by the likes of George Best, Eric Cantona, and David Beckham. It’s fair to say you are forgiven if you didn’t think the erratic Portuguese would surpass all three- he took us all by surprise. Ronaldo had a stop-start first three years at United, both dazzling and frustrating in equal amounts. Many supporters were starting to lose patience even- writing him off as another one-trick pony who, when the going got tough, wasn’t of much value to a team. He was twenty-one.

2006 came, and with it Ronaldo’s first World Cup. While Portugal’s semi-final exit could be seen as a relative success, one particularly interesting subplot unfolded. In the quarter-finals against England, controversy surrounded United teammate Wayne Rooney who was in hot water after stamping on Ricardo Carvalho. Ronaldo spotted the incident and through his admittedly petulant objections, was seen as the chief factor in getting Rooney sent off. His subsequent wink didn’t help his case much.

His future was very much up in the air- many supporters booed him upon his return to Old Trafford, and questions were asked about his subsequent relationship with Wayne Rooney. However, in a manner that would soon become typical, Ronaldo defied the odds. Amongst the doubt and controversy, the 2006/07 season saw Cristiano Ronaldo truly break out, becoming a key factor in winning his first Premier League title and developing a reputation as one of the most frightening left wingers in the world, forging an irresistible partnership with none other than Wayne Rooney. His clean sweep of all four English Player of the Year awards was by no means an exaggerated accolade.

Cristiano Ronaldo had arrived.

If that were the season when he proved himself as world class, then 2007/2008 was when it was set in stone that he was one of the world’s best. Thirty-one goals in the Premier League and forty-two in total was absolutely unheard of, for a left winger no less. The last of those 42, a towering header in Moscow, helped deliver Manchester United’s last Champions League title to date and their first one since 1999. He knew it, the club knew it, and the world knew it. Cristiano Ronaldo was the best player on the planet, and his first Ballon d’Or trophy testified to that.

His heart set on the white of Madrid, a lesser season followed. Lesser, by Ronaldo’s standards, meaning a mere twenty-six goals, another Premier League title, and a second consecutive Champions League final, although this time bested by Barcelona. He’d lost out on the Ballon d’Or that season by a certain Lionel Messi- a rivalry was born, a rivalry that was supercharged by Ronaldo’s next move. In August of 2009, Cristiano Ronaldo finally got his move to Real Madrid for fortune.

Turns out it was the bargain of the century.

Now, 406 goals, two league titles, three Champions League trophies, and a whopping four more Ballon d’Or awards later, rumors of Ronaldo’s discontentment in the Spanish capital have surfaced and, naturally, the world turned their heads toward Manchester United. Is a return on the cards? The Portuguese, even after cementing his status as a Madrid legend, has talked about how close the club is to his heart, and after all, United fans still sing his name to this day; the questionable circumstances in which he left have in no way left a bad taste in their mouths. Perhaps it left nothing but a void, a longing in fans’ hearts that they haven’t seen the last of him. And that is why when you ask any Manchester United fan around the world, they’d tell you that they would welcome Cristiano Ronaldo back with open arms.

Now… could it actually happen?


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