The Prodigal Son returns … to write a new chapter in Manchester United’s history!
I don’t know where to start. Let’s rewind 12 months back.
The Corona Virus Pandemic. Lockdowns. Football. Empty Stadiums. Cash Stripped Football Clubs. VAR. Super League. Lionel Messi finally leaving Barcelona. Lionel Messi embracing Sergio Ramos. Chaos would be an understatement to explain the last 12 months.
Or let’s rewind 12 years back, and zoom in on one particular city, Manchester.
Manchester United wins their 3rd European Cup. The Abu Dhabi Group buys the other lesser-known team from Manchester, a team that had recently lost 8–1 to Middlesborough.
The following 12 years would see the unthinkable power shift, with the blue half eventually becoming the best team in Manchester.
The same 12 years would also see another story go parallel. A story of a certain player from Manchester United who would write his own story in football outside Manchester United.
And the last 12 hours — congruous with the chaos of the last 12 months — would see the two stories come full circle.
This is the story of Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United. This is the story of one last dance.
But every football story is incomplete without the story of fans. Thus, this is also a story about my gradual disillusionment with Manchester United in the last few years.
I know what you are thinking reading the word “disillusionment”. “A typical glory hunter fan that supports his club only when it wins”.
Truth be told, I am completely okay with being tagged with that. Plus, I see no wrong in any fan — be it some local supporter or a distant fan like me — expecting and demanding “glory” from their team.
Except for Manchester United, the last few years have been anything but glory.
Not sure where to start about the shambles of Manchester United. The absolute leech of owners in Glazers. Or the cash-cow mentality board that treats the club more like an advertising agency. The Protests. Ole Ins. Ole Outs. Or the longest trophyless streak in my lifetime.
Or having to celebrate Vincente Kompany’s goal against Leicester (so as to not see Liverpool win the PL). The last few years have been a series of one unforeseen low followed by another.
But what has disillusioned me the most is the gradual acceptance of mediocrity by Manchester United. Not just by the board but even by us fans.
From celebrating “double over Manchester City” (despite City winning the League) to branding Europa League records as “European Record” (just to cling to the delusion of still being the best in Europe) to reminding everyone of our 20 PL titles and glorious history, we — as a fanbase — have become what Liverpool fans used to be around 2009.
Therefore, my disillusionment has more to do with how swiftly the tables have turned. And more worryingly, how we have got comfortable with the turned table.
It genuinely felt the situation would require some seismic event to derail the gradual acceptance of mediocrity. Something — or maybe someone — who could bring the much-needed change in mentality.
And this is where the return of Cristiano Ronaldo could turn the tide.
Make no mistake, I don’t expect Cristiano Ronaldo to turn current Manchester United into the peak 2008 side overnight. Soon to be 37, he is far from the fast-paced flamboyant winger that used to run havoc with his feet, once upon a time in Old Trafford.
He does still bring in his knack for scoring goals (like his last year’s stats of 36 goals in 44 games). But, what I am more excited about is the mentality that he brings back to United. Not just his goals and impact on the pitch, but his overall presence and influence off the pitch.
Ronaldo is a ruthless winner like no other in sports. He will take nothing less than winning, and definitely none of those “double over Manchester City” type narratives.
Nor is he here to enjoy his mini-retirement or wallow in nostalgia.
It is no secret how obsessed Ronaldo is about the eventual GOAT claim. And he knows what it could mean to win the PL again. Not just for Manchester United who haven’t won it in 8 years, not just for Manchester United fans who have had to choose between Cancer and AIDS in recent years(City and Liverpool), but also for his own legacy in football and the eventual GOAT claim.
This is where I believe his return could have the biggest impact on the club. His sheer obsession to be the best — which would mean United doing the best — could catalyze the expensively assembled “nearly-there-but-not-quite-yet” squad of Manchester United. Not to mention the impact his mentality and work ethic would have on youngsters like Sancho, Rashford, and Greenwood for years to come.
Remember, we are talking about a player who has already won everything there is to win with Manchester United. Between 2006 to 2009, in what was his peak years at Manchester United, Ronaldo won 3 back-to-back Premier Leagues and 1 Champions League. And yet, there is an opportunity for Ronaldo to even outdo his previous achievements.
Ronaldo is the greatest player to have played for Manchester United. But he is not the greatest Manchester United player. And there’s a difference in that. Ronaldo now has the opportunity to make up that difference too, by reviving the fallen giant back to its glory.
But sometimes, even the best of efforts can result in failure. So, what if Ronaldo’s return, too, turns out to be a failure? What if Ronaldo’s return is yet another false dawn in the series of false dawns we have had in recent years?
Well, even in that case — or even in the worst-case scenario — Ronaldo’s return is still a fairytale. For it is our opportunity to relish one last dance.
Remember, Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United as a 24-year-old kid, with just 1 ballon dor winner to his name. Now, he comes back as a 5 times ballon dor winner, and one of the four players with the genuine GOAT claim (with Messi, Maradona, and Pele being the other three).
Therefore, regardless of the trophies he could win, it is an opportunity for us to watch one of the all-time greats wear the famous Red Shirt. An opportunity to appreciate one of our own — one more time.
As for Manchester United, the return of Ronaldo is also a gift to Sir Alex Ferguson — the father figure of Manchester United — to embrace and appreciate his football son, back on the turf where it all started.
One day, Cristiano Ronaldo will retire. But the story will live forever. The story of a football son who returned home for one last dance.