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Graham Hunter: Will Ronaldo return to Manchester United? Here’s what you need to know…

by Graham Hunter | July 9, 2013

Graham Hunter byline

Spanish football expert Graham Hunter reveals the role Chevrolet and Nike could play in Ronaldo’s transfer to Manchester United from Real Madrid, but suggests it still might not be enough, due to the influence of the great Zinedine Zidane…

Here is a stone cold fact. There is a much-better-than-evens chance that Cristiano Ronaldo will return to play for Manchester United.

In fact, right now, that idea is very much part of the plans of both the Old Trafford legend and his immensely powerful agent Jorge Mendes.

However, that’s only the ‘whether’. The ‘how’ and the ‘when’ very much remain subject to whim, vast sums of money, the player’s will and an absolutely fascinating battle – Sir Alex Ferguson v Zinedine Zidane.

Fergie, when he was young, had a much more elegant and cultured left foot than people now recall. It was WELL within his talents to exceed 1000 keepie uppies before the ball hit the ground.

But, Zizou he was not.

Ronaldo’s goal stats for Man United and Real Madrid

ronaldo_statsbomb

Why Ronaldo and Ferguson are bound forever

However Ferguson is patently the Zidane of modern football management. He also inspires trust, affection and respect from Ronaldo. As disparate are the two men’s attitudes as to how life is to be led, what constitutes ‘fashionable’ and whether conspicuous consumption is or isn’t the eighth deadly sin, the Portuguese and the Scot are unified by one thing above all else: an ability to dedicate themselves ruthlessly to winning.

Many talk about it, very few are capable of it.

Like MENSA members (or Masons), such people instantly recognize each other and either bond forever or become implacable enemies.

Ronaldo and Ferguson are bound forever.

United know, have known for a long, long time, that life at Real Madrid is NOT the dream ticket Ronaldo imagined it would be.

While they benefitted from an £80m transfer fee, the real reason Ferguson and United allowed Ronaldo to leave for the Spanish capital is directly equated to the reason Ferguson let Carlos Queiroz go there too.

Some, particularly in Iberia, don’t simply view, but feel in their soul, that Real Madrid is the most toweringly important club in the history of football.

His problems at Real Madrid

Yes, yes, okay. Ronaldo was going to earn shedloads of money for going there, as was his agent. But the trigger, the reason for yearning to go was not cash.

Ronaldo desperately wanted to play for Madrid, add his name alongside (even above) those of Gento, Di Stefano, Raúl, Figo and Zidane.

Ferguson understood.

Unless you get that concept, then you won’t get what’s going on in his mind right now.

While in Spain Ronaldo has seen his Ballon D’Or status evaporated by Messi and, professionally, he’s endured more frustration than elation.

His personal form doesn’t need discussing. He’s scored more than a goal per game, very nearly as many away as at home, and he’s certainly a more complete team player now, aged 28, than when he left Old Trafford.

But Real Madrid has been a let down. He has three medals from his four seasons, but only one that would rank of supreme importance to him (despite his brilliant winning header in the Copa Del Rey final of 2010), which is the exceptional Liga victory of 2011/12.

Zinedine Zidane

INFLUENCE: Ferguson, in his new role, is up against Real Madrid legend Zinedine Zidane


Internal politics rage in the Perez fiefdom

Was United under Sir Alex a fiefdom? Yes, in a wholly positive sense, it probably was. There Ronaldo felt protected, developed, trusted, backed in public with coruscating rhetoric – valued. United felt like a high performance organisation.

Madrid hasn’t. It’s currently Florentino Pérez’s fiefdom and, now, will be for a further four years given the uncontested Presidential elections earlier this summer.

But it’s a place where internal politics rage, where Jose Mourinho’s putsch to gain precisely the overall power which Sir Alex earned over the years at Old Trafford didn’t end up benefitting Ronaldo – it’s a high performance organisation, which is under performing.

It’s also a mirage that because Mourinho and Ronaldo share a nationality and an agent that all was sweetness and light between them. It wasn’t.

Ronaldo, coincidentally, is constructed the same way as Ferguson. Dominate opponents, thrash opponents when you can, play on the front foot all the time, add goals when the chance is there, entertain – adhere to the ruthless need to win, but do it via attacking football.

If you asked Ronaldo what Mourinho would have done on the touchline of the Camp Nou in 1999 when Teddy Sheringham equalised in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich and assistant Steve McClaren was urging closing the 90 minutes out so that extra time was a guarantee, he’d know the answer alright. And he’d disagree.

Mourinho got it wrong at Real

The sad thing for Madrid fans is that Ronaldo, while setting new standards of professionalism, dedication, excellence and scoring, has made it clear where he diverges from the party line at Madrid.

It was Ronaldo waving his team forward, against team orders, when they went on to lose 0-2 at home to Barca in the 2010/11 Champions League semi final.

His idea was right, it was the Madridista idea – Mourinho proved to have got it wrong.

When he admitted he was ‘sad’ last Autumn he underlined with complete sincerity, that he wasn’t asking for more money, for a better contract.

It was true.

He was making it clear that a) he didn’t feel that there was the right unity and desire at the club b) that Real Madrid was repeatedly guilty of not ‘protecting’ him in public, (even the President not accompanying him to institutional events) and c) he yearned for more spectacular football.

Ronaldo v Barcelona calm down

The options for Ronaldo now

Ronaldo has two more years on his Madrid contract.

Now, right now, is the red ‘danger’ zone for the club if they don’t renew him. IF they cannot convince him to renew before the end of the season then…

  • a) The summer will be eaten up by the World Cup and then holidays and he’ll return for duty just a few months from being able to sign for anyone he pleased on January 1 2015. For free.
  • b) They will be faced with the thorny choice of selling him cut price in late summer 2014 or taking the ‘Hail Mary’ approach of letting him enter his last year of contract in the hope of persuading him to stay – but with the risk of needing to sell.

Their main weapons, now, are not only new coach Carlo Ancelotti (whose words “we need to play spectacularly, this is Real Madrid” won’t have displeased Ronaldo) and Zidane.

Zizou is assistant coach to Ancelotti but he’s also someone who is now guiding the President, talking to the players, influencing who signs for them (Varane, Isco) and attempting to return grandeur to the nine time European Champions.

Zidane can, in theory, begin to sculpt the kind of Real Madrid Ronaldo always wanted.

However at United, Sir Alex Ferguson can still, from his new role, do the same for Ronaldo.

The fact that he is still involved, not fully retired, is a bonus to the Reds as far as Ronaldo is concerned.

Their kit sponsors, Nike, want Ronaldo back and are willing to financially influence that.

Their shirt sponsors, Chevrolet, view Ronaldo as not only a huge boost to the football operation but a massive marketing magnet all over the planet – but most particularly in the US.

Florentino would be lynched for selling CR7

If Real Madrid can be convinced to sell before the end of this market, I’ll be amazed. The fans now adore him, he’s the club’s best player by a zillion miles and he’s someone around whom a charge for la Decima, the tenth European Cup, can be mounted.

Florentino would be lynched for selling. But can the deal be constructed and put in place for next summer: Yes.

Would United be the leading candidate to sign him if he left for free in 2015: Yes.

Hundreds of millions of pounds are involved in this, share prices are involved in this, Presidential ego is involved. Predict with a voice of total certainty  how it will play out at your own risk.

But there is a race to convince Ronaldo about how he spends most of the next five years of his playing life. And United are right in it.

Graham Hunter is the author of the award-winning book, Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World. He is a regular contributor to the Paddy Power Blog on football and an all-round good guy. Follow him on Twitter here

Dive into Hunter’s archives on the Paddy Power Blog here

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