Cristiano Ronaldo completed an emotional return to Manchester United on Friday, 12 years after leaving as the world’s most expensive player, tasked with firing the Red Devils back to the top of the English and European game.
The 36-year-old has forced a return to the Premier League from Juventus as one last shot at a sixth Ballon d’Or and Champions League title.
Ronaldo arrived at United as a skinny 18-year-old from Sporting Lisbon in 2003 with a bag of tricks.
In six years under the tutelage of Alex Ferguson his physique and end product were transformed to lead United to three Premier League titles and Ferguson’s final Champions League in 2008.
However, even United could not resist Ronaldo’s desire to move to Spain when Real Madrid offered a then world record £80 million ($110 million) in 2009.
Real were more than rewarded with nine years of Ronaldo in his prime. He smashed the club’s all-time goalscoring record at a rate of more than a goal a game, netting 450 times in 438 appearances.
After ending Real’s long-wait for “La Decima”, the club’s 10th European Cup, he spearheaded a run of three consecutive Champions League wins between 2016 and 2018.
That is what United are looking for an ageing Ronaldo to repeat. The club he returns to is different to the all-conquering behemoth he left behind.
United have not won a league title since Ferguson left in 2013 and have failed to even qualify for the Champions League regularly in the intervening years.