Unless you’ve been living in a penal colony in the outer reaches of Siberia for the last few days, bereft of internet and with only polar bears to converse with, you’re no doubt fully up-to-speed on the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo has “irreversibly” (his words) decided to leave Real Madrid.
Now, before we all get too carried away, let us remember that the Orange One has flashed a few inches of his perfectly-waxed leg at Europe’s leading clubs before. This could be yet another ruse to score a further increase to his already egregious salary, or perhaps a ploy to distract attention from those pesky headlines about his fraudulent tax returns.
But if we take the story at face value, if we assume that Ronaldo is indeed ready for “a new challenge” away from the Santiago Bernabau, the inevitable question becomes: “where will he go?” And the answer, for reasons that are about to become clear, is back to Manchester United.
There are only a small handful of clubs that can afford to pay the mind-altering sums of money being quoted for Ronaldo’s transfer, and United is at the head of that miniscule queue. $450m is but a drop in the ocean for the world’s richest football club, while Ronaldo’s wages would be easily covered by shirt sales and the addition of another Global Noodle Partner or two.
Now we know what you’re thinking: a Paris St. Germain, Chinese Super League owner or even newly-minted AC Milan could no doubt find the money to meet Ronaldo’s remunerative demands. And they certainly could. But Manchester United have three advantages that no other club in the world — however wealthy — can rival.
For one, no team can match United’s commercial operation and global fan base. They, and they alone, can offer Ronaldo the platform through which to continue the expansion of his personal brand. PSG and Milan may have the readies in their back pocket, but neither has the same name recognition or geographic reach required to continue Ronaldo’s propulsion towards God-like status within the sporting world.
For two, only Old Trafford can offer Ronaldo a project worthy of his ego: the returning hero, still to this day serenaded by the Stretford End, lifting a stumbling giant back to the pinnacle of the footballing pyramid. His legend would be complete, and no number of Ligue 1 titles with PSG or CSL victories with Hangzhou Greentown FC/Tianjin TEDA/Shanghai Greenland (delete, dear reader, as you see fit) can come close to that.
Finally, and most practically, only United have something that Real Madrid, above and beyond a stonking transfer fee, truly want: David De Gea. Whether or not you believe Man United would be wise to let go the man who has, almost single-handedly, saved United’s blushes on too many occasions to remember these last few years is beside the point. De Gea is the player Madrid wants above any other this summer, and only the suits inside Old Trafford are in a position to make that happen.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Real Madrid is still far from a certainty, despite what endless headlines are saying. But if he does leave the Spanish Capital this summer, it will surely be to return to the stage where he first made his name: Old Trafford.