Madrid or Man United? Cristiano Ronaldo's Big Decision Looms Large


"It's a dream come true," says Robbie Keane of every club he plays for (657 and counting), but Cristiano Ronaldo only had one dream - to play for Real Madrid.

That dream has been satiated and then some. Ronaldo sprung unto a golden Galatico pedestal when he joined Madrid in 2009, and he's since won a Champions League (La Decima no less), a league title, two Copa del Reys, a couple of Ballon d'Ors and a whole lot more besides.

Only Alfredo Di Stefano and Raul have scored more Madrid goals than Ronaldo. Both will be passed if the underpants god stays a Madridista until 2018, when his current deal runs out.

By that time Ronaldo will be 33. He'll have played nine seasons at the Bernabeu and surely racked up a few more medals to go along with the sackloads of Euros they're paying him - a tidy €17 million a year, net.

But with every week that passes it's becoming harder to envisage Ronaldo's career taking that straightforward a path. Speculation swirls, and while much of it is baseless those I speak to with an inside line have all acknowledged Ronaldo's future is uncertain.

The man himself is not enjoying his football as his once did. And then there's the strand of a club who may have concerns with his body's ability to maintain his remarkable standard for too many seasons more. Might it be better to cash in with Ronaldo at his gleaming best?

Being Madrid, politics loom large. Some are saying Florentino Perez has a Ronaldo succession plan in mind. Others are stirring up the potential rivalry between Ronaldo and the Galatico who was possibly bought to replace him, Gareth Bale. And what if Carlo Ancelotti says goodbye this summer, as is always possible at any moment in Madrid?

Decision time is looming for Ronaldo. As a man acutely aware of his legacy he'll be thinking about his future deeply, and how the next chapter in his career would ideally play out from here.

Finances shouldn't matter, but they always do. Ronaldo won't go anywhere before 2018 unless they're paying him more than he's on now and that severely limits his choices. 

Is there another club in the equation other than Manchester United? Bleacher Report's Guillem Balague insists Ronaldo continues to harbour a fantasy of returning to Old Trafford to re-live his halcyon days and propel his former club back to greatness once more.

United are obviously, transparently interested. Spanish football expert Pete Jenson believes Madrid might entertain a United bid in the region of £65 million this summer for Ronaldo. Jenson's take is that Madrid will offload either Ronaldo or Bale in the upcoming window and Ronaldo would be the more affordable.

If not United for Ronaldo, then who?

Real Madrid v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Round of 16 : News Photo

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Ronaldo's sentimental ties to the red half of town mean we can forget about Manchester City, but could Chelsea under Jose Mourinho be a viable option? Ronaldo's agent Jorge Mendes seemed to talk up the possibility late last year, but it's hard to imagine there's room for both of their egos at Stamford Bridge.

Ronaldo and Mourinho had their issues at Real Madrid by all accounts, with Mourinho critical after he left, of the player's inability to take criticism. "Maybe he thinks he knows everything," Mourinho said.

Memories fade fast and wounds heal quickly in football of course, so it would be foolish to rule out a reunion. But would Ronaldo really choose Chelsea over United?

MLS is another possibility that's been mooted, but a move to America before 2018 is the stuff of fantasy. Only then, at 33 and with his powers on the wain, would Ronaldo be tempted to take the Beckham path and revel in the twilight of his career on a less demanding stage.

PSG perhaps? The French side certainly have the cash for it, but the implications of playing in Ligue 1 for Ronaldo's global profile and the brands that sponsor him make that a huge leap of faith for all concerned. If it's legacy Ronaldo's concerned with, only La Liga and the Premier League will do it.

Which brings us back to United and Madrid, the two clubs that will define the best years of Ronaldo's career. 

It seemed fantastical to envisage it a couple of seasons ago, but a Ronny return to Manchester looks almost as likely as his staying in Madrid right now. That's unless United snaffle up Bale instead, which they have every right to try and do this summer as well.

Just the thought of Bale going to United might be enough to get Ronaldo there first.

Or maybe he'll shock us all and perform a reverse Figo to Barcelona. Now wouldn't that be a story.

Stay or go? Bet on Ronaldo's next club now