Manchester United Could Be Playing for Ronaldo's Return Next Summer


The never-ending story that is Cristiano Ronaldo's return to Manchester United has always been an easy one to indulge. 

For the sporting romantics, Ronaldo's career arc demands it. It's the hero crossing water again - back to the land where his genius was forged, where his transformation from fleet-footed teenager to force of nature took place, and where 70,000 rain-soaked fans fell at his feet every time he played for them.

United were Ronaldo's first true love, and it was a seduction of fierce intensity on both sides. Madrid might have been the image of perfection he'd been chasing since childhood, but you get the feeling Ronaldo's pure vision of the Bernabeu has darkened with every season he's been with Los Blancos.

Meanwhile, with every season away from Old Trafford, Ronaldo's spoken desire for all things Manchester and United has grown steadily louder. There's a "one that got away" theme in there and it's getting harder and harder not to go back again.

Is it simply a case of better the Red Devils you know? Or has time taught Ronaldo that nothing will ever fulfill him the way playing for United did? "It is the club that is still in my heart," he said last year. It's not hard to understand why.

Ronaldo was 18 when he signed for United, just days after running them ragged in the colours of Sporting. He was joining the "best team in the world" he said, and it wasn't long before the Stretford End was on its feet returning the platitudes. The much talked-about pressure of succeeding David Beckham into the famous No. 7 shirt was soon forgotten, as Ronaldo set about emulating George Best instead.

No wide player had ever devastated England's top flight like Ronaldo did, and none have since. From 2006 to 2009 he was as close to unplayable as anything the Premier League has seen, and his legacy - we might convincingly argue - includes extending Sir Alex Ferguson's success and bringing the 2008 Champions League to United.

Would either have happened without him? I tend towards no. And whatever Ronaldo achieves at Madrid, he won't win hearts as he did in Manchester.

And so here we are, five years on from Ronaldo's departure, and talking still of his possible return to the club where he made his name. Only this time, the talk isn't just talk - not if we're to believe the source very close to Ronaldo who claims United have an offer ready and the reigning Ballon d'Or winner is open to taking it.

The arrivals of Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao have possibly played their part, with Ronaldo outspoken fans of both players - the former he wishes had stayed at Madrid, the second he was hoping they would sign this summer. In those two deals, could it be that United became a viable option once more?

If that's the case, it won't happen in January. Madrid are defending their European title and Ronaldo's burning ambition demands he has a shot at making history. He won't win another Ballon d'Or chasing a Champions League spot with United. So what of the summer? 

Considering Ronaldo is just a year into a new five-year contract at Madrid, his price tag will be eye-watering. We'd surely be talking of the first £100 million footballer, and United would have to offload at least a couple of very big names to make way for a suitably 'Gaalatico' salary.

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Even if a deal is possible, however, you'd have to think Ronaldo will demand Champions League football next season. He'll turn 30 in February and with the demands he puts on his body, and the fragility of his knee, you can't imagine he'll be operating at full throttle for too many seasons more.

At this stage in his career, a season outside of Europe's top competition would be unthinkable - both from a playing perspective and in the interests of Ronaldo's global brand. With that in mind, could it be that the biggest implication of United's quest for the top four this season might be Ronaldo's signature in the summer?

A top three finish, as mapped out by United's board and targeted by Louis van Gaal, might be enough to seal the deal. Anything less, and Ronaldo may be forced to take another path or perhaps even resign himself to seeing out his career with Madrid.

United were already playing for high stakes. If a top-three spot gets them Champions League football and Ronaldo next season, Van Gaal's first season in charge may one day be remembered as the campaign that ushered in a new era of dominance. 

And if Ronaldo's return is as plausible as some close to the player are suggesting, we could be talking about the catalyst for the most explosive transfer window of them all next summer.

 

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