Cristiano Ronaldo is poised to make a sensational return to Manchester United after a stunning turn of events on Friday.
The Portuguese superstar was in advanced talks to join Manchester City after deciding to leave Juventus and on Thursday, he confirmed to the Italian club’s boss Massimiliano Allegri he would be moving on.
It was widely reported that City were in the driving seat for his signature, having missed out on the signing of Tottenham captain Harry Kane which left them with just one recognised striker in their senior squad.
On Friday morning, former United boss Sir Alex Ferguson – who managed Ronaldo across his six seasons at Old Trafford – reached out to the player to persuade him to have a late change of heart.
As reported by the Manchester Evening News , Ferguson and Ronaldo – who have frequently spoken of their mutual admiration and fondness of each other – had a private phone call, which sparked a frantic day of activity.
It followed on from the MEN ’s report that the Glazer family were prepared to sanction a move for the 36-year-old in order to seal his sensational return to United, rather than joining their city rivals.
The Glazers also own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and United’s move for Ronaldo draws parallels to the NFL side’s move for the ageing legendary quarterback Tom Brady following his departure from the New England Patriots.
The approach to the Ronaldo transfer mirrors that of Brady, who was the Super Bowl’s oldest player at 43 but was the MVP to lead the Buccaneers to the Super Bowl title in 2020.
The logic from United’s point of view is that Ronaldo’s status and prestige, coupled with his continued value on the pitch, outweigh the concerns over his age and the wage outlay on his arrival.
United subsequently reacted to the City talks and Ferguson reached out to Ronaldo, who have a father-and-son style relationship on Friday morning.
Ronaldo previously said of his connection to Ferguson: “In terms of personal stuff I just have to say, ‘Thank you for what you did for me.’
“Especially, I remember, the thing that is in my memory, the time my father was sick in hospital and we were in a tough moment in the season.
“We had important games in the Champions League and league, and I said ‘Coach, I need to go and see my daddy’.
“And I was a key player, a very important player. And he said ‘Listen your family is the most important thing you have in your life. If you want to go three days, four days, five days, you can go.’
“This moment is what I keep with me, because it was the most important moment of my life. He shared it with me and this is why I respect him. And for me he is the best coach I ever had.”
It was not only Ferguson who intervened to pull on Ronaldo’s heartstrings and prompt him to opt for a return to United rather than joining Pep Guardiola’s squad.
As per a report in ESPN, several of Ronaldo’s former Old Trafford teammates sent WhatsApp messages to the Portuguese after learning of his talks with City.
It is claimed that they were insistent that such a move would be a mistake and urged him to instead consider a switch to United.
His former teammates urged him that his history and status at Old Trafford would be permanently damaged by a move to City, and that he could continue his legacy at the Red Devils by returning.
The first hint that a move to the Etihad was breaking down and the strategy from United was succeeding came as Ronaldo’s former teammate Rio Ferdinand tweeted a cryptic clue.
Ferdinand was openly hinting that he knew something that nobody else was aware of and such a tweet would likely have been driven by his reassurance on the status of Ronaldo’s future.
By this stage, the wheels were firmly in motion – yet prior to Friday’s pre-match press conferences for Premier League managers, nobody was aware the situation had rapidly developed.
Can Cristiano Ronaldo lead Man Utd to the Premier League title? Comment below
Managers across the Premier League were asked about their thoughts on Ronaldo’s return to English football, but in the framing that it would be the Premier League champions he would be joining.
The move first began to materialise in public when United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer directly addressed the possibility of Ronaldo to returning to Old Trafford.
The Norwegian usually plays down transfer rumours and steers away from speculation but tackled the issue head-on and spoke of United’s openness to a deal.
“I didn’t think Cristiano was going to turn out leaving Juventus,” Solskjaer – who played alongside Ronaldo at United and the two have kept in touch since – told reporters at his Friday press conference.
“And it’s been speculation this morning and the last few days.
“We’ve always had good communication. I know Bruno [Fernandes]’s been talking to him as well and he knows what we feel about him. And if he was ever going to move away from Juventus he knows we’re here.
“We focus on the ones we have there, I don’t want to speculate too much on Cristiano, what’s happening there with the press.
“I’ve said many times with speculation, when you’re Man United, when you’re Ronaldo, when you’re Messi, when you’re Pogba, when you’re Bruno, you have to read a lot about yourselves. So let’s see what happens with Cristiano, he’s such a legend of this club.
“Cristiano has been a legend of this club, he is a legend of this club, he’s the greatest player of all time, if you ask me. I was fortunate enough to play with him, I coached him (in 2008) when I got my job. He almost retired me in that Wolverhampton game (in 2003) when I got injured because he kept switching sides!
“Such a tremendous human being, as well. Let’s see what happens with Cristiano. Everyone who’s played with him has a soft spot for him.”
Solskjaer was speaking with open confidence and a smile on his face – he would only have spoken in this tone and with such optimism if he believed the situation was progressing for his club.
That he revealed Bruno Fernandes – Ronaldo’s international teammate for Portugal – was in contact with the forward was another significant indicator on the club’s intentions, with the two believed to have been in contact on Thursday evening.
In the hour that followed, Manchester City confirmed that they no longer had an interest in signing Ronaldo and were officially out of the race.
United began to make arrangements for Ronaldo to undergo a medical in Lisbon – the player had flown into the Portuguese capital on his private jet from Turin at lunchtime – and submitted an official bid to Juventus.
“It is a beautiful day,” Ferdinand began by saying on Five.
“Sir Alex Ferguson would have been exactly the same, he would have hated to see Cristiano in a Man City shirt – just like any other person who has been connected for a long period of time at this football club.
“I rang him straight away to tell him what’s going on? Tell me you’re lying? Every type of ‘no, no, no, no, no’ in the conversation.
“I’m like all the fans, I’m exactly the same and we are all the same like that. Please tell me you’re not going.
“I hope that there is an announcement at some point and that it’s one that I would be happy with.
“It’s the best – we’ve seen some great signings this summer and hopefully we are sitting here waiting for something to unravel at some point before the transfer window closes, and United get what they are looking for.”
There will be plenty of doubts that United’s move is clouded by sentimentality rather than practicality and that other areas of the squad – notably holding midfielders – are in more urgent need of attention.
Yet the prospect of a genuine global superstar who had built a fearsome and apparently lasting legacy at Old Trafford returning was too good for the club to pass up, particularly when combined with the prospect of him joining their city rivals.
The deal is not yet complete and so fast and unpredictable is the nature of this transfer window that nothing can yet be ruled out, but Friday’s phone calls and WhatsApp messages between Ronaldo and his former United colleagues may well go down in folklore.
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