Manchester Utd v Juventus: Ronaldo’s return an untimely reminder of past glories

The prodigal son will receive a hero's welcome but the club he graced, and plays at for the first time since 2013, has faded away ...,



Manchester United’s ticket office reached for the hard sell when alerting fans of a limited availability for Tuesday’s home match with Juventus. “Ronaldo’s return” was the kicker, and it was unfortunate to say the least.

Emails and text messages arrived at precisely the time the story that Cristiano Ronaldo had been implicated in an alleged 2009 sexual assault and resultant cover-up in Las Vegas, was going global. Until that might be resolved, it is a situation that casts the darkest of shadows over the five-time Ballon D’Or winner and saccharine celebrations of a prodigal son returning to the club where he made his name would be crass at best.

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The accusation, as revealed in painstaking detail by German magazine Der Spiegel, is that the allegations made by Kathryn Mayorga centre on a Vegas visit made in celebration of Ronaldo’s £80m world record sale to Real Madrid. As his reputation and marketability lies on the verge of being shredded, it might not just be United fans who yearn for his salad days in a red shirt.

Ronaldo hit extra-terrestrial heights in Madrid, but he was never as loved by fans of Los Blancos as he had been at Old Trafford. One of the recent revelations surrounding his departure to Turin was that he had become sick of having to accept second place in the pantheon to Alfredo di Stefano, engine of the club’s dominance of the European Cup in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Meanwhile, Sir Alex Ferguson devoted a chapter of his 2013 autobiography to Ronaldo, introduced with the following: “Cristiano Ronaldo was the most gifted player I managed. He surpassed all the other great ones I coached at United. And I had many.”

Over 13 pages, Ferguson wrote a glowing tribute, its tone at times veering into love letter territory in a tome which traduced the likes of David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and Roy Keane. And there is little arguing with Ferguson’s verdict. When Ronaldo was a Manchester United player, the club travelled to the very heights of the game, winning the Champions League in 2008 before losing Ronaldo’s farewell match in the following year’s final.

Ronaldo was the player who made a peak-era Rooney into his domestique, and convinced Ferguson he could do without Ruud van Nistelrooy’s goals. In terms of Premier League history, only perhaps Thierry Henry was so far above the rest when playing his best football. And these are memories to make Manchester United fans both glow and wince at the memory.

The truth is that United have never been quite the same since that flit to Madrid. In Ferguson’s final four seasons in charge, the trophies actually began to dry up, with the league titles of 2010-11 and 2012-13 achieved with nothing near the incendiary dominance of the trio of championships lifted from 2006 to 2009. It is tempting to consider if Ferguson might have lingered longer had he been able to convince Ronaldo to make Manchester his permanent home.

The club Ronaldo will play at for the first time since 2013, when Real ended Ferguson’s dream of signing off with a final European Cup, has faded away.

The fantasy football is played at City now, while United have spent over half a billion pounds in a vain chase for the glory days of a decade ago.

Down the years, United fans, in the melancholy medley of terrace hits that hails the fallen heroes of the past have continued to sing “Viva Ronaldo”. That winding run against Fulham, the free-kick against Portsmouth, the thunderbolt against Porto, the bullet header in Moscow against Chelsea.

United still have flashes like Anthony Martial’s second goal against Chelsea at the weekend under Jose Mourinho but these are moribund times compared to the days when such moments were routine.

As United slumped from their perch, the sight of Ronaldo winning another four European Cups and Euro 2016 were reminders of what they had lost, though at least they were able to say he had been theirs, if too briefly. Since leaving England, he has made himself one the finest footballers of all time, his personal duel with Lionel Messi defining the football age.

Juventus paid £100m for such star quality, even at 33. The hope was that Italy’s most successful club could convert itself into the superpower that United became with Ronaldo in tow, and remain financially. His introduction into Serie A football has been somewhat tentative, though he has recently started to score goals.

But all that is overshadowed. His new club’s social media defence of a “great champion” of their former dream ticket was thoughtless, painfully ill-conceived. Ronaldo’s Las Vegas issue cannot be side-stepped and it must be hoped any pre-match pageantry and fanfare at Old Trafford are accordingly muted.

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