Cristiano Ronaldo embodies everything that is perfect about football; a boy saved from the slums of Portugal, ending up with a life like his alcoholic father and former drug-abuser brother, to go on to become a superstar.
Cristiano Ronaldo also embodies everything the ones who truly love the game, the fans, hate; selfish, arrogant and far removed from reality.
I'm probably finally gonna get myself a proper Cristiano Ronaldo shirt. I have a love/hate relationship with him and it's the weirdest.
— Andre Harrison (@Harrison101HD) July 13, 2016
CR7 joining Real Madrid was always a case of ‘When?’ rather than ‘If’ the then-Red Devils forward would go. And it eventually all came to a head on the 11th June 2009, when Manchester United accepted, at the time, a world-record transfer fee – the last time (probably ever) a player will truly deserve the label as the world’s most expensive player.
When Ronaldo said his farewells, there was an air around Old Trafford of: ‘thanks for the memories, and we understand your decision. Don’t forget us; we love you’ and similar sentiments were echoed from the fans to the boardroom.
Ronaldo left Manchester a club legend. And the season of 2008/09 was confined to the subconscious, like it never happened.
A season that saw the Old Trafford faithful turn on their favourite son – Wayne Rooney knows all about that, now; the ungrateful swines.
…he was counting down the months until he could leave
It was all agreed in the summer of 2008, Real Madrid would take Cristiano Ronaldo next summer for a world-record fee of €94million – interestingly, if either side vetoed on the agreement, they’d have to pay €30million as compensation – and if Los Blancos breached the confidentiality agreement, that United were quite rightly scared out of their mind that the agreed deal would be leaked, then the deal could also be blocked.
But it didn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that, after coming back from Euro 2008 with Portugal, something had been organised with Real Madrid.
Guillem Balague writes in his fascinating biography on CR7 that:
There are those who believe that Ronaldo gradually distanced himself from the rest of the group as the campaign progressed. He found it harder and harder to join in with the club affairs and even abandoned his role as Nani and Anderson’s ‘babysitter’.
The 2008/09 season for the former Sporting Lisbon winger was littered with over-the-top complaints to the referees, constant displays of laziness when without the ball, the arrogance to want to be centre of attention, failure to join in celebrations with his teammates and red cards.
In defence of CR7, all these traits were there for the world to see during his spell at the club – and remain to this very day part of the man – but, with the elephant in the room, of knowing Ronaldo was off to La Liga, fans and teammates were less willing to turn a blind eye.
During the game against Aston Villa, when Federico Macheda announced himself as a future Ballon d’Or-winner – ? ? ? ? ? – Ronaldo was also on the scoresheet with a brace, but moments before finding the net for the second time, he was booed by his own fans for going down too easily.
To sum up Ronaldo’s final season at Manchester United, you just need to watch the Portugal captain’s reaction to being subbed during the Manchester Derby, a game in which he scored his final goal for the club.
Now, over seven years on from when Ronaldo traded the iconic red of United for the white of Real Madrid, Manchester United fans remember the greatest player to ever grace their club with a glint in their eye, a fondness that even Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville are not entitled to.
Deep down, though, you know United fans don’t adore Ronaldo; he wasn’t around for long enough and he never truly bought into the club values. However, if Ronaldo is to be remembered as the greatest player to ever grace the beautiful game, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Red Devils want to be in that slipstream.