Thursday 18 September ~
So, he’s back. On a night when three British teams began their Champions League campaigns, it is one Portuguese substitute that dominates the papers. You get the feeling he’ll be pleased with that, if not his failure to single-handedly turn the game in Manchester United’s favour as they laboured to a 0-0 with Villarreal at Old Trafford. Of course the big story was always destined to be how the United fans greeted Cristiano Ronaldo’s return after their summer of being the unwanted wife, sitting at home while he was out wooing his mistress. And the general consensus seems to be “with open arms”. Cheered as he warmed up, cheered onto the pitch, Ronaldo was welcomed with the kind of adoration that fans usually reserve for an exciting new signing, not a man who has done all he can to never play for the club again.
It couldn't have been a much better time to return to the United team for the Portuguese. In their first five games of the season United have done more than Ronaldo ever could to prove how important he is to their success. For all the magnificent goals, needless step-overs and single-handed victories nothing quite says “you need me” like the vision of what life will be without you; frustrating, disappointing and punctuated with far fewer trophies. Villarreal’s Marcos Senna, who himself almost joined United a couple of years ago, spoke for many when he described United as lacking 30 per cent of their threat without Ronaldo (although by my calculations it is closer to 32 per cent).
This is the problem for United. Ronaldo has spent the summer making them look like a bunch of second-rate prats as he flutters his eyelashes at Ramon Calderon, but the sad fact is that they need him far more than he needs them. Sir Alex Ferguson may have had a strong guiding hand in making him the player he is, but now his biggest job is simply holding onto that player each summer and keeping him happy. It would be nice to think that United’s fans would have punished Ronaldo for his behaviour this summer with a frosty welcome, but when you are facing the choice between success and failure morals tend to take a backseat. You only have to look across Manchester to the City fans – embracing a new regime of overspending and ego-building in the hope that they will finally be able to cheer some success – to see that. And who can honestly say they would be any different? Josh Widdicombe