Friday 12 June ~
As Cristiano Ronaldo ties up an £80 million move to Real Madrid, feelings are mixed among Manchester United fans. The majority are grateful for his six years of service and 118 goals. Some long for him to stay, while others acknowledge that he should go: “If you don't want to play for the biggest club in the world, you're just in it for the money,” says Manc foghorn Terry Christian in the Sun. Curious, because Real are the biggest club in the world, with a larger stadium, more fans and €41m more revenue than United in 2007-08. Yes he'll earn more, but he's not just in it for the money – or so he claims.
Some have suggested that the move represents a switch in power away from the Premier League over to Spain where it's sunnier and imported players get taxed only 23 per cent of their income, compared to 50 per cent here. However, the recent activity at Madrid is due predominantly to the returning president Florentino Perez and his resurrection of the galacticos transfer policy. Kaka and Ronaldo join a list that includes Luis Figo, Ronaldo (the fat one), Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham. But major international players are still expected to arrive at Premier League clubs this summer.
Having sanctioned Ronaldo's move, Sir Alex Ferguson has a fortune to spend – the full £80m according to most papers. The Glazers claim to want none, which is hard to believe considering the fee would cover a year's debt interest payments (£69m) or the last financial year's losses (£44m).
Replacements linked to United include Antonio Valencia from Wigan, Lyon's Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery of Bayern Munich, perhaps now the most coveted player in the world. Naturally, Real want Ribery too and haven't yet finished spending. Should these moves materialise Ferguson's side will arguably improve. In the key Champions League games last season Ronaldo played in the middle of a front three, with Wayne Rooney and Park Ji-sung beside, entrusted with the additional task of tracking up and down. Having Valencia, Benzema, Park or a retained Carlos Tevez out wide would allow Rooney to move to the centre instead. Between them, such replacements ought to comfortably replace the 26 goals that Ronaldo contributed last season.
As with Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy, Ronaldo can't be sure that he will replicate the success he has enjoyed at Old Trafford however much Real end up spending – Barcelona still seem a long way ahead of their major rivals. But what is certain is that Man Utd fans will soon get over him. Tom Whitworth