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On Cristiano Ronaldo's return to Old Trafford

When the UEFA Champions League fixtures were announced, the countdown to March 5, 2013 began. The day would mark the return of Cristiano Ronaldo to Old Trafford. Ronaldo caught the eye of Sir Alex Ferguson in the summer of 2003 when the former starred in United’s 1-3 defeat to Sporting Lisbon. After signing for  €15 million, Ronaldo became United’s first ever Portuguese player. Little did the young Cristiano know that one day 75,811 fans would chant his name as Real Madrid took on Manchester United in the second leg of their crucial Champions League Round-of-16 tie at Old Trafford.

“After I joined, the manager asked me what number I’d like. I said 28. But Ferguson said ‘No, you’re going to have No. 7,’ and the famous shirt was an extra source of motivation. I was forced to live up to such an honour.” - Crisiano Ronaldo, after being offered the No. 7 jersey.

Ronaldo scored his first goal with a free-kick in a 3-0 win over Portsmouth in November 2003.  He went on to score ten goals and was awarded the FIFPro Special Young Player of the Year award in 2005. The 2006-07 season was a season to remember for Ronaldo as he broke the 20-goal barrier and won his first League title with United. He was voted into his second consecutive FIFPro Special Young Player of the Year award at the end of the year.

In March 2007, rumors circulated that Real Madrid were willing to pay an unprecedented €80 million for Ronaldo, but the latter signed a five-year contract extension with United, making him the club’s highest-paid player. As if in return, Ronaldo won the PFA Player’s Player of the Year, The PFA Young Player of the Year and the PFA Fans’ Player of the Year, along with the FWA Footballer of the Year awards. As Ronaldo continued to pull off brilliant and inspiring performances, the Stretford End began to chant:

“Viva Ronaldo
Viva Ronaldo
Running down the wing
Hear United sing
Viva Ronaldo”

On 19 March 2008, Ronaldo captained United for the first time in his career in a home win over Bolton, scoring both goals in the 2–0 victory. The second goal ensured Ronaldo beat George Best’s record of 32 goals scored in a single season by a winger. Ronaldo’s scoring streak was rewarded with him becoming the first winger to win the 2007–08 European Golden Shoe. He just seemed to get better and better with every passing minute on the field while the Stretford End sang:

“Viva Ronaldo
Viva Ronaldo
Running down the wing
Hear United sing
Viva Ronaldo”

Ronaldo’s blistering form carried United to the 2007-08 Champions League final in Moscow where he opened the scoring with a header against Chelsea. Chelsea later equalized and the match ended 1-1. Ronaldo misfired in the penalty shoot-out, but no harm was done as John Terry shot wide and Nic0las Anelka’s spot-kick was saved by Edwin Van Der Sar as United won the dramatic shoot-out 6-5. Despite his penalty miss,  Ronaldo was named the UEFA Fans’ Man of the Match while the Stretford End sang:

“Viva Ronaldo
Viva Ronaldo
Running down the wing
Hear United sing
Viva Ronaldo”

As the 2008 season ended, Ronaldo was once again linked with a move to Real Madrid, but the former confirmed that he would stay with United for at least another season.In a 5–0 win over Stoke City on 15 November 2008, Ronaldo scored his 100th and 101st goals in all competitions for Manchester United. The goals also meant that Ronaldo had now scored against all the other 19 teams in the Premier League.

  “Ronaldo is better than George Best and Denis Law, who were two brilliant and great players in the history of United.” - Johan Cruyff , three-time Ballon d’Or winner.

On 2 December, Ronaldo became Manchester United’s first United player to win a Ballon d’Or since George Best won the prestigious award in 1968.  He also became the first Premier League player ever to be named the FIFA World Player of the Year. United beat Inter Milan and marched into the quarter-finals of the 2009 Champions League thanks to a brace from Ronaldo. United advanced into the semi-finals after Ronaldo scored a 40-yard scorcher against Porto in the second leg. For this goal, Ronaldo won the first FIFA Puskas Award for the best goal of the year. United marched into their second consecutive Champions League final as the Stretford End sang:

“Viva Ronaldo
Viva Ronaldo
Running down the wing
Hear United sing
Viva Ronaldo”

On 11 June 2009, Cristiano Ronaldo left Old Trafford for fresh pastures at the Santiago Bernabeu as Real Madrid offered United  £80 million for his transfer. The transfer made Ronaldo the most expensive player in the world and left United with a massive void to fill in the team sheet.

 “He’s been my father in sport, one of the most important factors and most influential in my career.” - Cristiano Ronaldo, on Sir Alex Ferguson.

“I have nothing but praise for the boy. He is easily the best player in the world. He is better than Kaka and better than Messi. He is streets ahead of them all. His contribution as a goal threat is unbelievable. His stats are incredible. Strikes at goal, attempts on goal, raids into the penalty box, headers. It is all there. Absolutely astounding.” - Sir Alex, on Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo holds the records for most goals scored in a season for Real Madrid, most goals scored per minute in La Liga, first top European league player to reach 40 goals in a single season in two consecutive years, fastest Real Madrid player to reach one hundred league goals, and the first player ever to score against every team in a single season in La Liga. In January 2013, Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 300th club goal for Madrid as the Stretford End still sang:

“Viva Ronaldo
Viva Ronaldo
Running down the wing
Hear United sing
Viva Ronaldo”

The first leg of the tie between Manchester United and Real Madrid was an immense event. The match ended 1-1 with United stealing a precious away goal from the Bernabeu thanks to Danny Welbeck. Crisitano played with an air of confidence which was surprising considering he was playing against his former club for the very first time. He scored from a delightful header giving Madrid a lifeline in the tie. For most of the second half, he was over-shadowed by Phil Jones in midfield. With Jones mostly unavailable for the second leg, it will be interesting to see whom Sir Alex appoints to mark his former star.

 “What a header. Unbelievable. You can’t stop that, I’ve got to say, with that leap and spring and he holds himself in the air. And the power in the header. I came in at half-time and said: ‘Patrice did you not challenge for it’ but I’ve seen the video. I thought we did well and it was difficult for Cristiano playing against us, his old team. Maybe there was a little bit of emotion attached to it but he was still a big threat for them.” - Sir Alex, on Cristiano’s header.

Imagine for a moment that you were Cristiano Ronaldo. Imagine standing in the Old Trafford tunnel just before kick-off with all the memories rushing back to you. All the times you walked down that very tunnel after scoring an awe-inspiring goal with the 75,811 applauding their approval. Looking across that tunnel at the man who taught you all there is to know about football, the man who guided and nurtured you like a father all those years at Carrington. Looking across that tunnel at all your former team-mates, friends and companions who you played with every single day for six years of your life. Walking through the tunnel with the noise of the 75,811 people filling your ears as they had done on so many an occasion. But this time the noise is louder than ever before as the away fans and the home fans chant together:

“Viva Ronaldo
Viva Ronaldo
Running down the wing
Hear United sing
Viva Ronaldo”

Crisitano Ronaldo has always been the man for a big occasion, but will he be able to soak up the pressure on his return to Old Trafford? Will Cristiano Ronaldo be able to do what he done to so many other teams in the past, to the team where he grew as a player, as an individual,as a man? Will Crisitano Ronaldo be able to knock the very team with whom he won the 2008 Champions League , out of the Champions League? Only time will tell.

 “It is a club where I played for six years and I have a very special affection for them. I always want to win but I have respect for the people have given me so much”. - Crisitano Ronaldo, on playing against United.

As a United fan, I will be rooting for the home side’s victory. However, I will be hoping that Crisitano Ronaldo performs well on his return home. Also, I will be chanting along with the Stretford End:

“Viva Ronaldo
Viva Ronaldo
Running down the wing
Hear United sing
Viva Ronaldo”

Welcome home, Cristiano. Welcome home.

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