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Real Madrid vs Manchester United - Homecoming of a hero

21 Dec 2012, 20:17 IST

Skinny frame, thick curled hair with blonde streaks, the legendary number 7 on his back and those glittering confident eyes; Cristiano Ronaldo stood at the touchlines at the Theater of Dreams in 2003 to make his Manchester United debut. He entered the arena with a rapturous ovation of 76000 United faithfuls, who expected miracles from the young boy. Absorbing the applause is one thing, but rising to the occasion and fulfilling the expectations is another.

Manchester United v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Semi Final

Cristiano Ronaldo took the field at Old Trafford as if he was playing on the streets of his native Madeira – confident touches on the ball, skipping past defenders as if they didn’t exist, scintillating step overs and blistering pace, he showed no signs of nervousness whatsoever while playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world.

The crowd instantly knew what they had got. In the 6 years that followed, Ronaldo became the darling of Old Trafford as he notched up accolades, both at the team and at a personal level to become one of the all time greats of world football. He was adored, worshipped and idolized in Manchester. It was at Manchester United where he transformed himself from a rough diamond to a glittering star that he is today.

After achieving almost everything in England with Manchester United, Ronaldo left Old Trafford in 2009 to fulfil his lifelong dream of playing for Real Madrid. Sir Alex Ferguson and United fans understood the emotions and bid him a joyous farewell for pastures new. But ever since he has left Old Trafford, there still remains an unbreakable bond that he shares with the people of Manchester. Fans still sometimes sing the ‘Viva Ronaldo’ chants at the famous Stretford End of Old Trafford, and Ronaldo still talks of his many friends, the respect for the fans and the club and especially the relationship he still shares with the Sir Alex Ferguson, who he considers his ‘second father’.

Therefore, it was no surprise when 2013 Champions League final ambassador Steve McManaman drew Manchester United to face Real Madrid in the knockout stage draw held at Nyon yesterday. It is rightly said: ‘Some matches are made in heaven’ and there can be no one denying the fact that the tie between the two biggest clubs in the world with richest of histories and largest of fan bases is tipped to be tie of the round. It is worthy enough of the Champions League final. The return of the prodigal son of Manchester, which was destined, just adds that extra spice to the match up.

Although Ronaldo won’t be in the famous red of United and the fans wouldn’t want him to be at his very best, the temptation of watching their very own ‘CR7′ weaving his matching once again on Old Trafford’s wings is hard to resist, and they probably won’t even mind him scoring a goal or two, as long as United win the tie and Ronaldo gestures the crowd in a similar way as he once did after scoring against Sporting Lisbon in Portugal when he was playing for Manchester United.

Ronaldo on the other hand can expect a similar kind of welcome to the one he received when he first took the field at Old Trafford in 2003. It will certainly be a very emotional return for Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United. But, United cannot expect any kind of favors from the Real Madrid talisman after themselves having known what a true professional he is. He made a mockery of Vincent Kompany (considered the best defender in England) in both the group stage matches against Manchester City. So, the United defenders know the task at their hand when they face him in February.

Apart from the homecoming of Ronaldo, another factor that increases the magnitude of this tie from just another tie of CL round of 16 is the clash of two managerial powerhouses in the form of Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson, who will once again get a chance to lock horns against each other after 3 years of rivalry in the Premier League.Manchester United v Inter Milan - UEFA Champions League

Both of them require no introduction and have proven themselves time and again to be the best in the business. Although they have massive mutual respect for each other, another thing that they have in common is the desire to win. Both of them are winners and will try their very best to get their respective team through to the next round, which makes this tie even more fascinating. Moreover, the talks of Jose Mourinho being considered as the successor to Sir Alex Ferguson when the Scot finally calls it a day, adds more spice to this rivalry.

The talent on show will be second to none. The likes of Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso all showcasing their talent on a couple of big European nights is a treat for every football fan to cherish.  One could imagine the atmosphere at the ground, especially at Old Trafford, when the two sides will come out of the famous red tunnel.

The last time these two sides met in 2003, another Ronaldo, the Brazilian, scored a hat trick at Old Trafford for Real Madrid, but still couldn’t prevent his side losing the match 3-4, although Madrid went ahead on the aggregate score.

The neutrals won’t mind a similar high-scoring affair again, which looks like a real possibility with the attacking talent that both the sides possess. It has all the ingredients of being a classic. Homecoming of a hero, two managerial greats, two biggest clubs in world football against each other in the European top tier tournament makes this tie nothing short of a sporting spectacle.

There were talks of world coming to its end on 21st Dec 2012. UEFA can take big credit if everyone is still able to read this article. No wonder everything is still all right – even God wants to wait until 5th March 2013, at least!

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