Cristiano Ronaldo's love affair with Manchester United ended on a bitter note, with the 37-year-old terminating his contract with the club by mutual consent. He is now free to find a new club and seek a new challenge.
The storied return of the club's iconic number 7 peaked on its very first day. Cristiano Ronaldo scored a brace in his first Premier League appearance in 12 years and 118 days, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Reds secured a 4-1 win over Newcastle United, and 'Viva Ronaldo' rang out throughout Old Trafford.
The following weeks and months saw Solskjaer sacked after a disastrous run of form, the interim appointment of Ralf Rangnick - whom Cristiano Ronaldo had never heard of, and a nightmare dropping down to the Europa League for the five-time Champions League winner.
The change in the squad dynamics under new boss Erik ten Hag meant that Cristiano Ronaldo could only get regular minutes in Europe's second-tier competition and not the Premier League.
The superstar refused to accept his role as well as being 'disrespected' by Ten Hag, leading to an explosive interview with Piers Morgan. The sensational on-air chat ultimately left the club with no choice but to terminate his contract, with immediate effect.
With 145 goals and 346 appearances across two spells later, Cristiano Ronaldo's story with United is over. Now, his agent Jorge Mendes is expected to look for a new club to start another goal-filled story or an old home to rekindle past glories.
What’s Next for Cristiano Ronaldo?
Cristiano Ronaldo is the most high-profile free agent in the World Cup since Diego Maradona in 1994. And akin to the great Argentine, who returned to his former club Boca Juniors after the tournament, another homecoming could be on the cards for the Portuguese icon.
While many will place their bets on Ronaldo moving back to Lisbon, many believed that one last dance in Madrid was a real possibility, depending on Ronaldo accepting a second-fiddle role in the Spanish capital.
Real Madrid went into the 2022-23 season without making any attacking additions to Carlo Ancelotti's squad after Paris Saint-Germain thwarted their plans to sign Kylian Mbappe. Barcelona, meanwhile, brought in Robert Lewandowski to headline their frontline.
Depending on Karim Benzema, who suffered four different injuries the prior campaign, to solely shoulder the attack once again was never a good idea despite his Ballon d'Or triumph.
As feared earlier, the Frenchman has had an injury-laden start. His fifth different injury within the first four months of the new season also ended his World Cup dream. Further, his absence has also impacted Real's result, with Barcelona leap-frogging them to the top of the La Liga table.
President Florentino Pérez could do a lot worse in January than bringing Cristiano Ronaldo back to the Santiago Bernabeu on a short-term contract.
Los Blancos' record goalscorer might not be as prolific as he was in the past, but he will certainly score more goals than Mariano Diaz, the current backup to Benzema.
Ronaldo has a great relationship with Carlo Ancelotti, whose style of football is still suited to the abilities of the Portugal forward.
In the words of Rangnick, Ronaldo is "not a pressing monster," and thankfully under Ancelotti, he won't be asked to recover possession higher up the field. Real seldom press high, and rather defend in a mid-block.
Ronaldo is still a decisive finisher and reliable outlet in transition and should enjoy utilizing the space generated by Real winning the ball in their own half. Ancelotti's men also heavily depend on deep crosses from Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, and David Alba to unlock compact defenses. They could benefit massively from Ronaldo's presence and heading ability in the penalty area, especially during the late phases of the game.
From his understanding of Ancelotti's approach to his chemistry with Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo still has a lot to offer and could prove to be an astute free signing for the Spanish giants.
But whether Los Blancos will once again sign Ronaldo is anybody's guess. Rumors from Spain indicate that they don't want to bring back their former superstar. Staunch Cristiano Ronaldo enthusiasts will also recall Perez's damning words from this year's summer window:
“Sign Cristiano? Again? He's 38 years old.”