My first memory of football was during the 1998 World Cup, but other than the fact that Zinedine Zidane was out of this world, I knew not much else about it. In the 2002 World Cup, my friends in school were singing praises for their favourite World Cup teams, and I still knew nothing about the sport. They were in particular fighting over who gets to be the Brazil, Germany, or England fan. Being designated the Argentina football squad, I merely went along with it, still without a clue what to be excited about. I found out much later that Argentina didn’t fare well, but it was of no significance to me, now a French national team supporter.
It wasn’t until 2003 that I started to understand and enjoy the sport. My father purchased a Playstation 1 for me for doing well in school (that was a blip because I’m not very smart). The PS was a significant step up from the aberration known as the “Polystation” I received the year before. With it, he bought a handful of games, one of them was FIFA 2003. I booted up the game and had to pick a team to start. My father picked Liverpool because that’s what old Malaysian uncles do. It was then that I came across the team Manchester United, and the rest is history.
The choice bound me to the club forever and it never crossed my mind to switch teams, even as the team when through turmoil in recent memory. I first fell in love with Ruud van Nistelrooy in the game. I bought magazines that featured him and was enamoured by the brilliance of his playstyle. He can score any goal in any position. With him, the club seemed indestructible and I thought he would be with the club until he retired. But he left shortly after as Real Madrid was always in his heart. It was inevitable, but nobody held it against him. No one who came into the team afterwards could quite replicate my adoration for the Dutch. Nonetheless, I stuck with the club, because no one is bigger than the club they play for. Ruud left a legacy and he honoured it years after, earning the love of his fans to this day. Nobody would question his status as a club legend even though his stint was brief.
A man of similar stature is put to the sword recently for seemingly not doing it the Ruud-way. Cristiano Ronaldo is arguably a much better athlete than Ruud and many other players before and after him. But being a legend is more than just about your performance in each game. Ronaldo came into prominence almost immediately after Ruud left and replaced him in the hearts of many as Man United’s superstar. He assured fans that life will be OK even after the departure of the clinical Dutch, winning the club Premier League titles and its 3rd ever Champions League victory. But, like Ruud, Ronaldo also pined for a move to Madrid, to be a Blanco. After a short but sweet tenure, he too left for Spain. However, he never left the hearts of Man United fans. No matter where he went, Ronaldo had a special place in their hearts. The sentiment echoed strongly even as he joined Juventus 3 years ago.
The love Man United had for the Portuguese was almost unconditional. It was so strong that most fans never engaged in the Messi vs Ronaldo debate because loyalty would dictate it to be Ronaldo. These past few days, Ronaldo tested the patience of his dedicated fans from the red side of Manchester as it appears that after demanding an exit from Juventus, the icon was linked to Man United bitter rivals Manchester City. Hearts are broken as the sheer thought of Ronaldo donning a kit belonging to the blue side of Manchester, the noisy neighbours if you will, brings nothing but an end to his legacy as a Red Devil. The same man who every Man United fan defended no matter who he played for returning the favour by joining their arguably greatest enemy since Liverpool was nothing short of horrendous.
To add, this wasn’t even the Manchester City of old. Man United had players that migrated to the blue side of Manchester plenty of times in the past; Peter Schmeichel, Andy Cole and Dennis Law to name a few. This was however before Man City was a threat, dominated by the shady backing of Sheikh Mansour, who jumped through hoops (one of it is Financial Fair Play) to get Man City to where it is. Carlos Tevez was an infamous case who did himself no favours by isolating the Man United fans as he shamed Sir Alex whilst donning blue. Tevez recently appeared online in a Man United kit, but he gets no love, as fans continued to brand him a snake. But Ronaldo was different. He was one of the special ones, and if he were to make the move as City is at the height of its powers, he risks jeopardising Man United’s chances to silverware. That was something no other former Man United turned City player had done, let alone someone so beloved like him. More than anything, fans assumed that Ronaldo wouldn’t willingly burn bridges with Man United and become a part of their greatest, most hateful adversary they have to surmount in present time.
Fortunately for the Red Devils faithful, the nightmare was short-lived. The scare came to an end almost abruptly as former players and news leaked that the move was stopped in its tracks due to the intervention of numerous Man United associated parties. Something was seemingly brewing when legend Rio Ferdinand tweeted himself cryptically smiling, followed by a pre-match conference where Ole Gunnar Solskjær complimented Ronaldo instead of lambasting him with insults and non-savoury words. It looked increasingly more hopeful when news that Sir Alex Ferguson himself rang the Portuguese surfaced. In the following hours, news poured into the interwebs indicating that negotiations with Man City broke down due to the interference of Man United’s big guns and before we knew it, Man United officially cleared the air when the club tweeted that they have managed to re-sign Cristiano Ronaldo for two years. We find out later that although Ronaldo was swayed by the sentiment of his former clubmates against joining Man City, Sir Alex ringing him was the coup de grâce in convincing the superstar against it, effectively ending his interest in Man City and turning his sights to the Theatre of Dreams once more.
Needless to say, this update was received with overwhelming positivity, so much so that Man United’s value rose 9% (USD300 mil) on the NY Stock Exchange, the Man United site crashed and the news becoming the most liked athlete-related post on Instagram history overnight. There isn’t even a shadow of a doubt that this signing will also significantly boost Man United’s squad and bid for the title, but more than that, why does it truly matter that Cristiano Ronaldo has rejoined the club that put him on his path? This return means is that even though Man United was not the same juggernaut as it was in its glory days, the club is still a force to be reckoned with, with a history that cannot be erased by recent successes of its blue neighbours and legends that decorate the game of football still respected to this day. Ronaldo returning also signifies something more important; the return of hope that the club, led by him, can once more reach the heights it once did, as the reigning champions of England and Europe. This act would unquestionably cement his status as a United legend through and through.
If nothing else, this shocking return simply reminds us of the influence Sir Alex Ferguson still has in the footballing world today. After all, what else can you call Ronaldo’s switch from blue to red so close to the end of the transfer window other than ‘Fergie Time’ at its very finest?
Hartwick is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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