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Just as it looked as though the summer transfer window was going to peter out to a quiet conclusion, with very few major deals in the offing, Cristiano Ronaldo has stirred the speculation pot. And naturally the long-time links to Manchester United, where he spent six seasons earlier in his career, now resurface.
The Portuguese is claimed to have requested to be on the bench for Juventus’ Serie A season opener against Udinese on Sunday although he came on to replace Alvaro Morata after an hour of play.
Fabrizio Romano said pre-match on Twitter: “He’s NOT starting – it was a precise request from Cristiano because he hopes to find a solution on the market in the next days. But Juventus have received NO official bids yet for Cristiano.”
With Real Madrid and Ronaldo both having shut down suggestions of a Bernabeu return and Paris Saint-Germain having already spent big this summer, bringing Lionel Messi to Paris from Barcelona, there are few possible destinations if Ronaldo is to indeed make a move.
Even though signing Tottenham’s Harry Kane appears less and less likely, a move to United’s rivals Manchester City surely is not feasible for Ronaldo given his connections with the Red Devils.
And therefore if he is to depart Turin but to continue to play for one of Europe’s top clubs, the most realistic team who can take him appears to be United.
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Though on the face of it, United are flush with attackers already, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did say earlier in the summer he would be willing to sign a new centre-forward to rival Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial up top.
He may still think that way after the Frenchman struggled in Sunday’s Premier League draw at Southampton. With no Cavani on the bench, neither Jadon Sancho or Jesse Lingard could offer the cutting edge needed from the reserves to unlock the Saints.
And with Ronaldo eager for another new challenge, it may be the ideal time for a United reunion, with Solskjaer desperate to bring a first title back to Old Trafford since 2013.
Speaking back in 2014, Ronaldo made clear his wish to play in Manchester once more, saying: “I love Manchester. Everyone knows that. Manchester is in my heart. The supporters are amazing and I wish I can come back one day.”
It has been suggested Juventus would want £25million to part ways with Ronaldo a year before the expiry of his contract and he would naturally require a huge – probably team-high and even league-high – salary but even at 36 years old, and turning 37 in February, he has proven he still has immense worth to whomever he plays for.
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He scored five goals in four games for Portugal at Euro 2020 to follow a 2020-21 campaign in which he scored 36 goals and laid on four assists in 44 appearances for Juve, even though they ultimately finished fourth to scrape Champions League qualification.
And Solskjaer has himself suggested he’d love to have Ronaldo at his disposal, telling United fans in a Q&A only this March of his ex-team-mate: “I played with Cristiano and he’s been the best player in the world alongside [Lionel] Messi for the past 10 to 15 years now, so Cristiano. You’d take him in your team, for sure.”
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The five-time Ballon d’Or winner would likely have to accept a more reduced role than he has been used to in order to play for United again, given Cavani and Martial are on the books and Mason Greenwood can also play centrally.
Yet if United are serious about their ambitions of overhauling neighbours City and also toppling Chelsea and Liverpool, all of whom are expected to be major players in this year’s title race, signing Ronaldo could be a major advantage.
On top of the obvious on-pitch benefits, any deal would breathe a fresh injection of belief into the team’s title prospects given the lift it would bring to the United fanbase following the signings of Sancho and Raphael Varane.
Commercially and from a PR perspective, Ronaldo’s return would also do wonders for the Glazers just months after the toxic reaction to the European Super League plans to which they were central.
Juve have sought to play down the possibility of Ronaldo leaving the club, with manager Massimiliano Allegri saying last week: “He has never expressed a desire to leave. He has told me that he’s staying, so we can clear that one up.”
The Italian coach then added post-Udinese: “Ronaldo is feeling well. I had talked to him before the game, telling him he would start on the bench. He made himself available, he did well when he entered the pitch.”
Nonetheless, with his contract expiring in 12 months’ time, Juve would surely be tempted by a bid for the Portugal captain – and there are an abundance of merits to United pursuing a deal for their former talisman, even though they’d have to pay a transfer fee when they could wait until 2022 and possibly land him on a free (though there would be more competition for him then).
He may not be the superpower he once was but Ronaldo still offers incredible productivity and has proven he can still cut it at the top level. Given Cavani has been a success at United, there is plenty of reason to think Ronaldo would be too even though he’s a couple of years older.
There are complications to a deal, such as whether his wages would be problematic and whether he would accept not being the leading man at the club, but perhaps the possibility of such a glorious comeback is an incredible opportunity for United and the Glazers. It’s one that might be too good to ignore.
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