Cristiano Ronaldo is, incredibly, heading back to Manchester United.
Ronaldo has secured a sensational transfer to his former club before Tuesday’s summer deadline for a reported €15 million plus €8 million in add-ons, returning to the city and club where he rose to stardom as a core part of Manchester United between 2003 and ’09. Ronaldo had one year left on his Juventus contract but had cut a frustrated figure with the club, despite what he and Juventus had publicly stated before Friday. With Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti clearly expressing no interest in bringing Ronaldo back to the Spanish capital, PSG at its capacity of high-priced superstars (although Kylian Mbappé could be leaving) and reportedly not interested, and Man City the only other reported suitor—but only after Harry Kane called off his transfer wish—it didn't leave very many options for clubs that could afford to take him on.
Things escalated Friday in a series of prematch press conferences, though, with Juventus manager Max Allegri confirming that Ronaldo had voiced his desire to leave the club and then Man United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer opening the door by stating that “we are here” for Ronaldo if he were to wind up leaving Juventus.
“He is a legend of this club, the greatest player of all time if you ask me. I was fortunate enough to play with him. I coached him when I got my job," Solskjaer said. “He is such a tremendous human being as well. Let’s see what happens with Cristiano. Everyone who has played with him has a soft spot for him.
“We've always had a good communication. Bruno [Fernandes] has been talking to him. He knows what we feel about him. If he was ever going to move away from Juventus, he knows we're here.”
Ronaldo will sign a two-year deal with Solskjaer’s side to seal his return to Old Trafford. What it means for any future pursuit of another leading striker, like Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland, remains to be seen.
He may be turning 37 in February, but Ronaldo can still score an abundance of goals. He scored 101 in all competitions in three seasons at Juventus, including a Serie A–high 29 last season, and he remained dangerous on the Champions League stage with 14 in the competition over the last three campaigns. But Juventus failed to make it beyond the quarterfinals after signing Ronaldo in 2018, twice falling in the round of 16 and each time losing to what was perceived to be an inferior squad in Ajax, Lyon and Porto. The club signed Ronaldo with the sole intent of becoming European champion—it had already a long-established dominance in Italy—and it failed to achieve that with the Portuguese star in tow. It lost its stranglehold domestically, as well, needing to claw its way to a fourth-place finish in Serie A last season after a run of nine straight titles.
"Today I depart from an amazing club, the biggest in Italy and surely one of the biggest in all of Europe," Ronaldo wrote in an Instagram farewell to Juve fans. "I gave my heart and soul for Juventus and I’ll always love the city of Turin until my final days. The “tiffosi bianconeri” always respected me and I tried to thank that respect by fighting for them in every game, every season, every competition. In the end, we can all look back and realize that we achieved great things, not all that we wanted, but still, we wrote a pretty beautiful story together.
"I will always be one of you. You are now part of my history, as I feel that I’m part of yours. Italy, Juve, Turin, tiffosi bianconeri, you’ll always be in my heart."
Man United will hope that its infrastructure and the emotional lift of returning to a club near to Ronaldo’s heart will help put it over the top in its quest to return to prominence both domestically and continentally. Ronaldo is the most prolific scorer in the Champions League’s history with 134 goals—14 more than Lionel Messi—and he’s in search of what would be a record-tying sixth Champions League title following his one with Man United and four with Real Madrid. The Red Devils were drawn into a group with Villarreal, Atalanta and Young Boys on Thursday for this season’s competition.
Ronaldo, who scored 118 goals in 292 games in his first stint at Man United, joins a transfer class that includes Jadon Sancho and his former Real Madrid teammate, Raphaël Varane, and he joins an attack that suddenly has a surplus of options. With (barring any outgoing moves before Tuesday's deadline) Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani, Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Sancho and now Ronaldo, Solskjaer has more tools in his attack than ever before—and fewer excuses than ever if things don't work out. Ronaldo also joins at least one compatriot, with Fernandes said to be influential in urging the Portugal captain to join the club. Portuguese right back Diogo Dalot is also on the squad, but he's reportedly a transfer target of Borussia Dortmund.
United has enjoyed a mixed start to the Premier League season, thumping Leeds United 5–1 in the season opener before coming back to earth with a 1–1 draw at Southampton. The club plays at Wolves in the last match before the international break, for which Ronaldo will join Portugal in World Cup qualifiers against Ireland and Azerbaijan and a friendly against Qatar. He's currently tied with Iranian great Ali Daei for the most goals in men's international soccer history (109) and could set the new mark early next month.
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