Old Trafford, the next and perhaps final destination of Ronaldo’s footballing journey
They say never go back. For footballers and managers, returning to a club where they have enjoyed success previously is not only a huge risk but one that rarely works out. Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t like every other footballer, however. So, although it is a risk, it is one that only he could (potentially) pull off. Taking risks is something he has done throughout his career, on and off the pitch, and every one has come off to an incredible extent. The biggest question mark regarding his latest and perhaps final move is – what will success actually look like?
Ronaldo is 36 years of age. By the time this season ends he will be 37. In everyday life terms that is still quite young. In footballing terms that is old. Very old. Only Chelsea’s Thiago Silva is older when it comes to outfield players in what is undoubtedly the best, the most competitive, and the most physically demanding league in the world.
And it is that phrase that has the potential to be the stumbling block. The physical demands on a professional football player are well documented, but those demands in the EPL make many other leagues look like a stroll in the park. It is not just the pace and intensity of the games in the EPL, but the sheer number and frequency of them. There are also – Norwich aside – no easy games, games where the players can take their foot off the gas or managers can afford to rest key players.
Wherever he has played, Ronaldo has had phenomenal success
Ronaldo has changed his game, even changed his position in recent years, to allow for his advancing age and, on top of this, physically he would put people half his age to shame. If anyone is equipped to cope, then he is. The start was crucial. If he had taken his time to find his feet, his rhythm, then the pressure would have mounted, and the fingers would have pointed. He didn’t though. He started as we always knew he would, in blisteringly good fashion.
So what would a successful season look like for Ronaldo? First of all, with everything we have just said about the ferocity of the league plus his age, the first hurdle to overcome is that he needs to remain injury free. That has to be the starting point. But Ronaldo didn’t come back to Manchester merely to take part. Since he left Old Trafford in 2009 he has never failed to score less than 20 goals in a season. That will be a figure that he, his fans and his critics will be looking at. Ronaldo being Ronaldo, he will also want to be the club’s top scorer.
He will definitely want to add to his haul of silverware. Recently Manchester United have looked some distance from adding to their 20 league titles. Ex-Liverpool star Graeme Souness doesn’t agree, but they do have a genuine chance of going head to head with Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea this season in what is shaping up to be a fantastic title race. There is also the small matter of the Champions League, as well as the FA Cup. Ronaldo will not be looking at this as a one season swan song. He will be looking at this as a chance to turn around the fortunes of this great club, perhaps not single handedly but certainly with him at the steering wheel and in the engine room. He is already a legend in the red half of Manchester and with their legion of fans all over the world. If he could put them back at the summit of the Premier League, he would go down as perhaps the greatest United player of all time, and what better way is there of defining success than that?
There are plenty of ways that Ronaldo can once more make his mark on English, European and world football, and if anyone can do it, Cristiano Ronaldo can.