Ronaldo’s last game was the Champions League final the following season: the end of his Old Trafford career but the start of a rivalry with Lionel Messi and Barcelona, who beat United in Rome that night and again at Wembley two years later. It was no coincidence that his place in the dressing room at Old Trafford was opposite a full-length mirror. When he trained at his old club in Madeira during the pandemic, his former youth coach Pedro Talhinhas saw a man still driven to be the best. All fuelled by a high-protein diet of six daily meals and a preference for still mineral water over sugary drinks – as anyone who witnessed him disdainfully removing two bottles of Coke from the podium before a Portugal press conference this summer will know. By the time he faced United in a pre-season friendly in the summer of 2003, however, he was the club’s crown jewel. Ronaldo came along at the perfect time for a club who had just sold David Beckham and been snubbed by Ronaldinho. Ronaldo had more than enough talent to match Beckham and the looks as well. Tickets were sold out long in advance of Ronaldo’s arrival but they will now be worth significantly more than what the lucky few paid.
In a pulsating contest, City had twice led at the Bernabeu through Edin Dzeko and Aleksandr Kolorov, either side of Marcelo’s leveller – before Karim Benzema made it 2-2 and Ronaldo’s shot flew past Joe Hart to nick it in the dying moments. A quick-fire turnover of managers at Chelsea meant Sturridge never realised his potential there, in the end scoring 24 times in 96 games either side of a prolific loan at Bolton. The Spaniard won four trophies during his five years at the club including the Europa League in 2017. There were fears his departure to PSG last summer would leave a hole in United’s midfield but it allowed Scott McTomainy to cement his place in the side. And the only way Ronaldo can reclaim the shirt is if Cavani – who signed a contract extension earlier this year – leaves the club, or if the Premier League grants special dispensation to allow the switch. The young man wasn’t afraid to accept Beckham’s No 7 shirt, just as it was inevitable that he would reclaim it from Edinson Cavani on his return. His move back to the club has prompted debate into which number he should wear for the upcoming season, with Edinson Cavani currently occupying the No 7 shirt.
Then at the start of the 2004-05 season, Mutu was banned from football for seven months for cocaine use, destroying his Chelsea career. Mutu was ordered to repay Chelsea millions for breach of contract and there was a lengthy legal dispute. Naturally, there was a sunbed at home to compensate for the Manchester weather. Viveiros recalls that the first thing his cousin did when he got back to Manchester following United’s win over Chelsea in Moscow was go to the gym. But he made just two first-team appearances before he was placed on the transfer list in the summer following accusations he had refused to play in a reserve game. It also doesn’t exactly bode well for German striker Timo Werner, who has struggled to live up to his £47million price tag since arriving in the Premier League last summer. That was the case for most of Manchester United’s Champions League clash with Villarreal, but his presence on the pitch means he’s always a weapon until the very end. Ronaldo scored 42 goals in the 2007-08 season that ended with him winning his first Champions League and Ballon d’Or. Madrid suffers a shameful KO in the Bernabeu that throws them out of the Champions League,’ the front page continued.
At Sporting Lisbon, Ronaldo was so determined to be stronger than his rivals in the academy that he would sneak out of the Centro de Estagio, home to the boys from out of town, in the middle of the night and get into the gym through a rooftop window. Having concluded that signing Harry Kane from fierce London rivals Tottenham would be too difficult and having heard that Romelu Lukaku wants to remain at Inter Milan, Chelsea will test Dortmund’s resolve over Haaland. Thomas Tuchel has improved things a bit, making use of Werner’s all-round attributes more, but the fact Chelsea are looking to sign a new striker having spent almost £50m on him speaks volumes really. This was an astonishing transfer at the time, especially in the January window, as Chelsea paid a British record £50m to sign a Spanish striker who’d been outstanding for Liverpool. This week, Nike unveiled an all-weather football court in Quinta do Falcao dedicated to Ronaldo after he set a new international record of 111 goals in Portugal’s World Cup qualifier against Republic of Ireland. Strachan lost once and drew once against England manager Gareth Southgate during World Cup 2018 qualifying but the two men have a deeper connection.