It’s said sporting stars, be they human or equine, never come back as good as they once were after a long term layoff. Of course, in most instances, it refers returning from injury.
Occasionly, though, it’s a case of the road coming back to meet itself. Gareth Bale going back to Tottenham, Neil Lennon returning to manage Celtic. Those examples would appear to back up the theory referred to above.
However, occasionally there are cases that do go according to plan – look no further than Thierry Henry briefly returning to Arsenal or, in GAA terms, Jack O’Connor going back in as Kerry manager and garnering more glory. Ditto Mick O’Dwyer with Kildare or Jimmy Barry-Murphy in his two spells in charge of the Cork hurling team.
Manchester United fans – and more pointedly Ole Gunnar Solksjaer – will be hoping it will be very much a case of the latter following the shock revelation last night that Cristiano Ronaldo was returning to Old Trafford. Well, I say shock, though to this observer at least, it’s actually not that big of a turn up. Firstly because United have never made any secret of their overtures to try to lure the mercurial Portuguese back to the club which made him what he is.
Perhaps more significantly, mind you, the player himself never ruled out going back to the Red Devils either. Unlike, for example, Harry Kane making it as clear as the light of day that he is only still at Tottenham on sufferance. Indeed, having heard of the contributions Ronaldo has made to his native area, I don’t mind admitting to having to alter my perception of the man. The conundrum as to who is the better footballer between himself and Lionel Messi may never be unraveled as there may be no right or wrong answer – it’s all a matter of opinion.
Talking in purely football terms, Messi will always get my vote. However, it must be said that my opinion of him has been effected by his recent departure from Barcelona. This writer is of the view that his mindset has never been the same since Pep Guardiola left the Nou Camp. The tearful video upon his leaving Catalonia may have been optically effective, but if, as appears to be the case, Barca were unable to ‘handle’ him financially, and if the club really did mean as much to him as his histrionics would indicate, surely the onus was on him to facilitate his retention by them. But no, he followed the chequebook pages to Paris.
Presumably on the inclination that he had better chance of winning the Champions League with PSG than anybody else. Balderdash as far as I’d be concerned. If that was the case, surely Killian Mbappe would’ve stayed put. And, for that matter, if such was the case, surely his greatest contemporary would have ventured in the same direction.
Of course, for all that the forward’s impending return is an obvious boon for the red half of Manchester, it does, in another way, put Solksjaer’s management under even greater scrutiny than it already is. From one angle, without question it increases their potency and therefore the likelihood of them attaining silverware. Conversely, however, with the resources now at his disposal, the pressure on the Scandinavian to deliver tangible results will now hit its most fervent. And it has to be fairly tepid as it is given the infusion of talent there has been at the club since he assumed control.
To me, getting Ronaldo to return an be seen as either a masterstroke or madness. The first half of that hardly needs any elaboration but allow me flesh the other out a bit. Yes from a purely sentimental viewpoint, of course it’s great to see the player back at the club where he meant so much. Again, it goes without saying that Edinson Cavani has been a big addition to the club, but does it not say something about the appeal the Theatre Of Dreams now holds – or doesn’t – that they can only attract these fine wines in their twilight zone.
Meanwhile, younger signings who were presumably bought to be the future of the club – players like Matteo Darmian and Diogo Dalot and Donny Van Der Beek as well as the Nigerian veteran Odion Igalo were cast to the wind like straw that had been through a chopper. Worse still, Phil Jones and Eric Baily are still at the club. It’s like using a refuse sack with a hole in it to gather rubbish.
And it can’t mask the fact that in the last few seasons they haven’t been able to lad their primary targets in the transfer market. Yes they eventually nabbed Jadon Sancho – I fail to see what all the fuss was about – but gut feeling is in another era they would have procured the services of Erling Haaland too. Though maybe the fact that he would rather go to a team for whom a decent season will be finishing second to Bayern Munich yet again says it all.
United have all the tools required now to complete the desired job. If they don’t, it’ll be down to a bad tradesman.