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Playing Devil’s Advocate on Ronaldo

By that, I mean Ronaldo’s advocate. I don’t view him as the Devil, but some of you do so I thought you’d like the connection.

A lot has been written on this blog alone over the last couple of weeks about the Ronaldo situation, culminating in Red Ranter’s superbly passionate piece. I have stayed out of it in the comments, firstly because of the lack of hard news on the subject and secondly because of the level of emotion running through. In the midst of it all, I don’t think anyone was prepared to step back and think it through more fully.

Maybe you’re still not, and I expect, if not flaming, then some strong contradictory opinions to this post. But what I’m going to do is explain why the Real move is good for Ronaldo, and point out some silver linings for us. Then, just to maximise the controversy, I’m going to give a super-long-term view of the situation that most of you will hate but which I think we should hope for despite ourselves.

The Case for the Move

We have established, I think, that Ronaldo’s first priority is Ronaldo. I also think we always knew that was the case, even if we tried to ignore it. So here are the arguments for why Ronaldo should join Madrid:

1. Last season was the peak. Last season, as we all know, CR scored 42 goals, won every award going, and we won the PL and the CL. Hard to see how it can get much better than that. Say next season Ronaldo scored 25 goals and we win the Premier League but lose in the semis of the CL. Good season, not great. But a huge comedown for CR – and you all know how much the English media love to tear down someone they have built up. Start a line of questions with “was 07/08 a flash in the pan”, and you’ll get the idea.

2. The referees. Referees in England have a permanent downer on Ronaldo. There’s no two ways about that – there will always be four or five blatant free-kicks or penalties a game which are not given to him because of his reputation. Massively frustrating for the fans to watch, but even more so for the player himself. In England, more than in any other league in the world, diving is hated and physicality is applauded and encouraged. It is quite the reverse in Spain, where diving is seen as “cleverness” and players are protected by officials from roughhousing tactics.

3. The playing conditions. Similar to the point above, but in Spain Ronaldo will rarely find a man up his arse whenever he receives the ball. Nor will that many wingers track back to double up on CR with their full back. Far more often than in England, he will have time to take a touch and turn, and when he does that he doesn’t often need support. Also, no winter away games at Blackburn on a mudbath pitch – weather/pitch conditions will favour CR’s game far more often than here.

4. The hero worship. We love (or loved) Ronaldo. We thought he was superb, and adored having him play for us. But nobody at United is bigger than the team – nobody has been allowed to be whilst Fergie is around. You can tell that CR wants the hero worship, the iconic status, the unreconstructed worship from everyone. He will never get that at United, because the adoration has to be spread round a lot of players. Madrid are buying him to be bigger than the team, to be their brand leader – and nobody’s going to be allowed to say a bad word about the most expensive player ever in the world.

5. The money. Say no more. It’s a factor, and love for United (I don’t doubt that he has lots of this, by the way), when balanced against his desire to play for Real, isn’t worth £100k a week after tax to him plus increased endorsements to him.

[End Devil’s Advocate mode.] Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like the situation any more than the rest of you. The thought of the team running out in August without our number 7 leaves me feeling empty inside. But I understand why it makes sense to him, and that makes me not hate him.

Yep, sorry – I don’t hate him. Can’t – I love watching wingers more than any other type of player (Giggs, Sharpe and Kanchelskis all rate at the top of my list of players I enjoyed watching), and in Ronaldo I’ve had the chance to watch possibly the best there’s ever been in my team’s colours for five years. I loved watching him even when he was mind-blowingly frustrating. I’m just unspeakably disappointed about the situation.

The chasing pack

I’m not going to try to pretend that it can be a good thing if Ronaldo goes. It can’t, and it isn’t. One big factor in damage limitation is getting another year out of Ronaldo to give our youngsters a chance to come through and the management a genuine chance to plan for life without him.

But even if he goes straight away, I don’t think it’s as bad as all that in terms of winning things. Not because we’re going to have £x million to spend on great players, but because you have to look at where the chasing pack is.

Arsenal — have already lost Flamini, will almost certainly lose Hleb and may lose Adebayor. Will not sign any proven, top class talent.

Chelski — will almost certainly lose Drogba, will probably lose Anelka and are going to have all their best players (other than Ballack) relentlessly linked to Mourinho at Inter, probably with good reason. Will bring in expensive and high profile replacements, but you need a coach as good as Mourinho to bind them into a top class side, and given Abramovich’s shoddy treatment of JM and then Grant, they’re not going to get anyone good enough.

Liverpool — may not lose any big players, but they only have two to start with. Clearly have to sell to buy big (especially with their owners in crisis), and are overvaluing their players as a result. £10m for Scott Carson? £15m for Peter Crouch? Don’t be silly. Most high profile signing could be…Gareth Barry.

Barca — likely to have another season in transition with a new coach and some big players leaving.

AC Milan — didn’t qualify for the Champions League.

Inter Milan — who knows what Jose can do? Dark horse for the CL.

Real Madrid — could only be strengthened by Ronaldo, but still likely to underachieve in Europe.

Bayern Munich — wouldn’t dare comment with some knowledgeable Bayern fans around, perhaps they could give us a short assessment of Bayern’s chances next year in Europe.

I could go on. But we have some great players who are likely to get better next year, and as the best side in Europe we can attract exceptional players for whatever money we have to spend. We will go backwards with Ronaldo gone, but no further backwards than anyone else we are competing with.

I want him back again

Here, just to give you one last thing to chew on, is something I haven’t seen anywhere in the comments but I really believe. If he goes to Real, there’s a good chance it will go wrong for him for all the reasons RR mentioned on Saturday. And if that happens, I want him to come straight back to us, having fulfilled his boyhood dream and realised it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Reach back into your memories, and remember Mark Hughes – it can be like that.

By mixing hope and reality, I would like CR to play one more season for us, then go to Real whilst he’s still worth gigabucks, underachieve there for 2 seasons and then come back to aid the post-Fergie rebuilding process. As I said, I can’t hate him, and I don’t want to. We can fall out with Madrid, but let’s not fall out with Cristiano too.

I’ll be active in this comments thread, and then I too am going to shut up about Ronaldo until further hard evidence emerges.

[Editor’s note: On a related note, the Sun is reporting that they have uncovered “shocking”, “exclusive” snaps of Ronaldo meeting ex-United and current Madrid fitness coach Walter di Salvo while holidaying in Rome. A closer look will however indicate that it happened in January. So unless it was Calderon or someone big, and the fact that it was the Sun, I wouldn’t buy into this. Although expect this news to blow up and run in all papers. Of course, if some truth does come out of this and it’s not a chance meeting then you know what reaction to expect from me. – RR]