Right now, there must be a lot red-shirted little ‘uns with trembling lower lips and watery eyes looking for their mothers to assure them the world hasn’t come to an end. But, for once, the boy Ronaldo won’t be one of them. And if his mother is enfolding him in her arms, it will be in celebration not sympathy.
After all, it was way back in January of last year when Delores Aveiro declared: “I don’t like English teams but I know I have to like them because he is at Manchester. But for me... Real Madrid. Of all the foreign clubs, Real Madrid is the best. Before I die I would like him to play for Real Madrid. I would really like that and then I could die, it wouldn’t matter.”
Never mind Florentino Perez’ mega-millions or Alex Ferguson’s appeal to immortality, nothing can match the pull of the apron-strings. Or, as Ronaldo’s friend and Portuguese team-mate Pepe put it at the time: “Cristiano Ronaldo’s mother has a dream: seeing her son play for Real Madrid. And everybody knows that mothers carry great weight.”
So it’s top of the world, ma, for Ronaldo this morning but I suspect that deep down Alex Ferguson will be feeling pretty philosophical about things too, and not just because he’s made the club a stunning profit – try getting that for a virus – on the buying and selling of a player who arrived at Old Trafford as a largely unheralded if stunningly precocious 18-year-old. Ferguson didn’t get to be one of the most successful managers in the game by failing to recognise when it was time to cut a player loose, as United favourites like David Beckham and Roy Keane, among many others, have discovered in the past.
In an ideal world, it goes without saying that Ferguson would have liked to retain a player whose 91 goals in the last three seasons have been instrumental in making United the dominant side in England and – at least for one season – in Europe too.
But things have been some distance short of ideal this season for Ronaldo at Old Trafford this season, his goal tally – whilst still hugely significant – a good 16 short of what it was in his annus mirabilis of 2007/8. More significantly, his general demeanour has frequently been suggestive of someone who really wanted to be somewhere else.
There was the bizarre self-substitution against Sunderland, the petulant reaction to being substituted against Man City and, all along the way, those consistently contradictory comments on his future. As against that, there were the explosive cameos which continued to change games – recall the stunning blockbuster against Porto – and, of course that unique, even revolutionary dead ball technique which effectively changed the free kick as we know it.
And, to his credit, after a marked dip in form, Ronaldo finished the campaign strongly. In Rome, at a press conference before the Champions’ League final, he appeared before us and struck all the right notes, sounding proud, committed and ready to do it for the team.
And the following night, he took up on the pitch of the Stadio Olimpico where he’d left off in the media room, full of positive running and raining shots down on the Barcelona goal. But by the end of the game, he looked dazed, disbelieving, almost in despair. Maybe that was the moment when he left Man United in his head. After all, in the long-running tug of hate with Real Madrid, Alex Ferguson’s single greatest weapon – and one he didn’t hesitate to brandish in public – was that Old Trafford was the only place where Ronaldo could be assured of access to football’s most glittering prizes.
Within moments of Barcelona holing that fantasy below the waterline in the Eternal City, Ronaldo was already mentally scrambling for the lifeboat. But, of course, it is to the unproven if galactico-saturated Santiago Bernabeu not the spirited and already stellar Camp Nou that the restless one has now decamped, begging the question: has he chosen the right Spanish club?
It will be fascinating to see how it all pans out, in Manchester as well as in Madrid, bearing in mind that, you know, sometimes mummy really doesn’t know best.