Man United seek Ronaldo reunion, but may be be second in line for prized signature
Louis van Gaal faces competition from Ligue 1 for Portuguese star, who may yet opt to stay in Spanish capital
The European city with the largest Portuguese population outside of Portugal is Paris.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is expected to part company with Paris Saint-Germain when his contract expires at the end of this campaign leaving a vacancy for a superstar and the money freed up to pay superstar wages.
And PSG will undoubtedly want a big-name replacement for Ibrahimovic to be the club’s new figurehead. A replacement who would immediately also become the star of France’s Ligue 1.
Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the PSG president, was in Madrid last Thursday and met with the super-agent Jorge Mendes.
Al-Khelaifi, of course, meets leading agents all the time and on the agenda that day was an understandable desire to re-assure one of Mendes’ biggest clients, PSG’s Angel Di Maria, following the Paris terror attacks. But it may have not been the only thing on the agenda.
So already it is clear that Manchester United could have at least one formidable and highly-attractive rival if the club reignites its interest in bringing Cristiano Ronaldo – Mendes’ biggest client of all, of course - back to Old Trafford.
And that is if a number of very significant ‘ifs’ can first be crossed: if Real Madrid are willing to sell; if president Fiorentino Perez, under severe pressure through poor results, and with an impromptu news conference called for Monday evening when the future of unpopular coach Rafael Benitez will be discussed, is prepared to gamble and let him go.
And then if Ronaldo is willing to leave and if a realistic fee can be agreed – and, finally, if his financial demands can be met.
Read more here:
- Manchester United on alert as Ronaldo warns Real Madrid: 'Sack Benitez or I am gone'
- Van Gaal confirms interest in Ronaldo amid speculation of €85m United reunion
But Ronaldo will be 31 in February. By the end of this season he will still have two more years left on his contract at Real. So suddenly it feels like it is now or never – or at least next summer - if he is ever going to leave Real and join another leading European club.
If Ronaldo waits much longer (another if), and despite his outstanding physical condition, it will be too late. No big club is going to pay big-money for Ronaldo when he is 33. No matter his ability; his profile; his cache.
Given the state of flux and air of unhappiness at Real, given Louis Van Gaal’s comments over the weekend, given PSG’s interest, and given Ronaldo’s own ambition and desire to remain number one then a move is possible despite Mendes’ previous insistence that his fellow Portuguese will remain in Spain until he retires.
The comments by Van Gaal that United are “looking at all players, not just Ronaldo. But these players are mostly ungettable” were consistent with the club’s position for the past two or three years. Nothing appears to have changed. But there was the added tease from the manager – “with Ronaldo, let’s wait and hope” – which maybe suggested there is already extra encouragement, from somewhere, this time round. But United are understandably wary.
The message on Monday from senior sources was simple: United do not want to get drawn on this one. Why should they? Second in the Premier League and with a key Champions League tie on Wednesday it would be an unnecessary distraction. And a transfer certainly will not happen in the January window.
Furthermore United got their fingers burnt in 2013 when, with David Moyes’s appointment as manager, he was told that a deal to bring back Ronaldo to Old Trafford was pretty much done. What a present for the new man.
Instead it transpired that Ronaldo appeared to use United’s interest to leverage an improved new five-year contract at Real. A bit like Sergio Ramos then did last summer.
Except United genuinely believed that Ronaldo would come. With Ramos they were always cooler about the situation knowing they would either acquire a top-class defender or he would wring more money out of the Spanish club.
The emotional attachment with Ronaldo, his status at the club and with the fans – and his phenomenal ability - make it not only a more complicated situation but one where United want to tread carefully.
Van Gaal’s words were, therefore, very well-pitched. “Let’s wait and hope,” he said. And the inference could not be clearer.
It confirmed again United’s continued interest – nothing more - but also revealed that, this time, Ronaldo needs to help make the running.
And that has been United’s stance for the past two years. They need him to come to them, it seems. Or, at least, to offer a sign that he will help engineer his departure from Real if that is what he wants.
There will be little concern at United about the finances if a deal can be brokered this season. Paying upwards of £60m – and no price tag has yet been discussed - for a player in his 30s would appear incredibly wasteful. But senior sources at United have already suggested that such is his shape that he can be expected to play at the top-level until he is 35, 36. And such is his marketability and commercial value – he remains the most valuable player brand in football – that the figures would stack up. After all this is Ronaldo.
Whether Van Gaal sees him as a fit for his team is another matter. Gone – temporarily at least – are the days when United figures complained about there being few “swash-buckling” performances under Moyes and a betrayal of the club’s attacking DNA. Under Van Gaal it has been reduced to a desire to win. Would Ronaldo fit for him? It does not seem likely unless there was a change in Van Gaal’s approach.
Then there is also the question as to whether, given his age, given what he achieved at the club previously, given, importantly, that his father-figure Sir Alex Ferguson is no longer United’s manager, Ronaldo would want to expose himself with a return to the Premier League?
PSG would appear a more likely move for Ronaldo - a different league; a club with huge resources and a desire and ability to win the Champions League. And also a club that would be prepared to build things around a star such as Ronaldo, something he craves as he wants to win the Ballon D’Or, as the world’s best player, for a third time.
Neither should anyone doubt PSG’s ambition. They know what a difference Ronaldo would make to their image and worldwide profile. He would make a bigger difference to them than United.
There will be other offers – other European clubs, the Middle East, maybe even the MLS in the United States. But United’s interest – just as they are interested in Ronaldo’s team-mate Gareth Bale - remains. The question is what will Real do? It is saga that will run.