WHILE Lionel Messi was posing for a photo with the opposition goalkeeper’s son after his debut for Paris Saint-Germain, Cristiano Ronaldo was preparing to get serious.
At 36, the Portuguese is two years older than Messi yet, unlike his great rival, Manchester United’s returning A-lister shows no sign of winding down.
Heading into the white heat of a four-horse Premier League title race, Ronaldo’s ambition remains undimmed.
The old GOAT possesses greater stamina than any fellow contender for the title of the world’s greatest ever footballer.
At the same age, Pele was turning out for New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League, while Diego Maradona was a drug-addled wreck about to call it a day with Boca Juniors.
So good on Ronaldo for keeping it real.
His signing will thrill every United supporter and intrigue every other follower of the Premier League.
Back in Sir Alex Ferguson’s heyday, the club’s away fans would taunt their hosts with chants of ‘you’ve only come to see United’ — and back then that song had an element of truth.
Some home supporters really were tourists craning their necks in a clamour for glamour.
And watching United ought to be a treat. It ought to fill the eyes of young kids with stardust.
But there hasn’t been much of that in recent years, certainly not during the largely joyless reigns of Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.
This season, United will become a must-watch once again, so anyone viewing Ronaldo’s signing with cynicism is no true lover of football.
It’s churlish to talk of a player being past his best when he scored 36 goals last season.
United’s travelling supporters passed around a cardboard cutout of Ronaldo at Wolves on Sunday as they anticipate his second club debut against Newcastle at Old Trafford on Saturday week.
It’s safe to say that if United had captured Saul Niguez, there would be no such likeness of the Atletico Madrid midfielder being held aloft around the away end at Molineux.
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But if there was one new arrival likely to propel United to a first title in nine years, it would have been a world-class defensive midfielder such as Saul, who was available and had been targeted by United.
A seriously unconvincing display in Wolverhampton, rescued by a late Mason Greenwood winner, underlined United’s shortage of quality in the engine room.
With Ronaldo joining an already frightening array of attacking talent, United are threatening to resemble Real Madrid in their Galactico era, when David Beckham joined Zinedine Zidane, Raul, Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos and the original ‘fat’ Ronaldo but failed to win any trophy for three years.
Back then, Real infamously sold their midfield anchorman Claude Makelele and lost all balance.
Following the excellent signings of Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho, the absence of a top-class holding player was United’s obvious remaining deficiency.
Now Ronaldo’s arrival is likely to see Paul Pogba operating in an unfavoured deeper role instead.
And while Ronaldo’s new team-mates will surely be excited by the new recruit, noses will be put out of joint before long.
Pogba will no longer be ‘The Man’ in the United dressing room and Greenwood’s progress may be stunted.
Marcus Rashford may struggle for game time and Edinson Cavani is unlikely to start many games, with the latter-day CR7 very much a No 9 in all but his shirt number.
Of course, United had to do this deal. Had Ronaldo ended up at Manchester City — a team in greater need of a centre-forward — they would not have been forgiven for allowing it to happen.
And boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is enough of a footballing romantic to welcome Ronaldo with arms akimbo.
Solskjaer was one of four senior strikers during United’s 1999 Treble-winning campaign, while United’s last great team included Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov.
But Ronaldo’s return undoubtedly puts even greater pressure on a manager yet to win a trophy in almost three years in charge at Old Trafford.
Had you given him the choice of signing Ronaldo or Saul this time last week, the Norwegian would probably have opted for the latter.
Chelsea, and arguably Liverpool, have better balanced teams than United, while City cantered to the title without fielding a genuine centre-forward for much of last season.
Ronaldo’s Juventus finished fourth in Serie A last term and United might end up doing similar this time.
But at least the Portuguese is up for a proper fight, while Messi will surely saunter to a French title against opponents hunting for selfies and souvenirs.
KANE’S A LIFER
THE greatest English footballer never to win a major trophy?
You’d have to go back to the days of one-club legends like Tom Finney of Preston and Johnny Haynes of Fulham, with an honourable mention for Southampton’s Matt Le Tissier.
Yet Harry Kane may end up topping that list after his transfer to Manchester City failed to materialise.
There was a touch of narkiness, and element of truth, when boss Pep Guardiola wished him ‘all the best for the rest of his career and doing well in London’ — because it feels as if he is a Tottenham lifer now.
Cue a campaign at Spurs to have the Europa Conference League recognised as a ‘major trophy’.
ART IN HEAVEN
AT some point mere mortals will learn to appreciate the genius of Mikel Arteta, just as Arsenal’s visionary hierarchy and his former Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola have always done.
But as the Gunners sit bottom of the Premier League, without a point or a goal, and with a goal difference of minus nine, after a summer outlay of £128million, Lord, couldn’t you give us some sort of a sign?
Perhaps some semblance of discipline, after the 11th red card of Granit Xhaka’s club career, could be a start.
BR-ENG IT ON
THE arrival of the first international break of a season is usually met with widespread groans.
But on the back of England’s run to the Euros final, this one ought to be different.
In the space of seven days, Gareth Southgate’s team visit a Hungary side who drew with France and Germany at this summer’s tournament, plus a Polish team that includes the great Robert Lewandowski.
Hosting Andorra inbetween, it is England’s most challenging week of qualifiers for at least a decade and should stop us pining too much for league football.
THE Belgian Grand Prix was a damp squib but the forecast for Sunday’s race in Holland is for serious heat.
It’s nothing to do with the weather, just the reception for champion Lewis Hamilton after he shunted his Dutch title rival Max Verstappen off the track at Silverstone last month.
ENGLAND are likely to be forced to play a Nations League match behind closed doors next spring following the chaotic hosting of the Euros final in July — and nobody who was anywhere near Wembley on that wretched night can argue that such a punishment would not be entirely justified.
SECOND SEASON SYNDROME
LEEDS are very fortunate to have two points from their first three league matches — and Marcelo Bielsa is not renowned for his longevity, given that his three years at Elland Road represent his longest spell at any club.
Surely it’s too early to float the idea of ‘second season syndrome’?
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