Why Ronaldo had to go: 'He would have been a cancer at the club'
12 June 2009 03:16
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Sir Alex Ferguson feared he was about to lose Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid last summer, he flew to Lisbon and used his well practised powers of persuasion to ensure that his star player remained at Old Trafford.
Twelve months on and Ronaldo is finally heading to Spain while Ferguson remains rooted to his sunbed at his holiday retreat in the South of France. Even Ferguson has occasionally to concede that some battles just cannot be won in the long term.
That United appear so complicit in the staggering £80million transfer of the world's best player is simply because they knew it was coming. After the bitter scrap to retain Ronaldo last summer, United - left in no doubt as to his ongoing desire to play for Real - gave tacit agreement to his dream move as long ago as last autumn.
They denied it, of course, when details of the deal were leaked to Sportsmail in April. Ronaldo continued to suggest weakly that he was at 'the right club'.
In their hearts and minds, however, Ronaldo, Ferguson and United chief executive David Gill knew - barring a change of heart from the famously capricious Real - the 24-year-old would play his final game for United in the Champions League final in Rome. Hence the speed of yesterday's proceedings.
In stark contrast to last summer's argy-bargy, there was a statement on United's website at 9.30am, a response from Real at 10am and, barring Ronaldo falling down some nightclub stairs in Los Angeles this week, the deal is now effectively done.
United supporters in the main will not worry too much. Their club have obtained a world-record price, secured a £68m profit and will pass the majority of it to Ferguson for use in the transfer market. Those who do rail at United's agreement to sell should understand just how badly Ronaldo wanted to leave.
'I wouldn't sell them (Real) a virus,' Ferguson famously said last December when asked about the Spanish club's ongoing pursuit of his player.
Now he has sold them a player who would have become a cancer in his dressing room. There was already enough evidence during the season just ended to provide an insight into a state of personal and professional dissatisfaction that would only have grown worse.
'Cristiano has been a pain for a long time,' said a United source. 'This is - in reality - the right time for this to happen.'
The roots of Ronaldo's desire to move to Real can be traced back to his childhood in Madeira, where he watched the team of the early 1990s on TV. He said many times he has always wanted to wear the all white.
The foundations of this week's transfer, however, began before Christmas 2007 when Ronaldo's representatives at Jorge Mendes' Gestifute agency, irritated at United's refusal to sit down for new contract talks, were informed that Real wished to build a new team - following the end of the Zidane/Raul/Beckham era - around his stable's star client.
Aware that United would not play ball, Ronaldo exhibited an inexplicable sense of poor timing to reveal on the eve of last year's Champions League final against Chelsea in Moscow that he wished to leave.
'I have said millions of times that I would love to play in Spain,' Ronaldo told a Mexican TV station. In the wake of their win over Chelsea, United did perhaps have a window of opportunity.
A new contract may have stalled Ronaldo for a few years. Understandably, however, they refused to be bullied and, instead, told Real and Ronaldo categorically that their player would not be allowed to leave the club.
It was an impressive and successful game of brinkmanship by United in a world where few marquee players are denied what they ultimately want. Even Real's rivals Barcelona spoke out publicly in support of the English club's stance.
It was, however, a position that would one day have to change and, as it transpired, it didn't take long. Real withdrew into their shell last summer, but privately they never even drew breath. Outgoing president Ramon Calderon and current incumbent Florentino Perez may not agree on much but they did concur on the importance of seeing through what the former had started more than 18 months ago.
Real have their man and United have £80m. Who is to say that United have not got the better deal?