The Second Coming of CR7


CR7 returns
Cristiano Ronaldo back in red

The faithful always want a second coming, but usually die without it ever happening.

But later today, the impossible becomes reality. The god who left for the stars has answered the prayers and returned.

Of the eight Premier League games kicking off tomorrow, there is no question that most eyes and ears will be trained to Manchester United v Newcastle United at three o'clock.

Cristiano Ronaldo has double the 18 years he had when he first stepped out on the turf for Alex Ferguson in 2003. His subsequent achievements, too many to mention, but he has won everything he has aimed for except the World Cup, place him in the pantheon of the greatest.

Perhaps the highest accolades of all were bagging last year's capocannoniere (league top scorer) trophy in Serie A with a phenomenal 29 goals for Juventus, and becoming the top scorer at Euro 2020, aged 36.

As a model professional obsessed with fitness and performance more than any other player, Ronaldo does not have a standard footballer's body or mind, which belies his advanced years.

He is the epitome of the self-made star, whose iron discipline and rigorous regimes saw him mature from a young wing wizard into a consummate centre forward with power and prowess in the air and rapier speed in the box, where he devours chances, as well as a specialist at free kicks, where he perfected a lethal technique.

Ronaldo can appear overly serious for our liking, at worse a robotic narcissist, in stark contrast with the boyishly charming Lionel Messi, the other outstanding player of his generation.

But his human side, evident in his love for his family and work for charity, was also to the fore when he admitted his fondness for his former club and its legendary manager Fergie were behind his return.

He may not be a complete sporting personality like Muhammad Ali was, but he remains, as the title of a recent BBC documentary on him said, impossible to ignore. As Ronaldo himself explained, "the numbers say everything."

Indeed they do and has there ever been such excitement at signing a man who will be 37 in a few months?

This event is an embrace of youth's unforgettable first-time feelings and a validation of dreams. Joining Manchester City would not have had anything so romantic about it. Some say you should never go back in life - nah, whatever.

Ronaldo's unexpected return to Old Trafford has created a real buzz across English football, and is a boost for the league after Messi chose France for his next chapter.

Most of us never expected the perma-tanned Madeiran to swap southern Europe for the rainy north-west of England after so many years in the sun, but we underestimated his love for Manchester and his youth as well as his need for fresh challenges and new silverware.

At both Real Madrid and in Turin he came, saw and conquered all right but got increasingly frustrated with colleagues around him while his employers worried about the drag of his salary on the club finances.

Amid the fervour in the red half of Manchester, it is important to remember Ronaldo has not come back 'home' to go gently into that good night. The Portuguese is a ruthless winner and has returned to bag more trophies, sensing the Red Devils are catching fire again under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

While the new dynamic with his former teammate will be fascinating, so too will his presence in the dressing room with senior players like Edinson Cavani and Paul Pogba. One senses his name is just too big for him not to be looked up to by all the others or not given free rein in the starting eleven.

When he began in Manchester back in 2003 he was an aspiring teenager, deferring to the established players. Now his presence will tower over all the others.

Ruud Gullitt made a disastrous return to Milan in 1994 when his leader's attitude met with a hostile new dressing room. Ronaldo will surely not make the same error as his desire for glory in his twilight years is too fierce.

Pity Newcastle this afternoon. The poor magpies seem to have landed in a no-win situation through no fault of their own.

Today will be the day of the homecoming king. CR7 has turned the clock back twelve years.

Now it begins, again.

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(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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