London: You never forget your first love - and for the world’s most expensive footballer, that love was Manchester United.
What a love it was, too, for Cristiano Ronaldo. World champions, European champions, three Premier League titles, two League Cups an FA Cup and a Community Shield. Nine trophies at home and abroad compared to just three domestic gongs in Spain so far.
No wonder the £80million man breaks into a broad grin as he says that he had his best time at United.
“Yes, Manchester was a very good cycle for me. I won everything there. It was a fantastic part of my life there.
“And maybe it was the time I enjoyed my football the most because I was so young. I miss it at times.
“To be at Manchester United - one of the biggest clubs in the world - at just 18! It was a dream!
“And to play alongside those players you had only seen before on television - maybe that’s why I feel I enjoyed it there the most,” Ronaldo told a British tabloid.
Ronaldo, who spent six glittering seasons at Old Trafford before leaving in 2009, knows his words could be misconstrued so is quick to emphasis the context.
He added: “I’m not saying I don’t enjoy it here in Madrid — I do.
This coming week Ronaldo will spend a lot of time living in the past as Real meet United at the Bernabeu in Wednesday night’s first leg of their mouth-watering Champions League last-16 showdown.
And figuring large in his reminiscences will be United boss Alex Ferguson, the man he calls his footballing father.
Ronaldo revealed: “I arrived at United aged just 18 years old and he taught me how to grow up properly in the football world.
“Who better? He has so much experience - 1,000 players have passed through his hands.
“So he knows and appreciates what young players need. And what he taught me was the importance of decision making.