LEADING THE COMEBACK KINGS
FEBRUARY 2, 2005: The lion’s share of the build-up ahead of Manchester United’s visit to Highbury for a crunch Premier League tie had been on the all-too-visible animosity between United captain Roy Keane and his opposite number at Arsenal in the shape of Patrick Vieira. And yet, it was Ronaldo, three days shy of turning 20, who grabbed the headlines after the game with his two expertly taken goals on the break. Arsenal could not live with Ronaldo’s pace as the prodigious teenager stretched the Gunners’ defence and struck in quick succession in the second half to give Ferguson and Co. another classic comeback victory.
REMORSELESS AGAINST ROMA
APRIL 10, 2007: Roma came to the Theatre of Dreams with hopes of Champions League progression very much intact. They left the stadium with the most embarrassing result in their modern history. A rampant United showed no mercy, putting seven goals past the Italians, with their talisman Ronaldo hitting a brace. At one point, the Roma defenders apparently urged Ronaldo to stop dribbling as they were too bamboozled to deal with any further humiliation on the night.
THE FIRST TREBLE
JANUARY 12, 2008: If all goes well, Ronaldo should make his second United debut at home against Newcastle. It was this exact fixture in 2008 that saw Ronaldo bag his first, and till date only, hat-trick for Man United. After a goalless first half, Ronaldo got Old Trafford singing early on in the second, before adding two more to wrap up his most prolific outing on English soil.
THAT FREE KICK AGAINST POMPY
JANUARY 31, 2008: Ronaldo had already put United ahead against Portsmouth when he stood over the dead ball in his inimitable fashion — legs spaced out, shoulders widened, and gaze fixed on goal. Once Ronaldo struck the valve of the ball, its trajectory left Old Trafford gaping in awe. The zip and dip that Ronaldo had applied to the leather made the ball scoot past David James and into the back of the net. CR7 may have struck many a scintillating set-piece in his career, but few can match the sheer audacity of that free kick against Pompy.
REJOICING IN THE RUSSIAN RAIN
MAY 21, 2008: Manchester United and Chelsea locked horns in Moscow for the 2008 UEFA Champions League final and Ronaldo was in no mood to mess around. On 26 minutes, the Portuguese soared above his marker to bury a bullet header past the reach of Chelsea keeper Petr Cech. Chelsea equalised soon after and the match eventually went to penalties. Stuttering in his run up, Ronaldo squandered his spot kick, but it did not matter, as Chelsea’s own profligate finishing returned to haunt them, handing United their third and Ronaldo his first European crown.
A THUNDERBOLT IN PORTO
APRIL 15, 2009: Only six minutes had been played of United’s second leg quarter-final UCL clash against Porto, when United’s number 7 picked up the ball some 40 yards from goal and let fly. Ronaldo’s thunderbolt of a shot rocketed into the Porto net even before Helton or any of the Porto defenders ahead of him could process what had happened. The stupendous strike deservedly won Ronaldo the inaugural FIFA Puskás award for best goal of the year.
PUTTING ARSENAL TO THE SWORD
MAY 5, 2009: When Arsenal hosted Man United at the Emirates for a spot in the 2009 Champions League final, Ronaldo once again stepped up to the plate to see the Red Devils through. A swashbuckling free kick from the Portuguese put United two goals to the good inside the opening 11 minutes, before Ronaldo added his second and United’s third by polishing off a sleek counter-attack also involving Park Ji-sung and Wayne Rooney.
The official announcement of Ronaldo’s transfer to Manchester United became the most liked sports tweet in history. Similar record-breaking numbers emerged on Instagram, too. Here’s what the who’s who of social media had to say of the monumental move:
Rio Ferdinand Sourced by the correspondent
Former Man United defender Rio Ferdinand, who reportedly spoke to Ronaldo urging him to choose United over City, declared that “Cristiano is back home & I’m BUZZING!!!’ while Patrice Evra, another former Red Devil, posted a screenshot of his conversation with Ronaldo ahead of the deal. United’s star playmaker Bruno Fernandes coined himself “Agent Bruno” for playing his part in the transfer, Marcus Rashford went with “Wow wow wow, he’s home”, and Jadon Sancho kept his tweet a bit more cryptic, with the post “SCARY HOURS!”
Usain Bolt Sourced by the correspondent
Usain Bolt, a long-time admirer of Ronaldo, uploaded a pair of pictures of himself with Ronaldo, with the caption “It’s only right”.
Ex-Indian cricketers, many of whom are diehard United supporters, also joined in on the welcome party for Ronaldo. While most of them retweeted the original comeback post from United’s official account, Yuvraj Singh took to Instagram to share the special United jersey that the club had gifted him along with the words, “He’s coming home. Can’t wait to see him back at Old Trafford when he hits the net and the United fans go crazy”.
In India, even the IPL franchises could not resist Ronaldo mania. Punjab Kings tweeted “Everybody looks good in RED!” with a Photoshopped picture of Ronaldo in the latest United kit whereas Chennai Super Kings went for a cheeky post celebrating their own number 7 — Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Rajasthan Royals resorted to a meme from The Simpsons to wish Twitter “All the best” as the platform inevitably got overwhelmed with Ronaldo content.
Back in Britain, broadcaster and journalist Piers Morgan said that it was “brilliant to see the GOAT back in the Premier League” while singer Niall Horan also shared his delight at getting to witness Ronaldo for one more spell in the English top flight.