Ronaldo makes Man Utd return


When a full house returned to Old Trafford last month and Manchester United pulled the trick of unveiling Raphael Varane on the pitch it was a reminder of just how electric this place can be.

Forget the weariness of an early Saturday kick-off. The joy of being back in stadiums and the thrill of seeing a world-class player signing for the club sent Old Trafford into a frenzy from which it barely relented during United’s 5-1 thrashing of Leeds.

That was a special day in unique circumstances. It was inevitable the atmosphere would drop off after that, especially for the more mundane Old Trafford fixtures, like successive Saturday 3pm kick-offs against Newcastle United and Aston Villa (at least until the Villa game was brought forward).

But United have managed to surpass themselves since the Varane announcement. Matchday announcer Alan Keegan sent the masses wild on August 14, but as he reads the team news out today he should maybe preface it with “for our next trick”. Who knows what the club have planned against Villa to keep this up.

If Leeds was loud, then noisy won’t do justice to Newcastle. They need to tie the roof down at Old Trafford today for the return of Cristiano Ronaldo and the hottest ticket in town. As one United insider said earlier this week, this could be the first time in a long time that the place is full for the warm-ups.

Nobody wants to miss confirmation that Ronaldo is starting, or his appearance in a United warm-up for the first time in more than 12 years. It’s going to be an ‘I was there’ kind of day. 

The Test match over the road was cancelled at the 11th hour yesterday, but you could have imagined the noise carrying to the other Old Trafford at 3pm today and those in the members’ enclosure wondering just what all the commotion was about.

It’s going to be electric, it’s going to be unforgettable, but one thing that hasn’t changed is that it should also be routine. This was a home banker before Ronaldo returned and is a home banker still. The sight of the 36-year-old back in United red has turned a low-key home game into a can’t miss event.

But Ronaldo hasn’t been signed by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to batter Newcastle into submission. The existing Old Trafford cast were more than capable of doing that themselves without the addition of a five-time Ballon d’Or winner.

The last time he faced Newcastle at Old Trafford Ronaldo helped himself to a hat-trick in a 6-0 win. Today’s fixture should be about as demanding as that game on January 12, 2008. United fans want Ronaldo to steal the show, but he’s not been signed for that.

Where Ronaldo will really make the difference is in the tight, tense games against title rivals, or those nervy fixtures where it looks like two points are slipping away.

The serial winner and competitive beast will up standards at United and that is arguably the biggest change in him since leaving Manchester for Madrid in 2009. There were signs towards the end of his first spell at Old Trafford that Ronaldo was now a player who would influence the biggest games, but since then he’s become the ultimate big-game player with a remorseless will to win. Those traits shouldn’t be required to see off a dour Newcastle, but they will come in handy elsewhere this season.

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