At the conclusion of Real Madrid’s confirmation as the first team to win back-to-back European cups in the Champions League era, fresh off a crucial brace from the four-time Ballon D’or winner that sunk Juventus that evening in Cardiff, Los Blancos president Florentino Perez claims that Cristiano Ronaldo personally informed him of the Portuguese attacker’s contentment and desire to extend his stay at the Bernabéu.
However much has changed since then. Shortly after, Ronaldo had set Manchester United alarm bells ringing in a dramatic u-turn that saw him enraged by the manner in which Madrid had failed to protect their star player from the media in a scrutinised tax fall-out that has at times seen a usually-engaging Ronaldo sneak out of courthouse backdoors in a bid to escape waiting paparazzi.
When attention shifted to Portugal’s Confederations Cup campaign and then the birth of his surrogate twins, transfer talk died down as Ronaldo seemed intent on continuing his career in La Liga – although his absence in a lucrative money-spinning US tour that took in clashes against both Barcelona and Manchester United was notable.
Tonight, however, in a European Super Cup showdown in Skopje, Ronaldo will face his former club for the first time since a dramatic 2013 Champions League Last-16 tie in which he clinched a late winner at Old Trafford and Sir Alex Ferguson memorably fumed at officials over a Nani red card in what would be the Scotsman’s last crack at winning club football’s elite continental competition.
This weekend, a fed-up and perceivably-vilified Ronaldo reportedly told a courtroom judge that he wishes to return to England, meaning that – although their attention apparently remains fixed on Gareth Bale, who Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has insisted must be sold should a deal for Monaco whizz kid Kylian Mbappé go through – a strong performance in this tie could ramp up the Mancunians’ interest in recapturing their former man.
Yet it has never wavered. Ronaldo, a club legend regarded as one of the greatest players to have ever performed his craft in front of the Stretford End, would be welcomed back with open arms even in light of a sub-par showing this evening, with Zidane impressed at how his number 7 has reported for duty in mint, match-fit condition.
For La Liga president Javier Tebas, considering Neymar’s departure for Paris last week, losing his joint-biggest attraction to a rival Championship that its Spanish equivalent so desperately attempts to usurp is unfathomable.