Cristiano Ronaldo’s second coming at Manchester United has transformed the mood around Old Trafford with fans whipped into a frenzy of excitement for the return of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner against Newcastle on Saturday.
United swooped for Ronaldo late in the transfer window when it seemed he could cross the divide to join Premier League champions Manchester City from Juventus.
Even at 36, the Portuguese still appears to guarantee goals.
In the past year he has won the Golden Boot at Euro 2020 and in Italy’s Serie A, ahead of Romelu Lukaku, who joined Chelsea last month for £97 million ($134 million).
Ronaldo will only cost United a transfer fee of up to $27 million due to his advancing age, but has signed a two-year contract on reportedly the highest wage in the Premier League.
Whether the expensive gamble pays off with a first Premier League or Champions League title since Alex Ferguson retired as manager in 2013 remains to be seen.
But the buzz surrounding Ronaldo’s return has already achieved one goal for the club’s owners, the Glazer family, in taking the focus off them.
“Manchester United fans are going to be rocking for the next six to 12 months because they are going to see one of their own come back,” said former United captain Gary Neville. “He will score goals and give them brilliant moments.”
Protest dies out
Only four months ago, United’s Premier League clash with Liverpool was postponed after supporters, then still shut out from the stadium due to coronavirus restrictions, stormed the Old Trafford pitch to protest.
The failed European Super League (ESL) project was the spark that lit a furious reaction from fans, but bad feeling towards the Glazers has lingered for many years.
The Americans have owned United since a controversial leveraged takeover in 2005 saddled the club with hundreds of millions of pounds worth of debt.
As the English giants have paid off huge interest payments, the Glazers have still regularly drawn out millions in dividends from their shares.
At the time, the protest movement against the ESL threatened to snowball into a more orchestrated campaign.
United fans wore green and gold colours to matches early in the Glazers’ reign, the colours of Newton Heath, the club founded in 1878 that eventually became Manchester United 24 years later.
Green and gold scarves and flares were back at Old Trafford in the spring, but have scarcely been seen in United’s three Premier League games so far this season.
They were replaced by cardboard cutouts of Ronaldo among the away support at Wolves two weeks ago.
In a bid to curry favour, the Glazers had already sanctioned over £100 million of spending on new players before Ronaldo’s arrival, in £73 million winger Jadon Sancho and four-time Champions League winner Raphael Varane from Real Madrid.
Some of that investment should be recouped by the commercial boom for sponsors of having the Ronaldo brand back on board.
Queues have been seen forming outside the club’s Old Trafford megastore this week, while news of Ronaldo’s signing saw United’s share price rise nearly six percent in a day.
However, the Glazers know the surest way to quieten dissent in the long run is success on the field.
Now it is over to Ronaldo to deliver.